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Spool's Out

Spool’s Out: Your Tape Cassette Release Roundup For January
Tristan Bath , February 5th, 2018 07:55

The world still hasn’t ended and the mail still works - thus Tristan Bath presents his first monthly tape roundup of 2018!

Last month on Spool’s Out Radio, I spoke to Peter Gonda from Baba Vanga, Ondřej Lasák from Genot Centre, and Jonáš Gruska from LOM about running their small independent labels, what their motivations are, and the practicalities of the underground scene in Czechia and Slovakia.

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. Meantime, scroll on for a roundup review of this month in tapes.

Crevice - In Heart (Fort Evil Fruit)

The rumblings of the Cork scene have been getting impossible to ignore recently. This meetup of three musicians from the scene compiles a lot of its inherent strengths into one project, mired in weirdness and electronic experimentation as well as hooky songwriting. Irene Buckley also plays in Wry Myrrh (an improvised electronics duo with Gash Collective member and fellow Corkonian ELLL), while both Elaine Howley and Roslyn Steer play in oblique folk trio Morning Veils. Here however, the sonic palette is made up of mostly of keyboards and voices, eschewing throbbing beats and guitars both. The emotional directness of the group’s songwriting backgrounds undergoes some excellent treatment on In Heart, reworked into the slowest and strangest sort of darkwave. Opening track ‘Anchorless’ cycles through an immensely beautiful vocal melody, over unhurried preset rhythms and whirlpools of organs and synth lines. It’s soft, lush, forlorn, and buried in Grouper-esque reverb, yet it’s in no way self-pitying. Despite the intense levels of tragic atmosphere, this music’s still brimming with pristine confidence and something approaching pop aspirations. It’s a funereal whisper for sure, but it’s probably the prettiest one you’ll ever hear.

The title track already heads further down the funnel away from normality. Atop almost childlike keyboard chords and preset rhythms, a set of organ grinds and distant chants cycle on. The album progresses, and the atmospheres grow ever deeper and the sonic experimentation more and more far out. ‘Black Box’ is a nightmarish shot of anguished singing trapped in a dark Fire Walk With Me loop, while ‘Doolin’ is a far more hopeful instrumental of slowly marching keyboards. What In Heart manages it to synthesize dark synth pop tropes and more far out sound experimentation together into one cozy place, never losing sight of the trio’s almighty sense of weary mood. This debut of dirges works far better than it should frankly, but Crevice’s three immensely talented players really have the knack. When it comes to portraying immense sadness and a deep sense of redemption they can really get it out - oftentimes within the same breath.

Dale Cornish - Rhododendron &Philip Marshall - Entrain (Vanity Publishing)

Croydon’s finest manages to comfortably flit about between architectural instrumental experiments (see last year’s Aqal), disseminated dance tropes (such as Cut Sleeve, also last year), and spoken word Saff London noise MCing. His half of the duo batch coronating his own Vanity Publishing imprint falls firmly into the latter. Rhododendron comprises Cornish’s spoken words or idly sung a cappella tunes, backed up by a mix of thudding kicks (‘Or What You Think’), shimmering gong tones (‘Sutorina’ and ‘Two Two Two’), cut and spliced orchestral samples (‘Straw Camel Back’), and even a Jandekian acoustic guitar (‘My New Kick’), all the while sticking to the very digestible 1-3 minute mark. It’s a grab bag of styles, but Cornish’s persona - dark, funny, cynical, part Trout Mask Replica absurdity and part John Cooper Clarke pub poetry - ties it together into a deeply listenable 30-minute scrapbook of scribblings, fresh from Cornish’s dome.

"Aggressive mission statement, with an awkward type-o," he repeats over a mocked-up techno kick on ‘Or What You Think’. It’s a neat summary of his own style as a performer, focusing in on strength of statement too much to clean up those rough edges or take time making precise recordings. Most of these tracks sound like handheld phone or laptop recordings; no frills, just a straightforward recording process. When he breaks into a cappella singing too, while it’s shaky and off-the-cuff, it ends up resembling the hypnosis of gregorian chanting. It sounds domestic, diaristic, and low key, which definitely adds something to the intimacy of the tape - but it’s his words that dominate, full of internal rhyme patterns and obliquely portrayed tales. Just check this line from ‘Straw Camel Back’: "Three in a bed and the oldest one said / I am seemingly very angry at things that are outside of your direct control / but I will hold you accountable for that / Hey ho."

