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Spool's Out

Spool’s Out: Tape Reviews By Tristan Bath For June
Tristan Bath , June 26th, 2017 08:15

Tristan Bath chooses the best tape releases you should be spending your pocket money on this June. Kill Alters photograph courtesy of Kevin McGee

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Spool’s Out Radio #105: Hive Mind's Moroccan Tape Mix

A recent episode of the Spool’s Out radio show on London’s Resonance FM featured a mixtape of Moroccan music culled from tapes gathered by Hive Mind records. They’re imminently issuing a record by late Gnawa musician Maalem Mahmoud Gania, but on the mix you’ll hear a range of different Moroccan musical styles, from L’Hajja L’Hamdawya’s classic Chaabi sound to the modern Berber folk music of Fatima Tabaamrante, which blends traditional instruments such as the rabab and banjo, with drum machines and autotune.

Head over to spools-out.com, or the Resonance FM website to find out more about the show. This episode and others can still be streamed in full via the above, as well as via podcast.

Kill Alters - No Self Help
(Hausu Mountain)

Noise rock therapy actually sounds like the best possible way to deal with your issues. The genre pretty much opens the floodgates to all the aggression, childish behaviour, and role play required. Aptly then, Bonnie Baxter - the leader and central figure in Brooklyn-based Kill Alters - seems to have rediscovered and reinvented herself through the medium. A few years ago, Baxter began shedding her old skin as an electronic producer under the name of Shadowbox, with a live Boiler Room set and RBMA tenure, and then launched Kill Alters in its wake. The project originally stemmed from Baxter stumbling over her mother’s homemade audio tapes while working on some Shadowbox material. As Baxter explained at the time, "it kind of put Shadowbox on the back burner, [Kill Alters] just needed my attention."

The first Kill Alters release, self-issued on tape and digital, utilised the recordings made by Baxter’s mother (who suffers from severe OCD and Tourette’s), including all sorts of jokes, arguments, odd stream-of-consciousness vocalisations, and playtime with the young Bonnie, and turned them into industrial beat jams showered with yappy vocals. The second release by the project, No Self Help, sees Kill Alters grown to a trio with Nicos Kennedy contributing electronics and Hisham A. Bharoocha (formerly of Black Dice) behind a drum kit. Resultantly they sound more like a band, particularly on beat-heavy tunes like ‘Ego Swim’. I guess this music does for me what Death Grips does for people who don’t mind all that swaggering machismo bullshit: heavy, hard, and weird tunes fronted by a manic vocalist. The Black Dice connection actually seems to manifest itself on a few moments, like on ‘The Holder’ where Bharoocha’s furious tom work lays the groundwork for the tune, Baxter’s voice squeezed through a chain of pitch shifters and echo effects. The original home-taped sounds are still present in the form of four interludes of baby Bonnie singing to herself, and the closing track ‘Wart Therapy’, is actually just a sort of surreal role play by Baxter and her mum in a faux therapy session, somehow ending in a manic exorcism. It’s a fitting end to a record joining the dots between America’s basement noise rock heritage and the postmodern strands of its Adult Swim id. I really can’t wait to see these guys live.

Ecto Mist - Equal
(Genot Centre)

The paradox of electronic music’s relationship with syncopation continues to throw up all sorts of oddly infectious music. Way out on the sonic fringes, free-jazz-ian polyrhythms have erupted from artists like Patten and Yearning Kru, while the likes of Flying Lotus have practically made a whole movement by shuffling beats out of place from their comfortably quantized slots. Admittedly this tape by Finnish producer is more likely to appeal to fans of the first two, but whatever your interests Equal has something to tell us about how to write a groove. Not that it’s funky either, but the way Ecto Mist allots space and overlaps the samples here blurs the front and back end of each bar. Each loop slots in and out of phase from its siblings constantly. An itching needle loop, like the one emanating from the Palmer family’s record player in the classic "Bob Makes Leland Go Mental" episode of Twin Peaks could well be the main inspiration behind this project, and such lightly crunching rhythm loops forming the main rhythm beds. Ecto Mist then adds layer upon layer of taps, lusher pads, decaying Basinski loops, and all sorts. The resultant ambient rhythm-scapes teeter on the brink of falling out of sync and collapsing like your nephew’s oversized Jenga stack - but miraculously it all keeps standing, and seems all the more compelling as a result.

