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Spool's Out

Spool’s Out: The Best Releases On Cassette This November
Tristan Bath , November 27th, 2017 12:50

In this month’s tape column, Tristan Bath investigates various introverted solo musicians, with generative electronic composition, Polish neo-krautrock, scarred electronics and a compelling debut of domestic diegesis.

Jeff T Byrd photo by Aljon Reyes

A highlight from the recent run of Spool’s Out Radio on Resonance FM was this episode-length mix of deep drone and experimental sounds by Alocasia Garden, a project from prolific Folkstone-based artist Reece Thomas. Across countless releases, Alocasia Garden paints bleak musical landscapes in broad monochromatic strokes, assembling slow marches of sparse percussion and lo-fi electronics over longform workouts. This introduction to his soundworld includes some upcoming and recent material issued by the likes of Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere. and Sacre Tapes. Real grey winter skies music. 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.

Jeff T Byrd - Lamb Alley (Tombed Visions)

The first full-length album by American composer Jeff T Byrd takes its name from the street in Vienna on which he recorded the music: Lammgasse or, literally translated, Lamb Alley. Where the music was made is actually a pretty vital detail in this case. Diegetic sounds and incidental noises from around his flat - not to mention the idiosyncratic notes of its ageing upright piano - colour Byrd’s moody productions at every turn. Opener ‘Entry’ poises lush sparse piano keys against an odd cycle of background sounds, finally revealed in the closing moments of the song to be the spin cycle of his washing machine. ‘Lift’ appears to reassemble the dull thuds and yearnings of his building’s elevator into dark atmospherics, chains and pulleys wailing demonically. Perhaps most effective of all are the shrieks of a neighbouring baby, injected into the moody textures of ‘Cry’ to horrifying effect. As Tombed Visions put it, “There is a forensic level of detail in these recordings, with each track acting like a diary entry.”

And it certainly is like a diary - an introverted one full of plenty panic and worry alongside warmer moments and quirky humour. ‘Wood’ and ‘Spiders’ both stick out from the slower textures on the record, the former building a rhythmic race bashed out on wood around the flat, the latter tapping out almost vaudevillian tunes on piano and kitchenware like a gang of octopi. If there’s a Lynchian vibe going on in this apartment, it’s an Eraserhead one, where the banal and domestic be either dream or nightmare depending on what noise you’re focusing in on. Case in point: ‘Urchin’ takes a few pressed out ideas on the piano, snips them up, layers them, and ultimately cooks up an exciting burst of tension - all before quietly disappearing like so many millions of hours of piano players improvising alone in their apartments.

This music’s simply overflowing with ideas, but it sounds like this comes naturally to Byrd’s keen ear for detail. His background in sound design serves him well, shading and toning his sounds infinitesimally. The man fiddles with tempos and timbres, eradicating and accentuating hunks of clarity, decaying piano lines or highlighting piercing squeaks and deep rumbles of room noises.

For all its surface beauty and intrigue though, there’s a deeper story behind Lamb Alley, as the story of a musician from New Orleans uprooting his life and shifting to the Austrian capital, coming to terms with a new alien surrounding of voices heard through ancient walls during long grey winters. (I live in the same city, so very much appreciate how well its mood is captured here.) It’s a magnificent portrait of the experience of relocating oneself, and the dizziness and surprise round every corner. Nervousness and wonder creep in, and you can find yourself in a state where even the creak of a floorboard or echo of a distant door can seem imbued with mystery. Jeff T Byrd’s portrait of his life in Vienna is a surreal one, synthesizing together myriad tropes from ambient music, horror movie film scores, musique concrète, noise, theatre, and even the dreaded ‘neo-classical’ genre in the process. It’s a stunningly well-crafted journey around not only the innards of the flat on Lammgasse, but into the artist’s subconscious.

Melatony - Melatony (Pawlacz Perski)

Melatony is a new project for percussionist Hubert Zemler, who’s previously collaborated widely (notably as a member of the LAM trio headed by tQ favourite Wacław Zimpel) but on this occasion plays everything himself in the studio, one-man-band style. The music’s most obvious cousin is the more psychedelic end of the classic Krautrock catalogue and the less emotional end of the post-rock scale; we’re talking Can’s Future Days and Tarentel’s From Bone To Satellite. There’s the gamelan-esque vibraphone arpeggios and hand percussion on ‘Dowcień’, sparring against a looping synthetic pulse. The distant clanging on epically beautiful beatless opener ‘Pomorze’ resembles an Ex-Easter Island Head trio getting upstaged by a keyboard preset. ‘Samań’ is a world-fusion groover, deploying funkified bass to hypnotic effect while Zemler clangs chunks of metal overhead. Musically the tape’s an intensely lush experience, warmly realised and idiosyncratically meshing ideas of mechanic pulsation (not unlike the pulse works of fellow percussionist Oren Ambarchi) with washes of organic instrumentation.

