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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: September In Tape Reviews By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , September 20th, 2016 09:07

Every day is Cassette Store Day in Tristan Bath’s house, so as usual he’s seen fit to hand pick the best recent tape releases, including banging beats, vintage cha cha samples, lo-fi folk and a ‘symphony of noise’

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For the latest episode of Spool’s Out radio broadcast on London’s Resonance FM I asked West Yorkshire musician Sophie Cooper, to dig in to her tape collection and make a hissy mix of lo-fi junk and trippy tunes. Sophie has released and collaborated on a bunch of tape and CD releases, notably on a collaboration with French pianist Delphine Dora which made it on to Spool’s Out’s Best Tapes Of 2015 feature.

The episode can still be streamed in full via the player above, as well as via this podcast.

Ciarra Black - Pendulum
(No-Tech)

Originally from Philadelphia, Ciarra Black is a Brooklyn-based producer/DJ and member of duo Appetite (who’ve previously released on Ascetic House). This is Black’s first solo release, and sees her reaching for some truly gritty power electronics to flesh out skeletal throbs of minimal beats and bass tones. The structures are familiar workouts in minimal dancefloor music, but the textures Ciarra Black deploys are closer to the gnarly electronics of vintage Throbbing Gristle records than anything else. Black’s cited Helena Hauff as a big influence on her DJing, but this music is much more muscular than the Hamburg DJ’s solo productions. The centrepiece is clearly ‘Translation None’, which spends six minutes building shards of knob twiddled hiss and a sharp-edged kick drum over a single demonic synth note. Tracks like ‘Axi Flux’ or ‘Chemical Burn’ are noisy and funky in a more familiar fashion (the likes of L.I.E.S. and Opal Tapes have covered their share of this territory), but the majority of the tape has Black balance boogieability with greying atmospheres and amelodic hiss in a fresh new form that billows out of the speakers damn well stunningly.

Fuzzy Hell - Hex Songs
(Sofia Records)

Hex Songs comes on a blood red plastic tape housed in a cosy cuddly black fuzzy jacket, each with its own unique I Ching fortune for the listener. The image on the outside however is that of a spider on its web, and similarly this music lures and traps its listeners. Yasmin appears to be the first name of the artist behind Fuzzy Hell - details about her are scarce beyond the first name, and perhaps that she’s based in the Irish midlands - and she deploys her searing folky songs with gentle psychedelic touches. ‘July Song’ has backwards masked guitar notes, while ‘I Prevailed’ has the six-string chords channelled through spare amounts of echo. The recordings themselves were made in a massive variety of ways too, ranging from what sounds like more professionally done multi-channel sessions, to takes done with that grungy laptop mic (‘Teleology’). Above all though, these are brilliantly written songs, and Fuzzy Hell’s voice and words are unassumingly powerful, quietly confident in the magic of the tunes. ‘Hexagram 30 (fire)’ is a repetitious hymn to regret, written in heartbreaking earnest, never outstaying its welcome over seven gentle minutes. The tape brings to mind those early Devendra Banhart demo recordings, or Wooden Wand’s many solo albums; it’s engaging not despite the rawness, but rather because of it.

Skyjelly - Blank Panthers / Priest, Expert, or Wizard
(Doom Trip Records)

Boston’s Skyjelly are a band who appreciate how a bit of lo-fi entropy fits into their songs. This release assembles an EP and album by the band onto a translucent blue cassette, and opening track ‘Sixes’ is a pretty instant winner of multilayered psychedelia. Looped claps, drums, and shakers craft a fiery groove and rugged guitars interleave slyly. Echoed and barely intelligible vocals latch around the repetition for a while, then at 3 minutes a searing guitar solo melts your face right off. Think a Butthole Surfers’ wig out executed with William Onyeabor’s lo-fi funk aesthetic. The first side keeps the energy up, with the swampy and bass-heavy ‘Acosta’, or a garage rock jam led by a thumb-piano lick called ‘Seamagnet’. The gentler melody on ‘Krilltastica’ is nonetheless roughed up with lo-fidelity beats punching their way through.

