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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: The Best Releases On Cassette This October
Tristan Bath , October 23rd, 2017 07:31

Trombones in phone boxes, street preachers in south London, and electronic improv in Portland - some of the highlights from this month’s tape releases.

Earlier this month on Spool’s Out Radio, an American newcomer to Manchester-based Tombed Visions sent over a collage for Spool’s Out Radio. Currently Vienna-based New Orleans musician Jeff T Byrd is soon debuting on Tombed Visions with his tape Lamb Alley, recorded using a wonky piano and field recordings from his flat in the Austrian capital. The album synthesizes the sound of his apartment’s aging piano with surrounding noises from the street outside and echoey stone hallways of the old apartment building - in one case including the screaming of a neighbour’s young child through the wall - creating something finely textured and claustrophobically comic.

In anticipation of the release, Jeff compiled a unique mix including the artist’s own field recording and sounds recorded to cassette in the 80s by his father, Bob Byrd. 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.

Sophie Cooper - The Curfew Tower Recordings (Crow Versus Crow)

Recorded during a residency at Bill Drummond’s Curfew Tower in Northern Ireland (as part of a project organised by Manchester art space The Penthouse) this represents Sophie Cooper’s most major recording yet using her trusty trombone. As well as magicking up some Phill Niblock brass drone clouds, Cooper’s infectious sense of humour and ramshackle DIY approach fill up the tape with snippets of banter from inside an old telephone box and some hippie chanting captured on a Northern Irish beach.

The phone box stuff comes from her ‘Dial-A-Bone’ sessions, whereby her and her ‘bone set up shop in a phone box and anybody and everybody is able to ring up and make requests for their own personalised trombone improvisation. "Long or short?" Sophie asks the callers, responding with custom-built parps and foghorn ’bone blasts. Elsewhere the ’bone’s tone is twisted all out of shape on some raw solo improvs, plus there’s layered voices, shrill feedback, and even some distorted noise squall from Cooper. She’s got a hell of a knack for suspending disbelief for uncanny noise jams then pivoting to laugh-out-loud phonebox banter without batting an eyelid. It’s well proven by now that Cooper’s about as versatile as your average DIY musician can get - but having a trombone centre stage makes this one uniquely worthwhile among her stellar back catalogue.

Wild Card - Patterns In Cooperative Labor (Self-released)

This trio of Portland musicians describe themselves as “jazz-inspired”. Presumably that’s a nod to their methodology - three people freely improvising together - but the sound is ultimately far too delicate and synthetic for the tag. Operating similarly to Montréal’s trio of synthesists Fousek/Hansen/Tellier-Craig, Wild Card’s drifting textured jams are relatively accessible for improvised electronics. The three players are Paul Dickow (aka Strategy), Marcus Fischer (has released on 12K), and William Selman (has released via Hausu Mountain), and while all three have drifted into ambient territory before, Patterns In Cooperative Labor feels like the subtlest set of tunes between them. Perhaps a bit of a side effect from the improvisation process, the six tunes are full of open empty space and repetitions, often resting on interlocking pulses, occasionally drifting just out of phase. The pieces meander too, just check out ‘Under A Steel Gray Sky’ which goes nowhere slowly, but the very idea of an end point disappears during the improvisation as the trio throw around musical ideas like fingerpainting toddlers. That is to say, the journey is a ride worth taking, and tuning in will have you dropping out in no time.

As an experiment, it’s intriguing how electronic improv groups can spew out a product on the spot which easily matches up to something hacked at and pondered over for days by a lone producer. The grainy drift of ‘Sunset Soup Workshop’ sits vaguely in that Endless Summer school of ambience, losing none of its subtleties thanks to expertly withheld live energy from Wild Card. As the tape closes with the dull synthetic thuds and cosmic tone washes of ‘Crosstown Express’, it occurs to me that the group are disproving the title of the previous interlude track - ’Technology is Society Made Durable’ - with their very own music. Technology is great and all that, but the likes of this trio and the aforementioned Fousek/Hansen/Tellier-Craig prove the advantages of getting together to put the skin of your hands on machines.

