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Spool's Out

Spools Out: Tristan Bath Reviews July's Tapes
Tristan Bath , July 9th, 2014 11:31

Our man Tristan Bath returns with more cassette reviews and this month takes a look at batch subscriptions

In addition to easing methods of distributing music, re-appropriating a huge piece of the major label market for a growing underground and enabling near-professional home recordings for all, the onward march of music culture's metamorphosis in light of modern technological shifts has above all changed how we consume the stuff. Besides new (and re-emerging) formats, even mere running times are changing, and typical release habits with them. The sacred borders between EPs, LPs and singles increasingly blur as the length-cost relationship is thrown out of whack. What's more, in the tape world more specifically, a label has almost as much of an artistic point to make as the musicians themselves.

Digging around for this month's selection of cassettes - incidentally it's perhaps the best month for tapes I've yet had the pleasure to cover - it seems that the 'tape batch' is making a case for itself as something of a new, subtly separate type of release all its own. The brand new Lightning Records label kicked off what is to be a regular set of quarterly batch releases with a collection of five tapes that seem to embody five differing shades of the frontier American psyche, emerging from the California Mojave Desert. Bathetic Records takes things a step further, in fact releasing the eleven tapes in Dynasty At Ghost Town (credited to various artists) as if they comprise one single whole. Each tape is the work of a single artist, with, for example, Lee Noble's ambient jamming taking up an EP-like four song space, over two tape sides in twenty minutes, while others like Zac Nelson's contribution - the 44-minute, 5-track Vulgar Divination - is of a more typical album length. Even so, as is visibly evoked by the fantastic overlapping, interlocking artwork when all the tapes are placed top and tail (you can see it by scrolling down the release's web page) these eleven cassettes really tell one single story, albeit through eleven different mouthpieces. Labels are musical meeting places, and like any place where ideas are shared, shared ideologies can emerge, and these batches of collected works from varied artists are ultimately tantamount to single, cohesive ideological (or at the very least, aesthetic) statements.

In other news, this year's International Cassette Store Day has been well and truly announced, set to take place on September 27. Over in the US it's being co-ordinated by Burger Records, while the European end of the operation's getting spearheaded by Kissability and Suplex Cassettes. Expect plenty of special tape releases, some one-off reissues, a few in store gigs, several DJ sets, and perhaps more than anything, plenty of cynicism and hipster bashing. After the success of Cassette Store Day 2013, and the format's continuing resurgence in the year since, it's most definitely looking to be a momentous occasion - and a prime opportunity for all the tape freaks to emerge into daylight and talk to someone other than the postman about their latest purchases for once.

Any shops that would like to get involved can sign up for free up until August 15 at "cassettestoreday.com and any labels planning on releasing a cassette on the day can also sign up for a £10 fee.

Wizards Tell Lies - The Ninth Door
(Jehu & Chinaman)

Careening from strength to strength, the fantastic Nottingham-based Jehu & Chinaman label is putting out a batch of three killer tapes this month. The standout has to be this epic cassette from Matt Bower under his Wizards Tell Lies guise, totally breaking the label's droney abstraction in favour of something that totally fucking rocks and leaves the listener scratching their head. He's also released some harrowing dark ambience as The Revenant Sea, but Wizards Tell Lies is a far different and more ambitious beast, melding intricately composed abstract dreamscapes with all-out rock instrumentals. While something of the sweeping majesty evoked by the now-dirty word of post-rock inevitably lies at the core of The Ninth Door's lengthier passages of guitar, drum and keyboard jams (he's name-checked Slint as an influence), it's all far cleverer and more colourful than the dour grey of some Explosions In The Sky track. He's also name-checked Liars and Bardo Pond too, and in the midst of the title track, where stabs of ear-busting feedback cut through the climactic crescendo swirl, the aim is clearly not to break listener's hearts or send them reaching for a tissue as much as it is to send them straight through the stratosphere and into outer space, fuelled on sheer amp wattage alone. Pounding toms, cyclical guitar lines, washes of synthesizers and the humming threat of feedback punctuate The Ninth Door's intense 52 minutes, and by the climax that follows the many peaks and troughs of the penultimate track ('Between The Sun And The Light') it's almost unbelievable that this music's emanated from a humble cassette tape, such is its sheer scope; the sense of scale is almost akin to those recent Swans opuses. Matt Bower credits the record to three mysterious figures - Fox (guitars), Owl (percussion) and Hart (bass, synths) - and each is in fact a different facet of the man himself: "They are a device to get to a certain head space… they are the band but there is no band"." Wizards Tell Lies' The Ninth Door is one of those breathtaking albums so overflowing with music and drama, it seems impossible to have been the work of one man - perhaps to the point that Matt Bower couldn't even believe it himself.