Side two (the album Priest, Expert, or Wizard) is arguably more focused and somewhat less strange, concentrating more on the songs themselves than concocting a gravy of beat loops and fuzzy guitar solos. Acoustic guitars appear throughout, as do warm keyboard washes and more conventionally assembled rhythm tracks, but it’s still a sonic grab bag heading in a dozen directions. ‘Watch Out’ employs punkier energy and adds some killer shredding - and laughably moronic slide noodling. A heartfelt acoustic ditty quickly follows - ‘All Around Me’ - which is closer to Iron & Wine than any wig out music. For good measure this is then followed by a mess of tribal drum machines and Mark E Smith vocals. ‘That's Where The Modern Is’ is the climax of sorts, and Skyjelly puncture and deflate a sweetly sentimental slow number with an increasingly chaotic ocean of looped and layered vocal tracks. They spiral way out of control by the end, as if a 12" of 10cc’s 'I’m Not In Love' were left out to warp in a September heat wave.

Abu Ama - Arabxo Ishara
(Bokeh Versions)

Bokeh Versions have been pretty deftly cataloguing hazy dub-influenced music on tape since emerging last year. This latest one from Abu Ama sticks out though, taking dub tools and interweaving Middle Eastern and Latin tropes into the mix. The playfully titled ‘B!n Ladens Funeral Fiesta’ pretty much summarises the atmosphere of Arabxo Ishara. A portrait of a sweltering summer’s day in a multicultural city centre, cumbia accordions repetitiously boogie over a shamelessly reggaeton beat while all manner of sampled yelps, hiss, and urban hum buzzes through the background. It’s like stumbling into a street party just as the bin men are noisily picking up the rubbish. Later ‘Pashmek’ and ‘Tired In Istanbul’ both deploy Arab plucked and bowed string instrument samples (perhaps a qanun or saz) resembling the meandering melodies of Umm Kulthum, although alotted between the chunky bars erected by dirty piano dub beats. Oddly enough ‘Back In England’ then messes up some sampled pub chatter, turning a bloke resembling Uncle Albert from Only Fools And Horses into a demonic dub toaster in the process. Obviously Muslimgauze is a reference - particularly the sparse hand percussion ceremonial, ‘Aramazd’ - but Bryn Jones never made music this much fun.

There’s little in the way of detail about the producer behind the name Abu Ama, other than he lives in West Germany, and spends much of his free time teaching English to refugees. In fact the tape is "dedicated to all the refugees worldwide".

Charles Barabé - Cicatrices
(Never Anything Records)

So much more than just another idiosyncratic voice from Quebec, Charles Barabé is that understated type of visionary. He’s put out a good dozen or so releases to date exploring all manner of synthetic textures and patchworked composite-ions, but this double tape - along with the latest edition of his intensely orchestrated synthesizer instrumental Confessions series, out earlier this year via Orange Milk - feels like something of apex for Barabé. Cicatrices is a sequel of sorts to last year’s Cicatrice, Scar, Éclair on 2:00AM Tapes, which similarly compiled western musical junk and Barabé’s own synthesizer warblings into extended suites of concrète collage.

A woozy computerised voice punctuates sections with deadpan announcements of "Part Four", "Part Five", etc., ushering in vintage cha-cha or lounge samples, and bleeps from synths. A key aesthetic cousin is most certainly the proto-electronics of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Delia Derbyshire, and David Vorhaus’ White Noise project. The four sidelong pieces each last a full 25 minutes, comprising a total of 20 pieces listed on the j-card. Ultimately a very abstract and convoluted narrative journey emerges, travelling through a voltage-driven theatre of the absurd. Not a second is wasted or dull either. Cicatrices is a gigantic, playful, and crazy delight, and it should easily rank up there with the best tapes this year.

Various Artists - Summer of Sad
(Z Tapes)

Out via Slovakian bedroom pop obsessive label Z Tapes, Summer Of Sad is a compilation curated by Shana Hartzel of American blog Swell Tone, focusing on female artists. The ten tunes tend to fall into that very clean category of guitar pop, leaning very heavily on potent melodies and a cavalcade of excellent vocal performances. Highlights include the dreamily nocturnal ‘bat’ by Philly singer-songwriter Òor, and the laid back Yo La Tengo textures - replete with a very nonchalant Georgia Hubley-esque vocal - of Melbourne’s Summer Flake. There’s a couple of ace little covers too (Buffalo Springfield’s ‘On The Way Home’ and Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’), but they pale in comparison to the original songs on offer here. Another Philadelphian artist, Sarah M., delivers probably the coolest track on the comp: a sparse and swaggering beat-heavy track over which she layers some equally attitude-heavy vocals.

