Dragged out of the witch house: Tri Angle Records

The Internet killed the major record label business. Like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, the Warners and Universals of the world are already dead (spoiler!) – they just have to come to terms with it. As the majors wander aimlessly, searching for answers that won’t come, indie labels have never been stronger. With a seemingly never-ending stream of genres and sounds to mine, record labels can plant their flag, carve out a niche, and make a name for themselves.

That’s exactly what Tri Angle Records has done. They’ve been on the forefront of the drag / witch house scene since last year’s compilation of re-imagined Lindsay Lohan songs Let Me Shine For You. Tri Angle is the brainchild of Robin Carolan of 20JazzFunkGreats, one of the leading proponents of witch house, in conjunction with techno label Kompakt.

After Let Me Shine For You, Tri Angle got serious, releasing Balam Acab‘s See Birds EP. See Birds is a nocturnal journey in all phases, from nightmare to dream to hazy awakening. Throughout the EP, echoes of horror movie drums are juxtaposed against airy, wistful strings and keys, a style epitomized by its book-ended title tracks. “See Birds (moon)” rumbles with murky bass blasts, while “See Birds (sun)” floats with bubbling aquatic sounds that give way to an upbeat, chiptune rhythm.

I’ve written about oOoOO previously. oOoOO is the easiest Tri Angle artist to fit under the witch house umbrella. His eponymous EP is more energetic than See Birds due to a preponderance of programmed beats. It also brings dream pop vocals higher up in the mix, whereas Balam Acab uses vocals to shade and color his compositions.

The most critically acclaimed Tri Angle artist, How To Dress Well (Brooklyn’s Tom Krell) fuses the ambiance of his Tri Angle compatriots with a deconstructionist’s take on R&B. Love Remains is haunting and romantic, with Krell’s breathy falsetto a counterpoint to the full-throated opulence of contemporary R&B singers. Like dance-focused rhythm and bass producers, HTDW feeds off nostalgia for 90s R&B, as Krell’s borrowed melodies leave the listener grasping at half-remembered dreams.

Combine the R&B of HTDW and the dance music of early industrial and you have Holy Other. Pneumatic beats keep time while synths and ghostly vocals fill in the blanks. “Touch” is Holy Other’s take on Burial-esque atmospherics, with “I’ve been looking for your touch” a weeping refrain.

The latest release in the Tri Angle catalog is Rainforest, by Clams Casino. As the title suggests, it is a technicolor nature symphony, with track titles like “Treetop” and “Waterfalls.” Clams Casino (real name Mike Volpe) has a background as a beatmaker for based rappers such as Lil B and Soulja Boy, but his tracks work better instrumentally. His diffused soundscapes and chopped & screwed samples melt and sway over left-field hip hop beats.

Next up on Tri Angle is more Balam Acab and the debut of San Francisco’s Water Borders entitled Harbored Mantras. Press materials cite industrial pioneers Coil and the dance music of Rinse FM as the inspirations for Harbored Mantras. “What Wiwant” delivers on that vague promise, with an undercurrent of sub bass, a collage of tribal effects and decidedly Gothic chanting.

Also keep watch for material from Ayshay, Tri Angle’s latest signing. Ayshay is the stage name of Fatima Al Qadiri, a Senegalese artist who was raised in Kuwait. “WARN-U,” both in song and video, seem to match the witch house sound and aesthetic, albeit with a distinctive Eastern vibe.

Call it witch house, drag, or chillwave, but when these ephemeral trends are over, Tri Angle Records will be left standing.

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