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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Cassette Reviews For August With Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , August 22nd, 2016 07:51

Warm up your walkman: it’s Tristan Bath with August’s best new tape releases. Includes a heap of retro acid, queer improv, Mandarin jangle pop, and some of the latest from Opal Tapes

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Last month one episode of Spool’s Out radio broadcast on London’s Resonance FM featured an utterly gorgeous live session by West Yorkshire based tape manipulator Stuart Chalmers, playing the swarmandel (Indian zither) he used to create his recent hazy dreamlike opus on Was ist Das.

The episode can still be streamed in full above or downloaded as a podcast.

21st Century Wolf - Ideographic Space
(Sacred Phrases)
&
21st Century Wolf - Pagan Technology
(Reckno)

Having released nothing more than the weirdly funky standout track from Seagrave’s These Few Bones compilation in 2015, 21st Century Wolf now emerges with not one but two debut records released concurrently by two of the most respected tape labels either side of the pond. Across both Ideographic Space and Pagan Technology, Irish musician Kit Loss manages to gather so many different facets of electronic production into one place it ends up pretty damn staggering. The music’s divvied up pretty appropriately between the slicker soundworld of Sacred Phrases and Reckno’s rougher palate, presenting two differing but fully formed sides of the same artist.

Ideographic Space features a vast collection of sung samples and vocal snippets, lifted from poppier plains and rehoused in wonky glitchscapes periodically littered with jittery beats. The sampled ‘hmms’ and ‘aahs’ fill in for a vocalist much like the cast of voices repeatedly deployed across footwork’s speedy rhythms, here stretched and skewed between jangles and pads into awkward angles. Much of the album is damn dreamy, but there are a few diversions into greyer territory, such as the wash of stereo delayed vocals sparring with tinkling hi-hats on ‘Edain’, which sound trapped in a cage rather than freely floating in a dreamscape. This sonic scope - like Holly Herndon’s or (labelmate) Kara-Lis Coverdale’s - is boundless, but it’s held together by 21st Century Wolf’s skill with lush melodies, binding the weird abstraction together like a duvet. For all the meticulous kaleidoscopic madness, two choral tracks (‘Anima’ and ‘Desire Eternal’) made of little more than sampled choirs (and is that an organ?) cut-up into fresh melodies are amongst the best here.

Voices are still present on Pagan Technology, although far less of a theme and more of a feature to flesh out a set of perfectly formulated rhythmic tunes. ‘Cyrstal’ is a lush five minutes of jangling percussion and cosy bass; as if Warp Records’ Patten put their hands to recreating vaporwave. The tape slows down towards the end, with gentle backwards pianos on ‘Caress Donors Rose Across Drones’ and a sunbathed kosmische miniature in ‘Mercury’. All in all, this pair of releases is one hell of an introduction to an innately gifted artist.

801383 - Here
(self-released)

It was with some trepidation that I sat through the opening minutes of Here. "This sounds like it must have taken a lot of effort to make," I thought. "Shame it’s just some straight up retro acid stuff; same old shit for like 20 years now." That’s right, a demon had taken ahold of me dear listeners, and lucky for me I see the light again. It’s the same demon that wrote those tepid reactions to Aphex Twin’s Syro and Orphaned Deejay Selek in recent years. The scurrying beats and chunky Roland basslines in 801383’s arsenal are clearly nothing new, but contrary to what one might think, this is not a quick fix music form. Like the drug that gave the genre its name, acid is decades old, and relatively slow to take its full effect on you. There are indeed a couple of proper bangers you can mainline if necessary (particularly ‘Intake, Richmond’) but it’s best to check out the more subtly simmering atmospheres of ‘San Antonio’ or 9-minute closer ‘909 South Jefferson Street’ to get an idea of 801383’s strengths. It all remains relatively simple at its core - looping basslines and snappy drum machines while cresting the frequencies up or down - but done right, the effects are as potent as ever. This music is merely funky and dirty on the surface, yet truly hallucinogenic in its core.