Profits are going towards a Slovakian charity organization called Esther, running a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse and displaced children, in the small town of Hlohovec 40 miles east of Bratislava.

Spartan Jet-Plex - Get Some
(Fox Food Records)

Written and recorded by Nancy Kells under the name Spartan Jet-Plex (she also painted the striking cover image of a bird-of-prey taking flight), Get Some is a meandering and unpredictable grab bag of lo-fi bedroom pop tunes (but far more engaging than that makes it sound). The tape opens with a cheap Casio keyboard preset, supplemented by a childish tune on melodica, all sounding like it was recorded directly to a Fisher Price tape player. ‘Clear Section’ then follows establishing what’s more generally the tone of Spartan Jet-Plex’s music, with an intimate and wistful song delivered soulfully over understated synth and drum patterns. There’s too many sidebars though for this to be straight up dreamy pop music. The seven-minute ‘Thin Transparent’ diverts into an odd little acid house breakdown in the middle, and ‘Implode’ never quite gets going, hovering with odd dissonance around any sort of settled groove. The mood’s close to a lighter hearted Robert Smith circa Seventeen Seconds, filling out the smokey spaces with deceptively beautiful songs, mired in a mix of suburban Virgin Suicides depression, and the swaggering retro synth-cool of Drive.

Heejin Jang - Binary Breath
(Heavy Mess)

Released by self-described ‘discrete cassette label’ Heavy Mess, this tape by South Korean artist Heejin Jang seems in no small way influenced by the sonic architecture of her current home in Brooklyn. Jang is a multidisciplinary artist also working with videos and performance, so it certainly seems fitting when the four very loose and long ambient pieces on Binary Breath are such a thoroughly visceral and visual experience. The palette of the album is little more than sampled street sounds, digital noises and pulses, and a few unidentifiable chunks of processing. Jang allots the spaces with uncanny precision, particularly on the first and final tracks, both of which feel far quicker than 13 minutes apiece. The crunchy and obliquely realised assemblages of police sirens, traffic hum, echoed out subway clatter, PA systems, vocal snippets, plus - on the third track - some very noisy building works, all seem imbued with mystical weight.

Here the city sounds like a lumbering living beast. Jang reverses and loops sections of sound intently, cresting walls of static and digital noise drones atop the mess like butter icing. London’s own Helm has been producing similar works for some time, although where his compositions can resemble larger scale urban ceremonials, Jang’s are far more intimate. The second track ‘0010’ is perhaps the most intense experience on the tape, with all the sounds gathering over a gentle metronomic pulse for the full 17 minute running time. This music truly creeps under your skin, and while neither nightmarish nor necessarily beautiful, it’s endlessly thought provoking. Jang’s clatter really prods the pressure points of anybody who’s lived in a busy city.

Noel Meek - The Lothian Tapes
(Bunkland)

The Lothian Tapes is named as much because Noel Meek recorded this music straight to tape during a six week stint at the Edinburgh festival, helping out fellow Kiwi Olivia Webb with a sound installation at the Fringe. Previous releases have seen Meek head from Earthy drones through to chaotically playful noise music - pedals, synths, and drum machines snapping away at each other like kids in a playground. These two sidelength suites see Meek’s noise sounding heftier and more zonked out than ever before. Side A (delineated into four parts including one titled ‘wit's the cyst next door’ and finally ‘granite feathers don't fly’) has the curtains open on to recordings of twangs and vocal snippets fuzzed into monstrosities which Meek yanks hither and thither via some manic knob twiddling. The piece rides repeated waves of 9V battery-power through to some needle-burying thumping beats, a bit of Merzbow-ian factory screeching, and a climactic comedown of squealing rusty wheel tones. Side B (a two part suite of ‘evan further’ and ‘psalm of the gneiss’) sees Meek overlap some nature sounds and fold in a synth drone until the noise is unbearably dissonant, around the six minute mark a more blissful note weaves its way in, and slowly overtakes the piece for a gnarly blowout which cycles on for a ten minutes of serene entropy.

If anything can be described as a "symphony of noise", this tape is surely it.

