Spool’s Out: June's Cassettes Reviewed By Tristan Bath
, June 21st, 2016 10:35
King of the magnetic tape, Tristan Bath carries on in his quest to bring you the best underground music from around the globe and in doing so discovers his best cassette ever
Iranian drone/ambient artist Siavash Amini has been making his own brand of ethereal dream music (steadily heading into more nightmarish territory of late) from his home in Tehran for the last few years, putting out music on labels such as Mexico City’s finest tape imprint Umor Rex. More recently he’s also contributed guru-like forewords to releases featuring fellow Tehrani artists - including the brilliant Hardcore Sounds From Tehran by Sote recently out on Teeside’s stellar Opal Tapes. On the latest episode of Spool’s Out radio broadcast on London’s Resonance FM we caught up with Siavash via skype to chat about his music, life in Tehran, and the simmering experimental music scene in Iran. The episode can still be streamed in full via the above, as well as via podcast.
Pay The Rent - Soft On Glass
(White Reeves Productions)
Based out of Pittsburgh, White Reeves Productions has been crafting an intensely woozy niche, a sound world of foggy rust belt nocturnes in soft focus. This tape from local trio Pay The Rent trims down the track times, and somewhat tones up the focus on melody - all to absolutely gigantic effect. The soundtracks of Angelo Badalamenti, the instrumentals of Eno’s Another Green World, and the pulsations of America’s last great cosmic synth trio - Emeralds - have all gone into the eight tracks on Soft On Glass. From the opening pads of ‘Knaut’ (later reprised at the end of the album), a state of bliss is manifested, densely surrounding the listener. Interjections of softly plucked guitar tug things back towards Earth somewhat throughout the record, countering the crescendo of cresting tones and washes of fuzz on ‘Lower Down’, or twisting a distinct shade of blue with the noodled theme on ‘Calf’. Music of this sort is often too much of one thing or another - too introverted, too soundtracky ,too cosmic - but Pay The Rent balance every element skilfully, never sacrificing anything in the name of the melodies, never stretching out needlessly for ten minutes. It’s all concise, and streamlined, allowing each idea ample space. Eno’s ‘Becalmed’, or the briefer tracks on Emeralds’ Does It Look Like I’m Here? pulled the same trick, plunging listeners into sharply realised synth scapes mired in potent themes and lush electronic timbres, yanking the curtain closed again before they outstay their welcome.
Atlantikwall - Atlantikwall
Out via a new tape label based on the island of Anglesey (or Ynys Môn) called Sivilised, this self-titled collection of long form lo-fi tribalism is anything but. It’s the sort of record you’d find halfway down the rabbit hole of the Nurse With Wound list, seemingly impossible to attribute to a mortal from this dimension. A bedrock of looped simplistic drum figures and confused guitarscapes battle it out with all manner of overlapping gloop and - on the first side of the tape - half-murmured chant-like vocals. The artist has clearly overlapped way too many takes, but it has the effect of adding weight to the five colossal tracks on offer (rather than burying their key elements in a confused haze). ‘Rebuild The City Lies’ opens with a kind of confused song of relatively complicated multitracked singing somewhere between King Sunny Ade and Mark E Smith. To clarify, this is no lo-fi, outsider project. The artist behind Atlantikwall is an intensely clever arranger, and each of the 10-minute plus tracks builds and shifts with a keenly thought out logic, occasionally parting the sea of criss-crossing textures and chanting for a perfectly placed guitarpeggio.
Side two’s instrumentals are arguably more focused, and somewhat less weirdly joyful. ‘Downriver’ spends 12-minutes slowly marching drums, feedback, and piercing synth tones, sounding like Jad & David Fair covering Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine in their bedroom, and winding up as engrossing as a La Monte Young outing. ‘Duneskin’ closes the album with 20 minutes of higher energy beats that slowly grow and shift behind a barely changing set of repetitive guitar fuzz and gloopy keyboard mud. The billowing shards of amplifier noise and psychedelic sounds ride the funkified drumming deep over the horizon, to extremes $hit & $hine would proudly put their name on, and it’s an immense experience to follow it all the way. Five tracks of epic sprawling repetitive lo-fi percussive gloop you can nod your head to? I may have found my favourite cassette tape ever.