Lightning Records Quarterly #1

This brand new tape label venture from Seth Olinsky (of Akron/Family, and known associate of one M. Gira) and artist Ali Beletic was set up via a kickstarter campaign, proudly declaring, "We believe in the transcendent power of rock n roll." For its first year, Lightning's ambitiously set out to release 20 albums by 20 artists in its snappily titled 20 Artist Series, but more importantly with the option of receiving them five at a time in a quarterly goodie bag:

"Four times a year, we will ship a package to your house including our 5 latest releases and the Lightning Journal, an American counter culture journal with gonzo style articles written by artists, musicians, surfers, and people immersed in these vital cultures."

The first quarterly sees tapes from Wooden Wand, People of the North, William Tyler, Cy Dune and Ohioan, ultimately comprising what is perhaps the year's boldest multifaceted statement of experimental, forward-thinking Americana, and the supplementing rag is a beautiful throwback to the fanzines of old. Visually, it's stunningly well put together, with evocative photography, and top articles from the likes of Rhys Chatham on the history of New York's downtown scene (Seth Olinsky was in fact one of the show-stealing section leaders in Chatham's recent Secret Rose performance in Birmingham), and Wooden Wand himself interjecting with a 'Songwriting Tips And Tricks' piece. With future releases set to include music from talents like Alan Bishop, Guardian Alien and Chris Corsano, and plenty of new discoveries to be found along the way, anybody with even the vaguest interest in experiential music is well advised to drop everything, and set up your Lightning Quarterly subscription immediately.

James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand is seemingly riding an ongoing wave of rampant and uniformly brilliant songwriting, having already put out the instant classic Farmer's Corner earlier this year, but the more succinct AZAG-TOTH in this quarterly presents Toth at his most instantly listenable. He remains above all a virtuoso wordsmith and storyteller, running with the simplest of arrangements as on Farmer's Corner, and always keeping his wandering mind, and desperate characters front and centre. The range of human experience in AZAG-TOTH's relatively paltry half hour is tremendous, with the penultimate 'Collateral Damage' as a truly shining example of Toth's outright mastery of gentle power, and everyday poetry.

The title of Ohioan's American Spirit Blues could hardly be more self-explanatory, and while the songwriting contained therein isn't quite yet up to the standard's of JJ Toth, Ohioan - who confusingly hail from Tucson, Arizona - revive a long dormant part of the American folk psyche, albeit with something of an updated forlorn drawl. Picture Michael Gira covering Slim Whitman tunes, and you're almost there. The content of songs like 'So Much Dust' or 'The End of Fun' follow the suggested titular route of searching introversion, but it's the instrumental arrangements that intrigue across the album, with bowed acoustic guitars, low-rent keyboards, mutant glockenspiels, and even a drum machines buried behind the songs, Ohioan is the sound of old-timey American folk blues unbound.