My Polish isn’t up to scratch, but the titles seemingly namecheck four Polish lakes, themselves nifty metaphors for the many images, thoughts, and feelings that can lie beneath the surface of both a human mind and a piece of music. Warsaw’s Pawlacz Perski have released many unsung greats of the recent Polish underground - just check out the Duy Gebord or Cukier tapes they issued if you need a recommendation this minute - but Melatony’s debut has to rank among the label’s best efforts; a humbling guided tour of one’s own private dream world.

Macho Blush - User Guide (Tymbal Tapes)

Macho Blush is the chaotic project of Gina Probst, an American artist who deals almost exclusively in confusion and in accenting the inherently perplexing nature of recorded music. User Guide is her second tape this year following the no-less bizarre Moodshow in February, and sees Probst reverse engineering songs by writing lyrics, idly singing them, then improvising a cataclysm of chopped up bass, drums, piano, and violin over the top.

Initially there are points where it sounds like she could’ve just mic’d up, chucked all her gear down a big staircase and recorded the shambolic results. She bashes the instruments like a woman possessed, colliding sticks on skins, cymbals, and strings with a potent lack of reason. Focusing on her voice though, a peculiar logic all its own emerges. She ponders on themes almost incoherently - such as on opener ‘MOSAIC’, a meditation on personal metamorphosis - and these freeform vocalisations form a launching pad for Macho Blush to dive into stacked tracks of free improv like Scrooge McDuck. There’s an intense beauty to tracks like ‘DREAM DICTIONARY’, though it’s still hardly user-friendly. Probst’s voice floats and seeps around a brawl of percussion and random interjections - sonically punishing, yet emotionally staggering.

To my ears, User Guide sounds like an exorcism. Macho Blush lays down her thoughts like a punching bag, then gives them all she’s got without much second thought until the sound reflects the chaotic mess of her thoughts. The harsh violin scrapes on ‘SOUR SONG’ close out the record with a surprising level of catharsis. One usually assumes staring into the void and having epiphanies to be a light and floaty experience, yet the truth often seems to be that entropy holds the secrets of the universe.

Max Eilbacher - Dual Monologues in Parallel
& Patrick Shiroishi - Tulean Dispatch (Mondoj)

Brand new Warsaw-based imprint Mondoj comes to you from the folks who ran the fantastic Wounded Knife. First up, this batch of two solo tapes by American musicians pushing out at the boundaries of their respective fields. This column already glowingly reviewed one recent release by Horse Lords bassist/modular synth genius Max Eilbacher, but it must be said that Dual Monologues In Parallel is more approachable and perhaps all the better for it. Lengthy opening piece ‘Unnamed (For Guitar And Tape)’ takes Eilbacher’s previously explored ideas of generative computer music, and feeds in guitar harmonics and drum samples to massively rewarding results. The piece continually fleshes itself out, starting as a simple set of thuds and plucks, ultimately turning into a beat-heavy wig out. Second long piece ‘The Ecstatic Movement Of A Broken Arm’ is a far more minimal exploration of “the magic of chance and circumstance via stream-of-conscious production and editing”, essentially amounting to a slowly unfurling drift of tones growing increasingly jagged until shapelessness gives way to stalactites of MIDI strings, narration, and random noises. This is Eilbacher’s most approachable solo work yet, presenting complex avant-garde ideas in user-friendly packages.

The other tape for Mondoj’s debut batch comes from LA-based sax player Patrick Shiroishi. He’s one busy musician, playing in bands backing up the likes of Chelsea Wolfe and Brian Ellis, plus periodically leading his own ensembles. His solo work focuses in on extended techniques and soaring cries from his instrument. Named after a newspaper distributed in the Japanese-American internment camp where his grandparents were held during the second world war, Tulean Dispatch is at times a necessarily stark experience. The subject matter is meant to reflect the current state of violence and racial suspicion poisoning America (and elsewhere), and it’s tough not to feel the direct pain and anguish in Shirioshi’s mix of lamenting melody and ear-scraping squeals on ‘The Screams Of A Father's Tears’. The bassy tenor sax invocations across ‘Form And Void’ are angrier again, but Shirioshi offers an olive branch of sorts on closer ‘The Flowers And Candles Are Here To Protect Us’, allowing warmer (if uncertain) tones to appear.