Giant Claw and Guerilla Toss - Giant Claw vs Guerilla Toss
(Orange Milk Records)
Whoa - well this one is somehow even better than the blurb would have you expect. America’s best party punkers Guerilla Toss (currently signed to DFA) get remixed by Giant Claw (Keith Rankin) - the psychedelic footwork master producer, and also the extraordinary designer behind the aesthetics of Ohio’s mighty Orange Milk label. Shouty Guerilla Toss vocalist Kassie Carlson is reconfigured as the hyperactive frontwoman of an 808 funk ensemble. Snatches of Guerilla Toss’ original bed of snappy drums, rugged guitars, and mangled electronics get reworked as warm beds of synth chords, drum machines, and dubby sound effects. The tropical underbelly of ‘Color Picture’ is extrapolated out to the nth degree, with Giant Claw’s rework even adding in manic strands of crazy rainbow colours and video game randomness - as if Taiwanese current affairs animators Next Media Animation were asked to channel a Guerilla Toss album through their convex lens. Giant Claw’s ability to rework Guerilla Toss’ source material into something that works quite so damn well is astounding.
O Ratel Ratel - Tranendal
Sonatine / T Soltau - Continuity Field/Breathing Through Glass
(Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere.)
The stellar Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere. label founded by Niels Geybels (All. Full. Stops. Intended.) has been issuing impeccably dark noisy atmospherics from its base in Antwerp since 2015, encased in uniformly perfect designs that give a growing collection of tapes from the label the feel of a minimal art exhibit. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the new brand of slick noise artists coming out of Copenhagen’s Posh Isolation sect.
This latest pair of tapes should make it abundantly clear, this is one label guaranteed to scratch the itch felt by anybody in need of faceless darkness and dread-filled brooding. Tranendal - apparently only the second release from Antwerp artist O Ratel Ratel - is a four track EP of primitive exercises in fuzzed out synth patterns that growl and roar like demons driven mad in solitary confinement. They’re dutifully simplistic, one-dimensional experiments, fiddling with a single idea or pattern for 4-5 minutes at a stretch, but the darkness summoned in that brief time is pretty stellar.
Purportedly music "sculpted according to the arrangement of the photographed objects" visible on its cover, another tape dedicates a side apiece to Continuity Field by LA-noisemaker Sonatine, and Breathing Through Glass by German artist Thorsten Soltau. Sonatine’s five contributions tread a stream-of-consciousness path through instrumental noise, assembling analogue hiss and wobbly keyboard themes into wonderfully forlorn instrumentals. T. Soltau works very similarly, although the edges and borderlines around his music are somewhat more faded, and a history in musique concrète is discernible. Outside elements, sounds, and voices do make their way into the mix, but even the grind of heavenly synths is assembled like a randomised montage of concrète chunks; sounds reassembled like Burroughs fingering through the week’s headlines in the search for sentences.
Black Thread - Sleeping Pitch
Yes Blythe - Arieto
(Invisible City Records)
San Francisco artist Greg Gorlen has a vast amount of decaying loop music to his name (lots of it available, often for ‘name your price’ DL, via his own Cascading Fragments imprint). Sleeping Pitch is his second under the name Black Thread for Gateshead’s Invisible City Records - incidentally one of the most dedicated dark ambient and drone labels in existence - and boasts a pair of exceptionally deep droners based around synthesizer patterns fed into a tape loop system which steadily decays (as far as I can tell). The decay sees the wistful melodies distort and mutate, underlining the depressive atmosphere with a hissy tribute to mortality. The two pieces are both just under ten minutes long, but in many ways manage to hit the same peaks as William Basinski’s much revered hour-long Disintegration Loops in much less time. Particularly side one.
Completing a journey involving three of Spool’s Out’s favourite labels, the founder of Manchester’s Sacred Tapes, Callum Higgins, recently released a double cassette on Tombed Visions under his Yes Blythe nom de plume, including one album made entirely using Fender Rhodes. Completing the journey, elements from the making of that release (Prepared Rhodes) have now had effects applied, field recordings meshed in, and a new set of edits done to created the two ambient pieces on Arieto out on Invisible City. The warm hum of the Fender Rhodes is extrapolated into a never ending glitchy bed over which Higgins’ contemplative chords slowly play out. The second side features the prominent street sounds and hum of the city in place of the warmth on side A, while the lone voice of the clean keyboard track plonks tragic chords in a cyclical pattern for ten repetitive - and heartbreaking - minutes.
Jakoby - Habits
Health is a tape label recently started by Leeds-based producer Bambooman. The wobbly fringes of beat-oriented production are really having a renaissance right now, and projects like Health - where beatmakers are able to fiddle and experiment with their sounds on physical releases - are largely responsible. Bambooman’s buddy Jakoby is behind the Habits tape, and Jakoby himself describes the tape as marking a shift in his music-making habits. "Making music started to become a ritual of sorts. I would find myself making two or three tracks a day, constantly re-editing, resampling and mangling sounds way beyond their original source." The result is a beautifully washed out half hour of music, where glistening tones meet rushing pulsations and tinkling arrhythmic clicks on ‘Relic’, or a paradise of incidental tinkles and backwards masked noises collide on ‘Awash’. It’s a beautiful production style, thoroughly utilising the computer as an organiser of sounds, filling the spaces usually allotted for beats and grooves with a sort of Kyoto style bliss and warm rays of computer screen glow. The one track with beats, ‘Tonic’, is a really quirky little banger to boot. We also hosted a special mix featuring Health-only material to the world on Spool’s Out Radio, listenable here.