Aviadoras - EP (Self-released)
& Ana Threat / The Boiler - Hypno-Trash Cassette Vol.XI (House Publications)

These two recent tape releases from Vienna reek of delightfully DIY shows, taking place under the city’s many train arches, or in temporary venues that get shut down after a few weeks. There’s a punky energy to the Viennese DIY scene, and whether an artist is playing synth-pop or free noise it feels like they’re all in the same boat (perhaps largely as ‘the scene’ is far slighter than your average capital city manages). First up is the debut EP by loose brother-sister synth pop duo Aviadoras, here stage-named as Catalina Frieden and Xavier Scholz. The songs are sung in English and Spanish, full of Grimes-ian hooks and Depeche Mode drum machines. The highlight is earwormy pop gem ‘Map of Moles’, with Catalina Frieden dipping deeper into her vocal range than elsewhere. Generally her voice is a massive highlight too, scaling shiny operatic heights against her brother’s lo-fi croon. The EP’s sandwiched between two improvised loop pedal interludes full of oddball groaning and moaning, hinting at some more avantgarde leanings which could take these keyboard melodies into less cosy territory in future. For now though, this is some brilliantly razor-sharp synth pop from a fresh-faced duo.

This split release involves two solo projects from the Viennese underground - staple one-woman music machine Ana Threat (aka Kristina Pia Hofer) and a slightly newer project by the name of The Boiler (aka Fredi Manfredi). Both sides are constrained to a single 10-minute track, and Ana Threat spends hers invoking rough old school, twanging blues spirit, moaning a possessed femme fatale’s song over the top of tremolo guitars and sparse drums. Her other work has tended to be shorter and snappier, but given a 10-minute gap to fill, Ana Threat turns in a gothic blues ceremony full of chilling empty space. This is the kind of thing that should’ve been closing out nights at The Roadhouse, not Eddie Fucking Vedder.

The Boiler’s side is an instrumental rhythm jam session of overdubs, sprawling live drumming and noisy synth-splorations over rhythm presets. The rough-and-hypnotic motorik vibe is interrupted with creepy interjections of murmured voices or old school organ tones, and the rhythms could almost be the sound of the couple next door having sex against the wall. The Boiler isn’t a million miles from the legendary meetup between Nurse With Wound and Stereolab, or perhaps more modern rhythm obsessives like Shit & Shine. In any case, the piece builds slowly but surely, from lo-fi oddity into a genuinely creepy finale.

Maps And Diagrams - Differential Equations (Numb Capsule)

Despite titles that evoke some of the more boring classes available during secondary school enrichment weeks, Maps And Diagrams makes glitchy music with real soul. Released with a 60-page book of sparse monochrome drawings, the music is quite the opposite, brimming with colour, round edges, and floaty emotions. Tim Martin (the chap behind Maps And Diagrams) has been releasing music under the name for a while now, so he’s well equipped and knows how to use his gear - in this case sounding like a modular setup - but Differential Equations never sounds like the technophile coldly logical album the title suggests. It’s made from solid bricks of colour and feeling, woven into a variety of patterns that drift, float, pulsate or seem to remain stationary. By way of example, ‘The Single Layer’ sets a series of elements in motion, including cosmic transmission notes, an unwavering bass drone, and some heartbeating tones. These elements are mixed and messed with, brought in and out of focus or yanked out of shape, eventually leading right back into the airlock where we began.

Opener ‘North Side Square’ is a Loscil-esque chamber of echoing droplets, and the eggheadedly titled ‘Number Theory’ is in fact a slow and soft set of arpeggios akin to sitting in a blissful waiting room bathed in sunlight, preferably designed by Nintendo. We’re certainly in no short supply of ambient musicians releasing on cassette, but Maps And Diagrams’ music has enough controlled chaos and luscious entropy to make it worth diving in.