Philip Marshall might be better known for his visual design work, but he’s slowly issued solo recordings as a musician that explores the fringes of concrète and ambience. This tape is his fourth since 2009 by my count, and was reportedly "mostly edited during long train journeys" across "seven years of in-between days". Given the breadth of time in which it came together, Entrain (get it?) is surprisingly cohesive. The six gradually unfurling instrumental noise collages invoke a kind of mechanic panic. ‘Monospace’ teems with whistling metallic drones, ultimately cresting into a swirling twister of iron clad noise. The music feels far more like it’s trapped on a locomotive than on any kind of long distance journey.

Philip Marshall’s dealing in truly psychonautic zones here. His precise edits and constant revision have done away with any needless drifting too (perhaps a benefit from that visual design background of his), thus no element outstays its welcome. Even the ultra minimal ‘Contract Five’, made up of little more than a single unwavering tone resonating almost imperceptibly, seems to have been precisely measured and sculpted by Marshall. It’s a perfect exit when the sound disappears into the distance after ten solid minutes.

Both Marshall and Cornish describe how Entrain and Rhododendron were either intended for release elsewhere or submitted and rejected. Thus Vanity Publishing getting called into existence by Cornish seems an apt solution to getting these vital recordings out there on a label. If you can’t join them, beat them.

The Eargoggle - The Beautiful Creatures Really Are So Cruel (Very Special Recordings)

This vast 19 song collection by The Eargoggle, aka Brooklyn’s Ezra Gale, already came out back in November. But it sadly got drowned out in the usual avalanche of noise tapes blocking up my inbox and having my postman question how many suspicious small dark-web packages is too many. Anyway, The Beautiful Creatures Really Are So Cruel held its own, and it turns out it was simply too packed with hyperactive pop power to be forgotten. Ezra Gale plays almost every instrument on the tape, captured for the most part straight to four-track at home in NYC. He’s certainly got an impressive string of melodies spilling out of his head at any given time it would seem, and they mostly end up forming leftfield pop tunes too. It’s a frenzied tape stuffed to bursting with tunes and danceable beats, but to my ear the highlights are actually the more minimal tunes on offer - ’Picking My Bones’, ‘Where We Stand’, ‘Where Do They Go’ - where Gale backs his singing up with almost nothing more than his trusty double bass and some creepy vocals multi-tracks. The array of styles on offer is nonetheless massive, and full of hyper energy. Over 65 minutes of constant schizophrenic shapeshifting the tape burrows right into you, and there’s more than a handful of tunes you’ll get stuck in your noggin along the way. It’s a pretty damn dizzying experience. Should perhaps get filed alongside such hyperactive American bedroom weirdos as Jad Fair and Lou Barlow.

Strict Nurse - Erratic (Vatican Analog)

This debut by Strict Nurse (aka Leilani Trowell) was recorded at home in the Hague with little more than a synton syrinx synth, a tape looper, and her voice. The sense of dread across the tape is palpable from the get-go, on opener ‘Cazimi’ (a term for when a planet is astrologically aligned with the sun), with a punishing bass wobble cycling onward while Trowell scatters vocal murmurs and ear-piercing shards of static into the mix. Most of the record retains the same subtle sonic daggers, but the defining sense across Erratic is one of odd intimacy.

Perhaps it’s to do with Strict Nurse’s straightforward home-recording methods, but an almost ASMR sense of closeness constantly comes across. Her sounds are subtle, despite being sonically challenging - they groan rather than stab, they rub rather than punch - be it the bubbly synth tones of closing track ‘Bed Pisser’ or overlapping lattice of looped ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ on ‘Buck The Fuck Up’. Like latter day Wolf Eyes or even Throbbing Gristle circa ‘Persuasion’, this is noise music that’s about mood rather than sheer volumes or intensity. It’s tough to know if this is terrifying or comforting music, straddling a threat and a caress as often as it does. I’m erring on the latter - she might be Strict but she’s still a Nurse.