Grapefruit - Knights Temple
So for starters, the MJMJ in this record label name represents two Michael Jordans. With that in mind, it’s no surprise how playful, weird, and above all wonderful this tape by Portland-based artist Grapefruit is. For a city so internationally hyped, I’ve always been of the frame of mind that Portland has little in the way of its own personality, that is rather assembles the best of the rest into one place like Berlin. The sounds on Knights Temple however, are what I always thought Portland would sound like. Ostensibly, this music blends the bedroom music psych guitar jamming and synthesizer tones with cuddly and cosy beats. The nine tunes on offer across the tape are pretty uniform in their colours, like a lineup of Hawaiian shirted dudes at a Sun Araw gig. The beats veer into occasionally more sci-fi vaporwave territory (‘Seven Immortals’ and ‘Casual Sects’), but it’s mostly woozily stoned, leaving space for Charles Salas Humara (the artist behind Grapefruit) to happily noodle away on his synth or solo into his wah pedal. Needless to say, Sun Araw fans should find a lot to enjoy here.
DJ R Tango - Road to Freedom
(Reject and Fade)
The techno scene in Budapest is throwing up so much amazing music it’s getting tough to keep track. Artists like S Olbricth, Norwell, A i w a, and Alpár are all crafting analogue beats and synths expertly into groovier retro shapes. DJ R Tango however (the project of music maker Milán Marjánovity) is distinctly different, aptly finding a home on Stockton-on-Tees’ sporadically active but always dark and distant Reject and Fade label. The seven tracks on Road To Freedom follow the trajectory suggested by the name, and seem to gradually shed the intense evil and blackness that encompasses the opening noisy tracks, breaking through to light at the end of the proverbial tunnel but closing track, ‘The Joy’. ‘Day By Day’ and ‘The Struggle’ open the album with explosions of black noise resembling large sheets of corrugated iron being punished by an angry wrecking ball, while the middle of the album covers a grey middle ground with tones of sweetness in the form of melodic keyboard melodies puncturing the black shroud. ‘A New Life’ and ‘The Joy’ close the album with triumphant synthesized grandeur and luminescence. This journey from the everyday struggle of industrial bleakness and grinding noise to the soft cushion of melodies and sunlight is surprisingly powerful listened to in one sitting.
Olm - Little Boy
(Grey Matter Productions)
This young artist from Tasmania has tagged his own music as #noise on Soundcloud, but these finely textured compositions carry far too much narrative weight and not nearly enough aggression for me to agree. Described as "an aural representation of the artist's childhood", Little Boy is a quartet of instrumentals that one can relatively easily interpret into four loosely related chapters in a childhood. ‘A Man Sees The Sky (Detail)’ opens with the shuddering echo-laden sound of birds taking to flight while a huge organ chord slowly crests, presumably ushering a new born Olm into the world. ‘Missing Children’ is even gentler; ten minutes of snail’s pace notes deep in a cavern of tremolo and reverb. The slowly unfurling beauty of Stars of the Lid’s ‘Piano Aquieu’ springs to mind more than Merzbow. ‘Sorry, We Got Lost’ puts things somewhat into perspective though, with several passages of the harshest possible hissing and crunching noise and gargled radio surfing - perhaps an excursion into the punches thrown and bloodied knee caps of boyhood. The title track closes the album with an extended reiteration of the opening track, integrating distant piano notes and mystical clatter into the sparsely textured opening half before a massive crescendo of organ returns, and brings the album to a symphonic climax. Little Boy is an album of deceptive depth, and the amount of himself that Olm has put into this is relatively huge. This sort of abstraction can all too often wind up an exercise in escapism, but Olm paints sonic pictures based in the semi-reality of childhood memories.
Pregnant - Made In China (Them There Records)
Helping get another brand new British tape label, Them There Records, off the ground, this two track EP from Californian duo Pregnant presents us with two brief sides of dense mutli-coloured glitch hop. The pair appear to have nabbed a massive array of samples - everything from Black Sabbath’s ‘Orchid’ to Miles Davis to street noise works its way into the mix - and crafted them into funkified montages that veer from short-circuiting damaged grooves to brief dramatic interludes. Side one even integrates a pretty damn funny montage of Donald Trump saying the word ‘China’ repeatedly. For all the insane reshaping of samples, and the concrete mixture approach to processing everything together, Made In China is massively fun and rewarding. We also hosted a special mix introducing Them There Records to the world on Spool’s Out Radio, listenable here.