Former Silver Jew William Tyler has already recorded instrumental guitar-based compositions filled with flashes of true genius - just hear his Impossible Truth album from last year. Of the fingerpicking schools, he very much falls into the droning, raga-esque Robbie Basho camp, shared by the likes of England's own James Blackshaw, and Steffen Basho-Junghans from Germany. As befits the first Lightning quarterly's remit though, Tyler's stems from a wholly North American state of mind, evoking blue skies above deserts and cattle ranches more than the saccharine rolling hillsides and moors of Blackshaw or Basho-Junghans. On 'The Ecstatic Vision of Madge Gill', Tyler's busy fingers spin a tomelike, 12-minute instrumental reverie in keeping with its title, while the 28-minute live performance captured on side two sees Tyler switch acoustic for electric guitar in a duet with percussionist Tim Barnes that swings from utter abstraction, through chiming lyrical beauty, and ultimately reaches an outright furious space bound freakout. Guitarists like Tyler remind us that, despite the instrument's global ubiquity in recent centuries, it still withholds untapped ground waiting to be discovered.

The child of Lightning Records co-founder, Seth Olinsky, Cy Dune hones in on good ol' red raw rock & roll. SHAKE certainly rocks pretty hard, with ten tracks of catchy 2-4 minute tunes, but the impossible to contain, unpigeonholeable creativity of Olinsky (evident in his 'other band', Akron/Family) bleeds through, fleshing out the songs with drum machines, keyboards, and wacky licks of post-production that don't fit the typical rock & roll mould. 'Hold My Hand' stands out as the catchiest offering, with a melody sorely reminiscent of a slacker Thurston Moore tune, while 'Dig Dig Dig' adds the Alan Vega hiss to a real piano-stomper, and pulsating lo fi synths bed the barstool boogie of 'Confusion'. Olinsky's keen to exorcise his rock & roll demons, but he's not taking the easy route, retaining his that Akron/Family keenness for rich, unexpectedly complex rock arrangements.

People Of The North - the duo of Oneida members Kid Millions and Fat Bobby -  provide two ten-minute freeforms to the quarterly, recorded "in a castle in Italy", and both ranking alongside their best work. Side one's 'Bear Fruit' out-krauts Ash Ra Tempel in terms of raw, spacious jamming, with Kid Millions pounding along with Bobby's droning organs and guitars in a manner as primordial as the first ocean life forms to breach the water's surface. The flipside's 'Three Hills In A Day' follows a similar trajectory, although this time finding both players in a more aggressive mode, Bobby's drones in particular getting fuzzier, and more abrasive throughout. They offer a stark contrast to much of the other music in this first Lightning Quarterly, taking the same basic instrumental tools and putting them to utterly different use. People Of The North are second to none when it comes to stark primal space rock improvisation, and the patronage of Julian Cope - who's enthused over their "highly driven yet divine cosmic ooze" - is indeed well deserved.

Visit lightningrecords.bigcartel.com to order the bundle, subscribe, or purchase individual albums

Mark Dicker - Talk of the University
(Bunkland Records)

"All tracks created using a variety of synthesizers, feedback loops and field recordings of London" declares the sleeve of this menacing tape of stirring oddball drones from Mark Dicker. He provided Casio and vocals with grindcore heroes Trencher, but this record couldn't be further from that band's noisy assault (which landed them support slots alongside The Locust and Some Girls). Dicker focuses on sparsity and minimalism, instrumentally limiting the music to only the very bare necessity. The experiment works and then some, the sonic scarcity coming across as hauntingly phantomic, while the interjection of warped vocals and metropolitan field recordings hint at some semblance of narrative; as if the tape is a sermon or broadcast from some observing alien consciousness. '...Hell Is A Grammar School To This' opens side one, emerging with the gristly rumble of synthetic bass tones, and eventually bursting into light as it grows to a luminescent stereoscopic overture of unwinding chords and whirring synth bass. 'Dies Saturni' comes next, travelling at a snail's pace through looped synth detritus, building a quivering chamber of menacing sparse drones and muddy sounds of the city, until Dicker's voice begins intoning an ice-cold whisper-sung tune over the top. The second side's sole 12-minute track - 'Love Me, Love My Dog' - traverses its ground with similarly languid lethargy, as whirring drones flit slowly up and down, and Dicker chants the song's title in a manner that seems initially meditative before soon morphing into worrying insane asylum ramblings. As his intonations are steadily pitch shifted more and more unrecognisably, additional keyboard lines get added to a droney mass that ominously wills itself onward to a climax. With signposts of narrative, and a strictly limited sonic palette, this tape gets a hell of a lot from its unique minimal dialect.

