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BLIGHT. Makes Right Vol. II is not a chill playlist. It stands in defiance of a music industry built on homogeny, marketability, and reliably unobjectionable acts. It is a compilation of tracks by mostly local artists, diverse in sound and approach but united by an honest, uncompromising DIY ethos and avant-experimentation.
Music, especially that made with DIY sensibilities, has always balked normality. But D.C.’s BLIGHT. Records has a noticeably stubborn commitment to alternative approaches in everything from recording techniques to promotion. At best, this results in inventive and challenging music, visceral live shows, and a creative space for the District’s colorful misfits and musical deviants. On the flip-side, this stubborn nonconformity can yield imperfect, often fragmentary creations.
BLIGHT. Makes Right Vol. II is a fragmented success that plays to an audience’s short attention span for left-field music while not compromising the integrity of the artists involved. The diversity of sound and varying levels of accessibility guarantee a dizzying listen that confirms, expands, and contextualizes BLIGHT. Records’ reputation for intentional, experimental, and confrontational electronic music.
The comp begins with a head-turning mix of unusual dance tracks; Swoll’s moody and glitchy “Set Up” is immediately contrasted with the shimmering “Tipping Point,” by Crab Legs, and “Homewrecker,” a beautifully wistful track from Stronger Sex.
From there, it’s a shift to an affinity for societal confrontation. Evilartform, the project of Omar Pitras Waqar (Sarmust), who recently relocated from D.C., contributed “Opium Den”—a derisive, Punjabi-inflected dance track condemning the colonial roots of America’s drug epidemic. Matching Evilartform’s contempt is Br’er, the primary project of BLIGHT. Records’ founder, Ben Schurr (also of Swoll). On “Numb,” Br’er excels at industrial sound design, mixing whistling screams and (more) glitchy electronics.
Lyrically, it’s one of Schurr’s most aggressive songs, comparing emotional numbness to being “washed down a stream of one billion cracked screens to a children’s choir of screaming/ pixelated hate spiraling tide pool waves across a sky of binary genocide.” It’s, uh, not for the faint of heart and the track is a little indulgent in terms of length. But whereas a full LP of Schurr’s violent metaphors can be initially off-putting, a compilation album allows Br’er to shine as boldly confessional provocateurs.
These sentiments of contempt are not limited to BLIGHT.’s electronic artists. Two-thirds of the way through, the noir-rock trio Park Snakes burst in with “West Coast,” an upbeat and appropriately sardonic take on millennial transience and the vapid “coolness” of big cities. This track is a welcomed break from the heaviness of the rest of the comp, and serves as the record’s most entertaining moment and Park Snakes’ most charismatic release to date.
For the fans of pure electronic experimentation, BLIGHT. Makes Right Vol. II does not fail to highlight D.C.’s most inventive artists. “Drops” by Blacklodge + em.g—the modular synth project of Alex Tebeleff (Paperhaus) and Maggie Gilmore—is an entirely improvised track using a eurorack synth system processing Gilmore’s vocals to create a delicate and otherworldly instrumental piece.
“NKNK” by Tölva (Erik Sleight of Br’er and Swoll) was born out of an experiment with the Octatrack synthesizer, mixing audio from North Korea’s eerie national wake-up song as its sonic back bone. IMKA, a new project of Kevin Chambers (Flash Frequency), provides a softer take on experimentation with “Shadow,” a track made of layered guitar, violin, xylophone, and field recordings of U Street NW to create a serene and cinematic highlight of the record.
By its nature, a compilation allows for flexibility and freedom for the artists involved. For an experimental community like BLIGHT., this comp has the added benefit of introducing audiences to their indefinable sound by juxtaposing confrontational noise, lush electronics, gritty rock, and avant-pop in one package.