Joe Summers - Good News! (First Terrace Records)

I definitely share Joe Summers’ fascination with religion. I'm an atheist, but faith sure produces some beautiful behaviour in human beings (plus plenty of bad behaviour too naturally). Co-founder of First Terrace, Summers recorded three street preachers in south London and attempted to mirror their sprawling improvisatory approach with complementary beds of bobbing organs and electronics, plus some scrapy cello and violin interjections from friends. There’s a clear connection to those Godspeed You! Black Emperor interludes featuring interviews with street people, but while those occasionally heavyhandedly attempt to mirror the doom and dread of the subjects’ words, Summers rather creates an incidental group improvisation centred around the preachers, perhaps closer to ‘Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet’ (in fact, coincidentally, Gavin Bryars recorded the voice on ‘Jesus’ Blood’ in the same area around Elephant & Castle where Summers recorded his preachers). The music bobs around, with moody string scrapes and guitar drones cycling on while organ and bass melodies gently stir. The single 25-minute piece is divided roughly into three parts around three different recordings of street preachers, and the last is the lushest. Summers’ twangy guitar and his violin- and cello-playing collaborators encircle the preacher and ultimately force him to fade away into the background before a cleansing organ chord closes the piece. It’s a thoroughly compelling experience, softly making the case that religious practices and music-making are clearly very similar, but never straying into anything too pretentious or (for want of a better term) preachy.

The House In The Woods - Paralysis: Live at Silent Night #8 (Genot Centre)

An alternative side to Martin Jenkins’ well-regarded and far beatier hauntological tunes as Pye Corner Audio, ‘other project’ The House In The Woods focuses on conjuring softer and ultimately far creepier atmospheres. This session was aptly recorded at a sleepy nighttime gig in Prague, part of a series of concerts where the audience stay overnight on mattresses rather than chairs or standing room. The 70-minute performance split over two tape sides drifts between bliss and dread like day turning into night and back again, sometimes almost untraceably as Jenkins’ navigates through clouds of synth mist like he’s steering an ocean liner round icebergs. An opening wash of heavenly drip-drop notes and chimes gives way to a long drawn-out bass tone of pure Hellraiser dread, extrapolated into a ten-minute plus cavern, segueing into more cosmic bleeps. The beatless excursion continues in the same vein throughout, bathed in epic reverb and thoughtfully taking its time to shift tone for minutes at a time. It’s far less clichéd than Jenkins’ best known work, painting in abstract moods sonic fog, rather than the often very Carpenter-esque action sequence pulsations of Pye Corner Audio.

WORRIEDABOUTSATAN - BLANK TAPE (Spun Out Of Control)

This album by Yorkshire electronic duo WORRIEDABOUTSATAN actually already dropped via CD last year, but it’s well worth going over again in light of this very welcome tape re-press. The word post-rock has been correctly cited in conjunction with WORRIEDABOUTSATAN’s music, but only in the sense that Trans Am and Kieren Hebden’s pre-Fourtet band Fridge are for whatever reason listed under the genre. In fact, had Fridge been making music in the post-rave era rather than the trip-hop one, their music could have been pretty similar to BLANK TAPE’s dramatic productions. The tracks are mostly instrumentals that seem to tell mini-stories, such as the cresting epiphany of organs and bass on ‘Nice To Meet You’, or the apocalyptic overture of the title track. The crescendos of post-rock and dance music seem all the more similar here too - ‘From A Dead Man (Part II)’ briefly hits a peak of that could just as easily sit on a classic Ibiza era Euphoria compilation (and I mean that in the best possible way). There’s a constant tidal rise and fall in every track, ebbing from drumless chambers to stomping 4/4 action sequences and arpeggiations like ‘The Tower And The Steward’, and it makes BLANK TAPE a pleasantly bumpy ride of a listen.

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