(Mark Dicker was also interviewed by Luke Turner on tQ recently, where you can read him discussing his methods and reasoning in discussion about the tape here)

Sunset Graves - Form Your Ghost
(3rd & Debut)

Sunset Graves' 2013 debut album blended rock and electronic textures much like the transitional final albums by Fridge before Kieren Hebden's full transition into the now ubiquitous Four Tet. Much of the post-rocking has disappeared from Andy Fosberry's second full length under the name, limited to occasional twisted samples of guitar veiled beneath the music's dense expanses of sampled sounds and processed keys. Fosberry's dealing with the same base metals that Boards of Canada turned to gold back at the tail end of the 90s, and while Sunset Graves by no means reaches such heights (in fact the beats superimposed over the compositions seem almost laughably dated at times) hints of promise are to be found throughout. A sampled saxaphone blares haunting sweetness into 'Last Hour of Amber's dour echo chamber, while the final track builds layer upon layer of hissing static drones over a beatless soundscape in undoubtedly the tape's finest moment. Fosberry's released prolifically under the Sunset Graves name, already putting out an EP and a single since Form Your Ghost. There's plenty of good stuff to be mined from his music, but Fosberry'd be best advised to leave a bit more on the cutting room floor; at the moment I'm better off giving the more refined likes of Music Has The Right To Children yet another spin.

Running Point - Sharpen the Past
and
Roofer's Nest - De-escalate
(Ambivalent Soap / Power Moves Label)

The very young Toronto-based Power Moves Label has been putting out dreamy improvised music since last year, but the latest release from Roofer's Nest (aka Patrick Cahill, brother of Power Moves founder, Kevin Cahill) takes an unexpected divergent turn down the path of beat-ridden laptop electronica. Despite working in the sonically boundless digital realm, Roofer's Nest chooses to squeeze a lot from very little, mostly simply processing low-end tones and VST organs to the point of almost disappearing completely, and punctuating the abundant vacant foreground with disjointed beats. Far from high-energy, Cahill crafts a sort of morphed slow motion beatscape seemingly descended from the footwork and techno emanating a few hundred miles to the West of Toronto from Detroit and Chicago. It's footwork for OAPs; dance music for coma patients.

Label runner Kevin is behind selection number two from Power Moves - the beguiling Sharpen The Past. Running Point is the name of Kevin's improvised electric guitar project, and this tape (put out on an even less user-friendly microcassette by Wisconsinite label Ambivalent Soap) takes meandering improvised electric guitar to ghostly new depths. Comprising nine semi-improvised tracks (several have overdubs), Kevin plays with little to no emphasis on the chords, fingerpicking wave after wave of notes, sometimes seemingly managing to spew every note in the entire key all at once. The notes remain almost uniformly pointillistic, and yet somehow avoid falling into any uniform rhythm. Similarly, the guitar's volume is in constant flux, presumably as Cahill wiggles a volume pedal throughout, giving the instrument an elusive, intimate, and ghostlike near-absence. Moments of twangy Americana akin to the recent Gold album from Earth's Dylan Carlson, or indeed that album's ancestral Dead Man soundtrack by Neil Young occasionally enter to foreground - but only for brief moments, like whispered long-distant memories. For what seems like mere guitar noodling, Running Points' restless, intimate improvisations linger in the mind far longer than they really should.