SDF - Alana (Psykick Dancehall Recordings)

This collective of UK musicians (including Adam Parkinson, aka Dane Law) make eerily brilliant electronic pop music, nabbing tropes from across the second half of the 20th century. It’s a crucible of disco, synth pop, madchester, house, industrial music and new wave, fronted with the Mark Hollis-like vocal presence of Oliver Marchant. The songwriting and arrangement is brilliantly simple, deploying big fat wads of melody-groovy drum machine rhythms into bleak construction sites of reverb. They stretch out too, like on the nine-minute repeat-heavy ‘My Friend David Don't Need Rubber’, a coda of late-night hip shakes and keyboard pulses. ‘Dancefloor Baby 17’ tells a story of a dancefloor encounter, the lead singer in a “rancid trance” as he hobbles about the place. It’s a mix of chilled out Detroit claps and hi-hat loops with the frontman’s almost Jarvis Cocker-esque storytelling over the verses. The entirety of Alana feels like the group are collectively exhausting some pent-up pressure, realising dreams of leading busy dancefloors and arenas of adoring synth-pop heads, but it’s all a joy. They seem pretty self-aware (‘Stroke for Stroke’ could either be about wanking or pissing in public… either way it sounds like a bit of a giggle), but it doesn’t detract from the quality of their tunes or those addictive beats. This is party music you can either cry or have a laugh to, depending on your mood.

Maria W Horn - Excitation - Frustration - Excitation (Conditional)

Stockholm’s Maria W Horn has a gift for turning hissing wires into music. At the centre of her cleverly disintegrated constructions lies that quivering bass tone that’s dominated recent experimental electronics from Ben Frost to The Bug. It still flares and leers in her hands, but Horn’s structures aren’t quite so melodramatic, feeling far more scientific, à la Pan Sonic. There are some more familiar distant pulses and glitching sine tones, but this EP’s best qualities are far more original. Rarely does electronic music this busy and meticulous sound like it was put together with a soldering iron. The series of thuds and buzzes that make up the music trundle along methodically, but it consistently experiences disturbances and electronic blemishes. ‘Asphalt Tongue’ has a busier rhythm track of spiralling kicks and bleeps, approaching something close to minimal techno, albeit far rawer, while the following ‘Voluntary Autointoxication’ displays a kind of disintegrated post-rave that glistens through the production’s imperfections. It’s all reportedly the result of a fascination with overloading music with stimuli, to the point that its source gets obscured. Sonically there’s barely a better description of Horn’s sound, but the rhythm and structures are almost more intriguing than mere stimuli overload. She toys with an illogical take on the rhythms at the heart of club music. In any case, I’d lose my shit if a DJ dropped this - though they’d have a hard time slotting it into their mix smoothly.

Enchanted Lands - Feed Goals (Genot Centre)

Feed Goals is the debut release by Enchanted Lands, a project by Prague-based artist Barbora Polcerov. Its six tracks sit somewhere between fever-dream, soundscape and collage; assemblages of moods and unidentifiable sonic source material are weaved into dreamy vignettes.

Inspirations behind the record include ASMR and impact blasts, manifesting themselves in the microscopic details - phone mic recordings, crystalline synths, the fumbling of keys and footsteps, distant voices, alien organ notes, intimate whispers all assemble for these organic drones and virtual reveries. It’s a magnificent debut, full of constant delights for curious listeners and hungry eardrums, evoking in-between moods and queasy nostalgia. Snippets of old string sections wander in and out, as do semblances of singing and other more musical figures, but it never strays far from total abstraction. It’s thoroughly hallucogenic, and there’s a heap of beauty to be found too. It’s just veiled behind all manner of intrusive detritus.

Jon Porras - Tokonoma (Geographic North)

Jon Porras’ journey from the crystalline drift of Elm, through the doomy drone of his Barn Owl duo with Evan Caminiti, and finally into this latest phase of solo releases under his own name has seen his music get increasingly beautiful, ever more in love with the world. The fact that it’s been over three years since his last solo record is something of a crime, but we’ll forgive him.

The song titles on Tokonoma might seem a bit heady - ‘Generative Counterpoint’, ‘Still Life’, ‘Stochastic Return’ - but the music is some of the most straight-up pretty and heartwarming of Porras’ career. He focuses on a distinct language of pointillistic patterns for Yamaha DX7, plus various additional layers of synthesis, programming, and outboard patches, so the entire set feels closely linked together by its pulsating oceanic keyboard aesthetic. Porras correctly describes his own music as being “hypnotic & seren” on the J-card, describing how the music stems from generative compositional principles and algorithmic tools. The dream state seems to be something underground musicians are aiming right at for more than ever this year, but Porras’ approach of organic mathematics does the job particularly well. This is the warmest and lushest music of Porras’ career.

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