Arp - Inversions
(Geographic North)

The two longer pieces on this record by Arp (aka NYC composer Alexis Georgopoulos) were originally written for a sound installation in 2014, and thus made use of longer durations. The music is for the most part emanating from Georgopoulos’ various synthesizers. On the first side’s 20 minute ‘Raga for Moog & Violin’, he unsurprisingly makes nimble use of a Moog, crafting a jittery drifting mix of drones and wobbly note fiddling akin to A Rainbow In Curved Air, while guest violinist Hiro Kone slowly slides between the gathering clouds like the spectral bowed strings of Japanese fluxus legend Takehisa Kosugi (of Taj Mahal Travellers fame). The vibe is one of a vintage sort of bliss, and like any raga it’s thoroughly adaptable trip music; ace for both deep and background listening. The quarter-of-an-hour long ‘Flamingo’ on the flipside oddly switches mood entirely for a sort of deeply minimal workout in early synthesizer disco beats - Moroder-meets-Von-Oswald if you will - oddly disseminating in its final minutes at a snail’s pace from groovy to sleepy. The final track is a much shorter piece which ended up unused at the installation, a luminescent three-minute meditation for piano. Arp’s 2013 album More did away with the blissed out minimal trip music of his earlier work (which had landed him a collaborative LP with Anthony Moore as part of RVNG’s FRKWYS series) in favour of several baroque pop tunes and art rock studio ditties. It’s been described as an Eno-like transformation more than once before, but the comparison seems more fitting than ever in light of this magnificent tape of long form, no pussyfooting, heaven music.

Glot - Principalities
(videogamemusic)

"Just me making abstract narratives", explains Glot on the bandcamp page for this one. "A mix of sketches, loops and ideas over a period of a year." This matter-of-fact explanation by the West Country based soundclouder-cum-cassetter is actually ridiculously spot on. These 11 tracks last a total of 23 minutes (the shortest track is under a minute, the longest just over 5) do have that unfinished sketchy feel, but it’s in no way to their detriment. Glot is making the same kind of streamlined, HD electronic abstraction that Visionist seemed to culminate with on last year’s half hour future grime opus Safe - albeit in far less grandiose and ultimately incomplete form. These snippets could easily go on to formulate a fuller album matching the intensely detailed digital strangeness of Safe - or perhaps even Arca’s Xen - and at points it almost seems to. The organic bleeps and chimes of ‘Tanker’ gleam like a shiny new bathtub, while whip cracks of crystalline synthesis snap in and out of silence on ‘Vitriol/Bile Pt1’, fit to burst into something widescreen and grandiose… then they quickly cut after a mere 61 seconds. At five minutes, ‘Bounded In Soil’ is by far the longest track. Step by step it gathers mutant chipmunk vocals in irregular patterns inside a computerised echo chamber, eventually collapsing under the mass of weightless voices. Unfocused, incomplete, and far too short, Principalities is nonetheless a pretty damn transcendent 23 minutes of music. Pretty good for a seemingly very loose "mix of sketches, loops and ideas".

Wild Anima - blue twenty-two
(Blue Tapes & X-Ray Records)

Following on from Katie Gately’s Pipes, LostPoet’s Acapellas 4 The Culture, and EyeSea’s blue ten (an a cappella death metal album of course), Blue Tapes continues exploring the human voice with Wild Anima. It’s a project of musician Alex Alexopoulos, who previously released on Blue Tapes with her Kurosounds project, here working with unnamed collaborators to create these gaping monastic vocal pieces. Sitting somewhere between the madrigals of 16th century Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo, the decaying tape loops of 20th century minimalist William Basinski, and Enya, the music here is made up almost entirely of distant murky choirs. Side A was recorded on a farm in Devon back in 2013 before the project even had a name, deep under the spell of Tibetan culture and "feelings of compassion". The recording quality is muddy to almost alien degrees, as meditative repetitions of female voices seep into vast caverns of reverb. Keiji Haino’s short lived medieval music project, Nijiumu, springs to mind, if only for the sheer spiritual intensity of that vacant space. Side two’s side-long piece titled ‘Selene’ was recorded later, and integrates barely recognisable strings and echo-laden voices of Inuit shaman amid Alexopoulos’ epic vocals. The floaty amorphous soundscape strangely reminded me of The KLF’s trippy Chill Out - although perhaps swapping out Elvis Presley on a car radio for Pandit Pran Nath in a cave.

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