Konstrukt feat. Graham Massey & David Andrew McLean

This is one of those releases where anybody who knows any of the players involved pretty much knows it’s going to be stellar. Istanbul’s Konstrukt are a free-jazz band that have collaborated with an impressive array of the genre’s stalwarts - Evan Parker, Marshall Allen, Peter Brötzmann to name but a few - but this concert recorded in Salford at the Islington Mill sees the band in unusually groovy form. It pretty quickly brings to mind 70s Miles Davis (much like some of Gnod’s recent work with guest sax player and Tombed Visions label head David McLean), with bassist Barlas Tan Özemek somewhat guiding the mood and pace from mystical to downright funky, then off again into the free-jazz cosmos. 808 State’s Graham Massey and David McLean both sprinkle additional layers in the background and contribute fine solos to the whole, ably meeting the test of keeping pace with Konstrukt’s clairvoyant interplay. The mood is oily thick at all times - even during the moments of more chaotic freeform freakout - so Live At Islington Mill ends up being that rarest of things: a free jazz album that free jazz haters could fall in love with. Fantastic. [Watch tQ for an interview with Graham Massey about the making of Live At Islington Mill coming up later this week, Ed]

James Chen ‎- Taiwanese Folk Style
(Moon Glyph)

An inter-generational collaboration, this release sees Hewson Chen of jangly (and pretty damn delightful) NYC indie band The New Lines flesh out songs written and sung by his father James Chen back in the 1980s. With Hewson adding drums, beautifully played guitars, and some gentle synth lines, James Chen’s songs are now dense with Byrds-a-like hooks. The chirpy and sunny instrumentation, realised with all the revivalist perfection of an Allah-Lahs album, does little to quell the deep longing in James Chen’s mandarin singing. For the record the songs are purportedly about "cicadas moulting in the summer, the pleasures of leisurely sipping tea, blooming Poinciana flowers and a wistful longing for his family after living in the States for many years". Some things just don’t need translating though.

Holypalms ‎- Jungle Judge
(Artetetra)

Pavel Eremeev is an artist based in Moscow and a member of Middle-Eastern tinged band uSSSy. Under his solo guise as Holypalms, Eremeev hooks his quarter-toned guitar up to his laptop to make some pretty gritty and relentless music, riding all manner of West African, and South Asian rhythms. His background in complex compositions with uSSSy seems to have really opened up the amount of detail and sheer number of sections and interleaving tracks of distorted Eastern guitar licks and synthetic drum rhythms at his disposal. ‘New Monkey Forest II’ stands out as a glorious 8-minute burst of energy, the rabid guitarwork blending with a vast array of meticulously programmed jungle drums. In comparison the 12 minute ‘Stoned In The Jungle Stolen By The Liana’ is much woozier and stranger, focusing in on laptop bleeps for a simmering introduction before the guitar joins in and the entire affair weaves its way through a good half dozen peaks and troughs.

Rafał Flejter ‎- Siunjata
&
Cukier ‎- Road to Recovery
(Wounded Knife)

Warsaw’s Wounded Knife continues to cement its position as a source of music that’s both intensely sonically challenging and yet strangely moving all at once. For a debut, Rafał Flejter’s Siunjata EP is uniquely bold and learned, comprising a gentle quartet of five-minute-long tracks. Inspired by Cartesian philosophy on emptiness (wherein there is no nothing, and everything is something), Flejter has crafted some incredibly serene music that unfolds with a logic all its own. Drones, whispers of effect-morphed samples, distant voices, and a persistent dull hiss permeate the stereo field like a belt of clouds just sitting on the horizon. The central and key instrument is clearly the piano, around which each piece in some way or other sits. Fennesz’s music (in particular Bécs) and several of the Bedroom Community’s more synthetically bent composers spring to mind. Flejter’s music glistens with a sort of gloriously arctic sunlight that’s pretty tough to argue with.