(Note: Both of these tapes are now in fact out of print, and are available to download for free from the Power Moves Label bandcamp.

Various Artists - Dynasty At Ghost Town
(Bathetic)

Basically as physically and exhaustively sprawling as a single release can get, the eleven tapes that make up Bathetic's Dynasty At Ghost Town feels something like the underground experimental equivalent of a paint sample card, filled with soothing saturated pastels for your perusal. Each artist has their own shade of alluring, mantra-like abstraction, but the strongly defined, overarching, unifying theme is certainly one of hazy somnambulant beauty.

Much of the music barely moves at a pace that allows for visible highlights to emerge from the foggy atmosphere throughout. Padang Food Tigers - who despite the prairie dog country visions evoked by their sparse front porch noodlings, are in fact from Caterham - open with an uplifting passage of trumpet and plucked harp, before languid banjos, slide guitar and droning harmonicas reminisce at a snail's pace through the rest of their quarter of an hour of beguiling, dreamy Americana. That woody theme is echoed by the processed campfire field recordings of Aquarelle (from Wisconsin). Elsewhere Lee Noble's contribution stands out too, as the most songlike and typically melodic of the bunch, perhaps closely followed in that regard by Ekin Fil from Istanbul, who works under the Grouper-like (and understandable) belief that, with liberally added reverb, everything sounds at least thrice as compelling. The volume and the drama both get amped up to some degree at other points in the collection, with Teeth Sinking In from High Aura'd weaving manipulated layers of solo guitar into shimmering shoegazing epics, while Panabrite and M Geddes Gengras both deliver dense, harshly vibrating modular synthesizers, but not without plenty of thoughtful, pensive respite slipped in between the lumpy electronic pulsations. It'll melt your heart, haunt your day dreams and make you dizzy - but such is the diffuse power of Dynasty At Ghost Town. Diving in headfirst is highly recommended, although not while operating heavy machinery. 
 Year of Glad - Old Growth
(Cereal Bowl Collective)

This somewhat mysterious duo from Montréal - named as being Nick Laugher and A.P. Bergeron, and supplemented here by guests contributing sax, bass and percussion - craft vivid widescreen five minute epics. Though put together using the familiar indie tools of lilting vocal melodies, soaring crescendi and soaking wet delay-pedal guitar plucks, Year of Glad amp up the post-production to the nth degree (and deliver the necessary impassioned performances to boot), morphing their songs into sweeping, blurry sonic sagas. It's like Fleet Foxes handed their raw tapes over to the heavy hands of Kawabata Makoto and Phil Spector (only not quite so insistently syrupy). The songs are mostly multi-part suites, with the opening 'deth' beginning with an overture of rolling sustained chords, fuzzy plucked notes, glockenspiel intonations and even a distant blaring sax, all before launching into a mournful, desperate song proper. Atmospherically, there's something of that forlorn winter captured on OK Computer in the soul of the music, but sonically it touches on far more abstract styles. The instrumental 'gorge' starts off sounding like some drumless fuzzed out psych guitar jam, then careens off into ambient territory that equally evokes the swirling mass of Bvdub's flocking electronics, and the trippy interludes of golden age GY!BE. The tape flits between trippy instrumental rock ambience, and stomping echo chamber indie songwriting, but the entire thing is so wrapped up in blurry soaring post-production, it mostly doesn't quite sound like anything else - and at its best the results are actually… awe-inspiring. Keep an eye on these guys.

