It’s our Bandcamp Picks of the Week, featuring a bombastic jungle spectacular in Park Zero’s M and a well honed dream pop record in Phantom Handshakes’ A PASSPORT TO REMAIN!
Phantom Handshakes – A PASSPORT TO REMAIN
Genre: Dream Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Stuck in a Fantasy,” “This Is A Dance”
If you’re keyed into a specific sect of New York shoegaze and dream pop, Phantom Handshakes’ A PASSPORT TO REMAIN feels somewhat inevitable. A standing collaboration between Parrot Dream’s Matt Sklar and Sooner’s Federica Tassano, the duo’s musical output delightfully explores the lo-fi intersection between both of their respective bands. Like others in the crowded dream pop space, Phantom Handshakes have been prolific—an endless string of singles and collaborations surround their 2020 EP, BE ESTRANGED, and 2021 debut, NO MORE SUMMER SONGS. Now we have A PASSPORT TO REMAIN, a buzzing, dark skied collection of songs that read like a greatest hits of sorts—not just amplifying the best components of the group’s previous work, but also acting as a kind of catchall for the varied tones and styles you’ll find on any number of user-generated lo-fi pop Spotify playlists. If that latter reading of the music sounds cynical, it’s only meant to be in the most holistic sense—certainly Phantom Handshakes have carved out a section of the post-8Tracks playlisting era and rightly so. As it applies to this album and its humming, dreary nocturnal grooves, you’re getting everything you could want out of A PASSPORT TO REMAIN and then some. Its lead single, “Stuck In A Fantasy,” is among the best dream pop cuts of the year, a distant twilight anthem where Tassano’s siren song vocals playfully color both the foreground and background. Beyond that you’ll find floating lullabies and chilly hymns fit for any late night walk. Toss any of these songs on your own playlist, but start by giving it a listen over on Bandcamp. [CJ Simonson]
Park Zero – M
Favorite Tracks: “The Jungle,” “Slam the Breaks,” “Ava’s Reggae Night”
Self-described as “rave music that’s been put together wrong,” Park Zero’s latest release combines the harsh edges and ear-crushing density of power noise with different dance subgenres—imagine UK jungle and glossy EDM after it’s been sent through a trash compactor 16 times and every atom is packed in so tight the slightest touch would send it exploding in the air. M is a strange album, and one that tests both your patience and your ear sensitivity, but it’s this far end of the electronic spectrum Park Zero resides in that makes her latest release such a compelling listen, taking the bombast of club music and seeing how far she can push it—if these songs were to come on in the surreal blur of a 2AM dancefloor, would you even notice how hard the bass pounds on your heart or each synth line stabs at your skin? The balance between energy and listenability is the fundamental compromise of M, and a compromise Park Zero brings an impressive amount of sonic diversity across the album’s five tracks. It’s a wild ride, but one that never lets go of its vision in the process.
Zero’s intimate knowledge of what makes club music click—punchy, repetitive grooves; soft but colorful instrumentation; occasional shifts in the beat for energy—ensures M stays an interesting listen even as she takes her D.A.W. and your speakers to the limit. Despite its hardcore, glitchy take on EDM, Zero explores a variety of sounds throughout M: “Strangelove” has hints at ambient house in its second half; “Ava’s Reggae Night” contorts a breakbeat until every kick drum digs into your skull and the synth bass growls like a Raptor fighter jet; the 12-minute opener “The Jungle” weaves in and out of power noise and 2-step—as heavy as M gets, there’s a musicality to everything Zero does that keeps the album in check when her industrial electronic madness reaches its peak. It’s one of the grooviest and most energizing noise albums in recent years, and that alone makes it one of the genre’s most intriguing entries and a powerful way for Zero to kick off the early part of 2023, treating you to an experience that manages to be both suffocating and delightful at once.
Along with the rest of her recent releases, M is available now on Park Zero’s Bandcamp. For all its sharp edges and production quirks, it’s a thought-provoking album that uses noise not only as a style in its own right, but to bolster the ambient and dance sounds Zero’s work has danced with over the years, groovy techno jams whose intensity in rhythm is matched in the intensity of its instrumentation like few other albums in recent years. It’s an unusual kind of beauty that M possesses, but there’s no denying just how special and exciting a project like this is for both the avant-garde and dance as a whole. Park Zero knows what makes her sound special, and M does everything in its ability to keep that engine running at peak performance. [Lurien Zitterkopf]