Mala Herba - Mala Herba Demo (Vatican Analog)

Vienna-based Polish artist Mala Herba might well harness her synths to create some old-school sounding gothic pop tunes, but they shudder especially menacingly. Her voice is such an incredible tool too, epically towering over punchy stacked tracks of keyboard arpeggios and drum machine hits. Mala Herba inverts poppier structures too, like on the looped unfurling tentacles of ‘Zaklęcie: Droga’, which never breaks into a chorus, quite scarily repeating the same section over and over. Also, just check out that gated reverb drum in the second half of hyped up, long lost Halloween party sequence soundtrack ‘Lament’! The 80s vibes are undeniably strong with this one, but Mala Herba toys and fucks with standard tropes in enough of an off-kilter manner to make this well worth checking out. It might still be pegged as a demo, but this tape thoroughly shows off the artist’s powerful voice, potent aesthetic, and punchy pop aspirations that never overpower an obsession with menacing sounds.

ubik mcdxcii - Echoes of a Dead Planet (Cellar Tapes)

Now this is what noise-hop should really mean. Not that macho Death Grips trash. Released in an edition of 35 via Prague’s Cellar Tapes imprint, this mysterious tape is the work of a Londoner, and takes oddball hip-hop production to a new outer edge. It’s two relentless side-long sets of lo-fi beats and rinsed out bass noises strung together while a mysterious processed voice jumps in and out to drop rhymes. It’s pretty impossible to map, as each of the 22-minute sides just keeps right at it throughout, all presented in willingly muddy audio. It’s the rap equivalent of a vintage Nurse With Wound record, each side’s contents colliding into itself constantly. The connection to early industrial music production can’t be overstated. Even the MC behind ubik mcdxcii speaks in gothic themes and what reads at times like cut-ups: "You were in a mental institution / 18 years old / why did it escalate / we made those mixtapes"

There’s nowhere like as much of an abundance of hip-hop on cassette as there should be, but experiments like this fit far too perfectly on the format. Hopefully there’s more to come from this mysterious producer. Besides, It would seem there’s plenty of unfinished business still to explore between industrial music and hip-hop.

Celer + Forest Management - Landmarks (Constellation Tatsu)

This collaboration between two American ambient artists harnesses the genre’s distance from reality to magnificent effect. John Daniel, aka Forest Management, currently lives in Chicago, "the most American of American cities". Will Long, aka Celer, lives way over in Tokyo, Japan. Thus they seem well poised to engage with their chosen theme of scoring The Mosquito Coast, a novel by Paul Theroux (yup, Louis’ dad) and later a film by Peter Weir. The story follows an obsessive father who seeks to escape the evil excesses of American consumerism by moving his family to the tropical titular coast of Honduras.

The duo’s two voices intermingle imperceptibly, and they engage with the text’s core themes with a healthy mix of adoration and scepticism. It apparently left them "nostalgic for a different time", albeit one that’s partly imagined, which sounds to me like the defining emotion of 2018. This mix of nostalgia, despair at the current state of the world, and hope for a solution constantly manifests itself over a stunning hour of music. They yank from all manner of ambient traditions, be it the glacial ocean of Stars Of The Lid-ian tones that open the tape on ‘7° 10° 77° 83°’ or the Basinski-esque locked groove of ‘Hotel Mona Lisa’, veering into less familiar sounds with strange deep field recordings (‘From fire, ice’), plus a few interludes made of snippets from Peter Weir’s 1986 film. There isn’t necessarily any immediately apparent narrative, but The Mosquito Coast’s central conceit that you can’t beat society by leaving it (or perhaps, you can’t become God without becoming the Devil too… it’s a good book) is certainly great food for thought during Landmarks’ spellbinding running time.

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