Fluxbikes / Quidditas - Mugen: Volume 7
(Hausu Mountain)

Another batch in a month of batches, the Hausu Mountain label have put out the second lot in their Mugen series, which sees artists split sides of the tape in the name of solo live performances with no overdubs. Volume 7 from the vols. 5-8 batch is a series highlight, pitching a 20 minute tonal raga from Fluxbikes (Rob Frye of Chicago's Bitchin' Bajas and Cave) against a noisy march of sound effects and tribal drumming from Quidditas on side two. Fluxbikes' gorgeous 'Driftless' is powerfully subtle, taking cues from the La Monte Young and Jim O'Rourke school of minimalism across a gradually shifting synth and guitar drone. Eventually the piece incorporates spare percussion towards the end, closing out with a truly zen coda. Quidditas' 'Reawakening' is far more monstrous, with thunderous drums clattering against a fed-back loop of themselves while static whirrs and hisses in the background. Occasionally there's a break to allow the massing sound effects and delay processing to mutate in front of us, but the marching percussion tribalism maintains throughout in a wholly different sort of meditation.

Country Florist - CF-1
(Drawing Room Records)

Born as an indie/emo label in Little Rock, Arkansas back in the 90s, Drawing Room records passed away back in 2003, but has since resurrected and relocated to NYC to put out music from the likes of Tom Carter, Christina Carter and Bardo Pond since 2011. This tape appropriately comes from native Little Rockian, Andrew Morgan, under the name Country Florist. He's made electronica as Ettiem, and comprises half of cult Little Rock experimental rockers Chinese Girls, but Andrew Morgan's solo work as Country Florist falls very much into the vein of dark homemade guitar pop. The allure of Morgan's deep brooding vocals is pretty irresistible, and he's got the tunes to match, with stomping guitar-based jams like 'Night Dress' and plenty of sweeping spacey synth ballads all coated in a sopping wet layer of fuzz and tape hiss. Inside this demo-style recording lies truly classic songwriting, and plenty of it. Some tracks remain decidedly embyonic, such as the skeletal acoustic guitar instrumental 'Early Exits', or near-inaudible through fuzz 'I Could Not Take That Lying Down', while closer 'Chocolate Everywhere' drifts off into a metronomic indie coda. It's all in that same slacker troubadour vein as Sebadoh, or R. Stevie Moore, and at 11 tracks in under 30 minutes it's a breakneck set that doesn't let up, but Morgan's penchant for hooky deep dark pop atmosphere serves him well at every turn.

Various Artists - Everything is Repairable, Everything is Broken
(stars, dots and the "new" junk)

One of the UK's more confusingly named labels, stars, dots and the "new" junk have been putting out tapes and CD-Rs aplenty since June last year, often focussing on the absurdist limits of murky echo chamber experimentalism and ambient noise. This lengthy double cassette compilation presents four brilliant sides' worth of the stuff, each side fleshed out by a different artist. Stunted Growth spews varying shades of static, echo and feedback across the 27-minute 'Aside', which cuts from comforting amplifier swells, to outright harsh noise at around the ten minute mark. The 'Beside', credited to Exceptional Children's Olympics, is inhabited by the same hypnotic glacial grain silo sparsity found on Nurse With Wound's classic Soliloquy for Lilith, while Elugelab' 'Seaside' is a trippy collagic journey through muttering distant samples, metallic rumblings and mutant synthesizer notes. Wingéd Maet's 'Decide' is perhaps the most striking - a 27-minute marriage of blown-out doom chords and humming keyboard sounds. Traditionally, it's the beckoning of darkness that normally characterise this sort of humming doom, but Wingéd Maet's luminescent synth sounds and head-in-the-clouds atmospherics are often more akin to some Florian Fricke production, straddling that awkward line between the satanic and the heavenly.

Monster Killed By Laser - Tender Crawler EP
(self-released)

Leeds' Monster Killed By Laser play retro prog miniatures that owe as much to the likes of Canada's loveable kings of compositional masturbation, Rush, as they do to Goblin's Italian melodrama-infused Argento scores, or the lengthy meanderings of Genesis and Yes. Lovingly classic synths and organs abound in the mid-ground, as the very non-fluid prog instrumentals unfold. Electric guitars bounce wildly from theme to theme, traversing the sea of challenging time signatures spewing from the super tight rhythm section. While it's tough to find something to cling on to in Monster Killed By Laser's complicated maximalist compositions, these guys can really play, and they do the tacky 70s/80s instrumental prog thing almost better than the originals. It's difficult music, and almost smugly well made, but it's just as much charming, colourful and audacious. They squeeze a hell of a lot more emotion and intrigue into four brief songs than many better known proggers manage in some thirty-five minute sidelong suites.