Prostitutes - Those Amazing Animals
(Unifactor)

I once saw James Donadio - aka Prostitutes - playing in a cave venue here in Austria where I currently live. It remains one of the best techno sets I ever saw. He was totally uninterested in either catering to some energy drink party vibe, equally uninspired by the pretentious bleakness of industrialism or minimalism. It was clean and pure, even lit unceremoniously, untainted by coolness and totally dedicated to the core philosophy of techno, i.e. rhythm and dancing. Following LPs on Spectrum Spools and Diagonal that upped the banging thuds in his music, this tape via Cleveland, Ohio label Unifactor takes Prostitutes a small step back, withholding the obvious umpf of those heftier thuds and slowly cycling higher end rhythms into full tracks, infrequently marbling the odd vocal snippet through the mix. ‘Warf Hornet’ is a straight up slice of house with overactive hi-hats and just a tiny snippet of bass. Donadio gradually ups the funkiness throughout, and it’s almost entirely devoid of anything but percussion and a quietly moaning distorted melody line. What more do we need anyway? Closing track ‘Mausoleum Grouse’ is a bit more hardcore, sounding like a particularly messy night back in the 90s, replete with a sampled female voice telling us to ‘Get On Up! Come On!’ It’s hardly original, but Those Amazing Animals stands its ground in the face of techno waters getting muddied by conceptual producers. It sharply focuses on the key facets of beats… and beats.

$un $keletons Get It Up Yers Trio - In Pink Dust
(doubledotdash!?)

This snappily named trio from Reading comprises Crinkil on alto sax and electronics, Breadman on drums, and Krang playing shahi baaja. When they’re not battling the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and trying to raise the technodrome, they’re improvising long form workouts sheened with pretty surfaces, encasing a deeper wells of delicate uncertainty. Most of us will be most directly aware of the shahi baaja form its prominence in the Flower-Corsano duo (where for whatever reason it got called a ‘Japanese Banjo). Essentially an electrified version of a Punjabi zither instrument, these guys deploy it to craft drone beds of gently swaying arpeggios rather than the manic freakouts of Flower-Corsano. But then when it comes to Crinkil and Breadman’s contributions (very happy to have been able to write that sentence by the way), the yearning sax lines high up in the atmosphere and those sporadic drums buoy the jam with loose beats and light brush strokes. They connect In Pink Dust almost directly to the prettier sections of Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way. Both sides of this release gently come and go without making a fuss, sailing by like quiet ships full of meditating monks.

Neil Scrivin - Tomorrow’s World
(Fonolith)

Ah, remember when it seemed like the future could be a wonderful place? Technology was going to solve our problems, connect us all, guide us through our sunny daily lives with charming robotic assistants ushering us from tailor-made experience to tailor-made experience. Convenience would solve our ills, and the world would survive. Well, as a spoilt and ungrateful millennial, I fucking well don’t. To me the future has always looked about as appealing a weekend coach trip to Chernobyl. In winter. With Nigel Farage as my tour guide.

But nevermind all that. This re-release of a 2007 album by Blackpool-based artist Neil Scrivin goes back to a future full of hope. It’s one soundtracked by shiny happy synth jams, very much of the sort the titular TV show might have utilised to introduce a report on big meaty mobile phones still with rotary dials. All ten tracks are just flawlessly executed, sounding indistinguishable from the real thing. Obvious this leads straight to the question as to why this music needs to exist in the first place, and the answer is simple: listen to it. There’s clearly some amount of irony in certain places - the synth bursts atop a bouncy bass line on ‘Travelling Hopefully’ somehow seem laugh out loud when picturing the British Rail training video they easily could have scored - but swathes are earnestly composed synth jams. It reminds me just how little gap there is between the likes of the Radiophonic Workshop’s early years and Aphex Twin’s more melodic outings (he’s a well known fan anyway). Towards the second half of the album, tunes like ‘Tomorrow's Babies’ and ‘Outer Space’ get a bit stranger with swift whooshing edits and effects shooting the cheesy drum machines and synths into dubbier space. Joyous escapism back to a time when futurism was often still blissfully ignorant.

Sam Shalabi & Stefan Christoff - Sam Shalabi & Stefan Christoff
(Small Scale Music)

One of the biggest joys of the cassette-o-sphere remains the uniquely murky midground this place represents. In addition to any old bod with £100 in the bank to issue their techno demos on a C45, you get more established musicians readily putting out stuff not necessarily suited (or sometimes, simply not good enough) for more expensive LP or wider releases. This meet-up firmly falls into the former category, comprising as it does two long pieces by Canadian improv vets Sam Shalabi and Stefan Christoff, recorded in Montréal.