Cukier - Polish for ‘sugar’ - are an electroacoustic free jazz trio unusually utilising synths and ‘electronics’ alongside the more standard clarinet and drums. Road To Recovery is the trio’s second tape, and really sees the group break free from the under-discussed confines of free-improv’s tendency towards chaos at all costs. Structurally, each of the pieces on Road To Recovery is (perhaps confusingly) a journey towards chaos and fire, starting out from a place of relative peace. A droning synth line from Łukasz Kacperczyk opens ‘Attempt I’, giving space for clarinetist Piotr Mełech to snake soft lethargic lines of melody through while drummer Michał Kasperek tinkers and scrapes away on the skins, the trio never really lift off, rather remaining pensive. ‘Attempt II’ starts with rumbling drums and playful clarinet lines soon joined by electronic whirrs and noises. The piece actually ends up swinging pretty hard before a strange section in the middle where near-Prurient-style synths and electronics take fully over, replied by four closing minutes of fiery rhythms by Kasperek. ‘Attempt III’ showcases Mełech’s ability to improvise forlorn clarinet tunes, and ‘Attempt IV’ and ultimately final track ‘Rehab’ introduce more strange electronic noises for the drums to spar with. It’s well established that free jazz can easily tell a story and evoke some very familiar mainstream forms of emotion, but Cukier balance textural improv and abstract imagery with yearning melodies and passages of swinging jamming better than almost anybody else…

Photograph of The Ghost by Walter Wlodarczyk

The Ghost - The Hole
(Tombed Visions)

As Tombed Visions put it, "This is the new Queer improv and it is unreal how fucking good it is." Led by fiery saxophonist/electronics ace Michael Foster, this second cassette by Brooklyn-based improv trio The Ghost is intensely striking. Framed as a reaction to homophobia and the perennial evil of prejudice, The Hole opens with an audio snippet of an American news presenter in 1967 declaring "A majority of Americans favour legal punishment, even for homosexual acts performed in private between consenting adults." The ensuing electroacoustic clatter assembled by Foster with double bassist Henry Fraser and percussionist Connor Baker veers between sorrow, anger, and provocation. The trio just as often deploy hissy tapes and samples as they do bass bows and sax parps. ‘Certain Scars Appear’ sees murky sex sighs and electronic drones hum along fearfully until the trio pick up their instruments to add hushed creaky vibrations. The sense of dread and fear following the despicable news broadcast turns into something far more aggressive on ‘Apply Pleasure’, with Baker going postal on his kit and Foster blows his sax furiously, channelling Albert Ayler at the summit of Spiritual Unity. ‘Apply Pleasure’ also has BDSM sounds either side of it, one man yelling at another between spanks and cries of pain, "Don’t you fucking come!" Some enormously deep bowing from Fraser chucks the entire trio into a dungeon on ‘Under The Teeth Of Dogs Or Upon The Wheel’, somewhat resembling drone doom’s bleakest moments more than anything related to jazz. The entire comes to a head on the cresting intensity of 12 minute finale, ‘In Such Mad Worships There Is Peril’. After a bass intro sounding like a worn bike wheel in need of some serious oiling, drums begin to pound and the group work their way to the most intensely angry moment on the record. Tying such solid meanings and intentions to free jazz recordings can often seem like little more than an afterthought strapped on to some improvisations, but The Hole really seems like a cohesive and powerful statement (that statement being "fuck fascists and homophobes"). If there’s one emotion free jazz was practically purpose built to portray, it’s sheer anger.

Nick Storring - Exaptations
(Notice Recordings)

Toronto composer and cellist Nick Storring is clearly such a rare and exceptional talent as both a composer and instrumentalist. He’s previously featured in this column as a member of utterly stellar psychedelic jam group I Have Eaten The City, and as half of a far out there cello duo called The Knot, while he’s already released plenty of work under his own name too, including Exaptations’ clear predecessor Endless Conjecture out on Orange Milk records. As the title seemed to hint at, Endless Conjecture saw Storring layering aural chunk after aural chunk atop each other, utilising a vast array of instruments to make wandering, confusing, and periodically intensely pretty soundscapes. The two sidelong pieces on Exaptations were originally composed and recorded for a dance piece in 2013-2014, and quote but a handful of the instruments he apparently plays: found objects, vibraphone, glockenspiel, balafon, chimes, hand bells, toy pianos, thumb pianos, voice/whistling, electric and acoustic cellos, and a load more. The music makes unsteady progress from sound to sound, and it’s never quite clear just how meticulously composed the pieces are, but it renders the two pieces thoroughly unknowable and engaging listens. Chunks of banged vibraphones and chimes give way to flutes and synth washes. Angular rhythm snippets flow into intricate swarms of lush majesty played on some dozen instruments at once. The second side houses much more awkward and strange hissy noise, with many long layers of droning synthetic tones and less of a focus on kaleidoscopically stacked acoustic instruments. Ultimately though, both sides are massively rewarding as both deep or shallow listens - however, precisely how the hell one would dance to it remains a mystery.