Isengrind - Underflesh
(Was ist Das?)

The female half of prolific French folk-drone godparents, Natural Snow Buildings (aka Solange Gularte) has put out solo material under the Isengrind name before, the most memorable piece of which still perhaps remain the eight Isengrind tracks are the head of NSB's epic Snowbringer Cult double album. For the most part, those tracks presented a darker, more discordant, rawer side to Natural Snow Buildings' format of droning strings and occasionally foregrounded psychedelic folk song semblances - and as with the other NSB solo project (Mehdi Ameziane's TwinSisterMoon) an elementary primordial nature hung over the proceedings. Perhaps it's the very Lichtenstein album pop art, or simply upgraded recording equipment, but Underflesh definitely feels like something of a sonic step forward for the NSB camp. While certainly still imbued with that very pronounced antiquated, lo-fi quality heard on classics like Isengrind's Modlitewnik album, (which is so gristled as to send the needle into the red more or less entirely throughout), Underflesh is a refinement of Isengrind's woozy, rural drone. She's composing with timbres, and structurally the pieces feel more overtly thought out. The illusion of narrative has never been stronger in this music, while also neither has the impression that this music could not have ever been in the real world; that it's some ghost in the tape machine, some ancient artifact from unknown shores… Side one opens with an unfurling glistening soundscape, 'Beyond Nowhere', where tambura vibrations, whispers of feedback and bowed strings amass until Gularte's echoed tuneful murmur launches the ghostly drumless mess into the heavens. 'Ghost Pond' is a hovering psych-folk ballad in the vein of Acid Mothers' head spinning acoustic outings, with towers of unfolding feedback, singing strings and echoed noises building around the focal point of Gularte and her guitar strumming away on centre stage, shaded in reverb ala Liz Harris. 'Age of Steel' is unusually minimal, consisting of little more than revolving synth tones and Gularte's tripped out vocal murmur. After the tape flip, the task of identifying sound sources becomes increasingly pointless, as wave upon wave of blissed out warped drones unfurl, the tape hiss adding layer upon subtle layer of additional glassando to every note. This is Isengrind at her very best, and while certainly her masterpiece under the name, it's perhaps also the finest work in the genre… whatever that is.

Various Artists – La Psicotropia
(Was Ist Das? / Pakapi Records)


The world of homespun South American psychedelia has truly gone from burgeoning to thriving. Ahead of the World Cup, several papers wrote up Mais Um Discos' Rolê: New Sounds Of Brazil compilation, which - although relatively innocuous - was most notably almost uniformly imbued with a psychedelic edge to every song, no matter how poppy, dubby or funky. Elsewhere Soundway have put out music from two Colombian acts - danceable psychedelic pop from Bomba Estéreo, and indefinably weird psych-cumbia by the Meridian Brothers. Put together by Pakapi Records in Buenos Aires, and released on tape by the Hebden Bridge-based Was Ist Das? label tape, the La Psicotropia compilation goes a step deeper into the continent's psychedelic underground, including cuts from mysterious figures like False Sir Nicholas (from Chile) Ø+yn (from Argentina) and Brayan (usually member of the elusive Montibus Communitas from Peru). Despite being sonic explorers, and often lo-fi producers, the majority of the music has a refreshingly appealing rhythmic and melodic grounding. The Peruvian-born, Luxembourg-based Tomas Tello's 'Cumbia de Yuko' whirrs hissing analogue synths across a simplistic guitar and bass instrumental atop a crockery tapping cumbia rhythm, while Peruvian-born Brooklynite Efrain Rozas (also of 'psychedelic salsa' band, La Mecánica Popular) buzzes and whirrs similar synths over a hand percussion salsa beat, bizarrely littered with samples of Dave Chapelle yelling "that's right bitch!" Titanik's 'Null21' is seven minutes of outright headbanging space bound instrumental hip hop beats, and 'Leo 'n Cruza El Desierto' from Chico Tropico is a bittersweet mix of pitch shifted guitars, forlorn vocal madness and groovy synthetic drum machine (they seem pretty entertainingly nuts as performers too, check out the video below) - but it's not all user-friendly Latin rhythms and tunes, with Ø+yn's untitled contribution amounting to six minutes of utter abstract ayahuasca weirdness. By its end, La Psicotropia seems like something of an actual landmark compilation; a real coming together of this hugely appealing, thriving and undersung scene. Perhaps most vitally, these South American experimentalists aren't afraid to commit to both danceability and psychedelic musical anarchy, and the results are pretty damn special.