In stark contrast to Shalabi’s relatively absurdist collage works he’s focused on since relocating to Cairo, this is a gentle and considered conversation, more or less utterly disassociated from any cultural heritage at all - save perhaps a potential churchiness in Christoff’s organ playing. Over Christoff’s contemplative organ beds, Shalabi contorts rugged whooshing synth tones that variously fly around the room like bats or grind like power tools. Perhaps the most interesting sections are when Shalabi’s synths answer Christoff’s more melodic key tinkles with rhythmic bleeps. The two sidelong pieces however, are so long (50 and 35 minutes apiece) there’s little textural ground the pair leave untouched within the confines of the pensive mood they create. They stick firmly to bliss out mode, making this is a mass for organ and synth that simmers with constant ideas. But it never hits boiling point, making it one of those ambient sessions you’ll happily play and replay, picking up new fleeting moments every time. Worth noting that this tape was only produced in a small handmade edition, so bombard the label with emails until they sell you an old one, or make you a new one.

W-2 - Fanatics
(Astral Spirits)

It’s been a real pleasure to observe Austin, Texas label Astral Spirits continue to expand from its free jazz bent, and out into a broader scope of improv encapsulating noise, folk, and electronics. This abrasive session recorded on home turf by Brooklyn duo W-2 is no nonsense fucking noise of the Borbetomagus tradition. Sam Weinberg plays tenor sax while Chris Welcome issues grinding atonal noise from a synth, erratically bouncing in short circuiting delay effects. Weinberg’s playing is actually not as outright angry as it could be, demonstrating restraint that makes it all the more listenable. He plays from the Joe McPhee rather than the Brötzmann school of thought, abrasion only coming into play when it adds to a melodic line or train of thought, rather than being the chief factor the sax itself has to grapple with.

Across opener ‘Beige And Distrustful’ the duo take turns in the conversation leading to great ‘solos’ from either side. Welcome seems to lead the way through the angered opening with Weinberg guiding them into more contemplative zones during the second half, and rest of the live recording continues in a similar vein, ultimately saying everything that has to be said with the duo’s limited palette. To go any further they’d need chill the fuck out or start playing actual melodies - and that ain’t what W-2 is about.

/ϟ/HUREN/ϟ/ - $PECiALTY ACT$ (FALK)

A Berlin-based artist releasing on a Reykjavik-based label is almost too hip for even your friendly local tape columnist to stomach, but this outing by Canadian weirdo /ϟ/HUREN/ϟ/ (aka Dave Foster) really does it for me. Once we get the prerequisite Whitehouse/Wolf Eyes references out of the way, the key elements that define /ϟ/HUREN/ϟ/ is the sheer dynamic scope and range of textures in this guy’s arsenal. The title track is an impossible harsh beatscape cranked up to dangerous levels of distortion and bouncing in a painfully unpadded cell of ear-piercing tight delay. ‘TiGHTWADS’ by comparison is a sort of psychedelic Hanatarash loop, opener ‘UNDERLiNG’ is a ritual invocation of murderous pitch shifted spells akin to Gazelle Twin in a bad mood, and ‘R0LLBERG 6-01’ closes the album with an oddly foggy coda of distant drum patterns veiled in greyscale echo. $PECiALTY ACT$ could almost be a CV showing off /ϟ/HUREN/ϟ/’s sheer range at a job interview with Prurient’s Hospital Productions.

Various Artists - Phantom Force
(Chinabot)

Chinabot is a new platform aiming to assemble and support electronic experimentalists from East Asian diasporas - somewhat similar to the NON collective’s aspirations for artists of black origin. Headed up by London-based Cambodian producer (and Orange Milk alumnus) Saphy Vong, aka Lafidiki, the label’s got a glitchy over-the-top digital aesthetic. It’s full of rainbow colours and heaps of wild acid-pop energy, making it all pretty tough to pin down outside of being frenetic, and electric. At over 90 minutes long it’s a beast of an overture to the Chinabot project, but gives you a nice survey of what to expect. Singaporean producer Fauxe makes instrumental hip hop beats utilising old school Asian samples, underpinned by leering bass. Laotian outfit Ayankoko crafts an electrified molam track full of insane noodled wig out jamming. There’s even a field recording of a traditional Tampuan singing from from Cambodia’s mountainous Ratanakiri Province. A highlight is invariably the ten minute groovy epic that closes the comp by South Korean DJ Logitech, schizophrenically flitting between myriad dance music tropes and racing to an uncomfortably noisy finale. A stellar beginning to a new project well worth keeping an eye on as it gathers speed.

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