Wei Zhongle - Nice Mask Over An Ugly Face
(Pretty Purgatory)

Chicago’s Wei Zhongle follow last year’s Nu Trance put out on NNA Tapes with this excellent EP. Having expanded from a trio to a quartet, switching drummers in the process while retaining drugged out clarinet and guitar, and adding fretless bass, Nice Mask Over An Ugly Face is ultimately less mutated and warped than its predecessor. The grooves on these six tracks swagger and snap with math rockian precision, while clarinetist John McCowen ices the proverbial cake with hooky counterpoints. Rob Jacobs’ vocals are better than ever, balancing Peter Gabriel grandeur with the fragility of Daniel Rossen. This new phase of the band however, is set aside by the muscle with which they execute some incredibly wonky grooves. Check out the interlacing of a busy hi-hat beat with echoey guitar on ‘Prove It To U’ and ‘Peeping Tom’. If Battles turned their hand to poppier song forms it could well end up sounding like this. (Well, they sort of did with ‘Ice Cream’ back in 2011, but anyway.) Overall this one feels like an exceptional stopgap before another full length, but from the sounds of it that one could wind up a freaky minor masterpiece.

Dr. C - Album
(Ojodeapolo Limited)

When you receive a tape from a label whose bandcamp locates itself in Berlin, and tags the album with both ‘world music’ and ‘electronica’, you manage your expectations. Call me a cynic, but my patience has begun to deplete when it comes to ‘ethnic sampling’. Luckily I can report that this sort-of-untitled Album by Dr. C (a nom de plume for Chilean producer Jorge Cortés) does anything but simply layer fat beats over some ‘rainforest vibes’ nabbed from archive.org. Dr. C takes field recordings from travels in Southeastern Asian, his own percussion recordings, and then cuts them up into laid back little edits that loop away for four to ten minutes at a time. The handclaps, singing, and rustle of trees and wind from field recordings blend with all sorts of gamelan and hand percussion without any severe electronic processing, maintaining the archival feel of the source material. Strictly analog in its textures and utterly minimal in structure, the feel is far closer to the documentary like feel of late-70s records by Munich’s world trippers Embryo than to the deep house grooves Jorge Cortés normally seems to make.

Emra Grid - The Same Face
&
E-Saggila - Old Orders Of Beauty
(Opal Tapes)

Will Opal Tapes ever do something shit? They continue to fire out the very best in bleakness from basecamp, and these two from the latest batch of cassettes exemplify the two only somewhat differing sides to the label. First up, Emra Grid is a mysterious artist crafting ghostly beatless soundscapes that lean on simple melodic themes around which all manner of serrated and hissy sounds battle it out. The mood is for the most part murkily poignant and nostalgic without being direct; like finding a badly blurred photograph taken on a night you can’t fully remember. The meticulously realised static and hiss gives it the feel of a poltergeist caught on tape too, while distant keyboard tones hum like the horns of gigantic ships passing blindly in the night. Occasionally scary but for the most part utterly beautiful, The Same Face is a staggering debut release for this mysterious artist.

Toronto’s E-Saggila takes a few minutes to get going, but quickly unleashes the sort of crunchy industrial beats which are also associated pretty commonly with the label. Old Orders of Beauty comprises six solid tracks of pitch black acid techno that pummel you over the head just as often as they hint at an even worse fate right around the corner. The minor key arpeggios and pads swarming the background recall the hellish futurescapes of fellow Canadian, David Cronenberg, chewed up and spit out in the form of dancefloor functional beat music.

Tim Clarke
Aug 25, 2016 11:43pm

This column is so fucking great.

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