 Schoolhouse - Soft Focus
&
I Have Eaten the City - Secret Paths
(Tombed Visions)

The Manchester-based Tombed Visions label was founded back in 2012 by Gnod-associate and solo multi-instrumentalist David McLean, and it's already put out some killer (and often pretty out there) experimental tapes such as the gorgeous debut from Aufklärung, or Joseph Lawrence Quimby Jr.'s affecting drone-and-field-recordings tribute to the city of Riga. June and July have already seen two brilliant further additions to the Tombed Visions catalogue - the first a deep focused exploration of minimal guitar microtonality, the other a colourful, multi-faceted, pan-cultural free-form.


Schoolhouse is the project of guitar composer, Peter James Taylor, very much a British student of the Branca/Chatham contingent, albeit with a stronger focus on the micro-tonal. Although Taylor has indeed composed noisy epics for large ensembles, Soft Focus is subtle, gentle, and quiet. Schoolhouse is very much the child of its environment, recorded in an eponymous 14th century schoolhouse in Linford wood, and often captured with intimate, wooden-floored, natural reverb-realism. Taylor weaves droning strings with very spare tones and recordings from other sources, to create undulating, shimmering sheets of sound, that interlock and interact forming (as he himself cites) "Reich-ian rhythmic patterns" - although they're perhaps blurred and slowed down to perhaps the warmest, least pointillistic, and possibly most un-Reich extent imaginable. The exact nature of the stringed instrumentation is quite unknown as Taylor purportedly custom-made much of it himself, but the effect created is stunningly beautiful environment not glacial shimmering tones, with as much in common with that arrhythmic ambience of the beatless second movement from Ex-Easter Island Head's Large Electric Ensemble as it does with Stars Of The Lid's legendary droning heaven music. A spellbindingly pretty, utterly mysterious, and very welcome addition to the growing British school of guitar minimalism.

On this tape released in June, this Toronto trio of psychedelic improvisers showcase their incredible ability to assemble compellingly odd soundscapes from very non-standard instrumentation. The instrument list includes West African balafon, harmonica, cello, drum machines, saxophone and the music is equally as frontierless. The 17-minute 'Eyot' incorporates twisted sound effects and warped spacey guitar ramblings alongside trudging drum machine rhythms and fluttering flutes, while the chiming thumb pianos, balafon and cello on 'Ipê' converse amid billowing notes and ultimately reach cyclical melodies as captivating as any of American composer Lou Harrison's experiments to mesh Western classical tropes with Javanese gamelan. The structures become so fully intact so quickly, it's almost impossible to believe the music's all made up on the spot. I Have Eaten The City are simply astonishingly good at what they do, and they blend unexpected instrument combinations with unwavering, acultural conviction. Anybody with even a passing interest in improvised music should get this tape immediately, and hopefully somebody can get these guys on a plane to the UK as quickly too - sounds like one hell of a performance.

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