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Spool's Out

Spools’s Out: Your Tape Releases For May
Tristan Bath , May 23rd, 2018 07:27

New electronic sounds from AJA, EQ Why, and Honnda sit alongside drone rock and outsider bedroom pop in Tristan Bath’s typically atypical summary of the month’s best tape releases

Earlier this month, Berlin-based musician Shō chose the tracks on the Spool’s Out radio show on Resonance FM. Ambient artist Shō has released a new cassette tape of elegantly lo-fi and beautifully worn drones and melodic textures via Spool’s Out’s favourite imprint from Antwerp, Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere.. He gave us an introduction to his sound world via a mix of influences and current interests, including some unreleased music and lush soundscapes galore…

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.

Despite its intensely psychedelic over-production and inventive detail, the primary objective behind Honnda’s music is still to get people dancing. The Brooklyn producer (aka Amnon Freidlin, a one-time member of Zs) fits very comfortably indeed into Orange Milk’s aesthetic of high-energy, Sunny Delight-tinted, almost grossly overblown retrofuturism. One can only imagine the number of tracks Honnda’s DAW contained while making this; the sheer galaxy of little MIDI blobs dotted around the screen like an impassable final level on Frogger. ‘Binaca Raptor’ for example, opens with a net of vocal samples pitched into all sorts of juddering and interlocking melodies over some gated reverb snare hits. It segues quickly into a hyping crescendo of snippets holding your hand on the way to a kick-drum drop in the middle section. All the while, dozens upon dozens of snipped and processed samples are plopped into an equally unwieldy number of positions. The attack on the senses is akin to a game of Mario Kart, or a birthday party in a pachinko parlor. There’s an overwhelming number of colours and pieces going on, but they all fall into place delightfully before quickly disappearing over your shoulder.

While some tracks retain semblances of real-world music genres - such the reggaeton bed of ‘Megga Millionz’ - Maraschino Mic Drop largely takes place in Honnda’s own idiosyncratic world. The step and shuffle of US dance music is still there, but not in any shape humans of the 20th century would understand. A trio of remixes close out the tape, adding to the confusion with a drum & bass inflections, further dissemination of the music’s many samples, and total abstraction in the closing moments courtesy of Yokohama producer Foodman.

Chicago footwork producer EQ Why was responsible for my personal favourite ever Orange Milk release, his CHITOKYO MIXTAPE from way back in 2013. This ain’t such a gigantic slab of mixtape all in one long relentless mix though. Plus this is a collaboration with fellow Chicagoan Corky Strong aka WhyTrax. PLUS this comes well after the music press hype about juke and footwork has crested, come, and gone. Chi-Town’s signature challenge to dancers however, is still an incredible launching pad for these producers to wander down all sorts of brand new alleys. Second track ‘Beams’ is a highlight straight out the box, cutting a (relatively) slow 808 beat - nonetheless shuddering to trip up and dancers in the area - while a vintage dreamy jazz sample snakes its way into place, buoyed on a couple of acid techno synth arpeggios. ‘Computer Ghetto, Pt. 2’ follows with a similarly inspired appropriation of Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’, slowing it down and speeding it up inside the confines of breakneck 808 patterns.

The sampling is generally damn inspired throughout the tape. Footwork’s always been happy to take cuttings from all over the place, but EQ Why and Traxman are in exceptionally spiritual mode here. Deeply soulful crooning, a heap of jazz, and some vintage Cuban sounds make their way into the mix alongside the usual hyperactive snippets of kids yelling and hip hop agitprop phrases. It definitely feels like an expansion and continuation of the genre. This tape’s adding even more tools to both EQ Why and Traxman’s trade without compromising the music’s pure dancefloor functionality.

This is actually a reissue of some minimal synth pop material dating back to the late 1990s, but as Patrick Wray - half of Athena - correctly says, that was a time when the genre was "deeply unfashionable". Despite being some twenty years old (and noticeably analogue), this music could happily sit alongside swathes of the global lo fi underground of weirdos making bedroom tunes. Opening track ‘Stock Market Crash’ was put together by Wray with his duo partner Asmi Butt at Dartington College of Art in 1998, pairing an emotive plea from Wray over a pulsing synth with drum and random piano interjections. The result is somewhere utterly strange, in between Placebo, John Carpenter and Suicide. Wray’s vocals are consistently anthemic and heavy on melody and a sweeping sense of indie pop chorus and punk poetry - yet beneath him is a truly odd wonky bed of minimal synths. The juxtaposition is pleasantly jarring - check out ‘Who Invented The Set Up?’, where Wray could almost be singing to himself with absolutely no regard for the grinding synth lines getting issued behind him. In a parallel universe, Athena were the 90s equivalent to Silver Apples or Suicide, using synths in their search to disregard standard song syntaxes. As it is though, Wray is still active and making his own solo music and art, and living in London (although he’s originally from up North) - you can visit www.patrickwray.com to check out his work and hunt down new tapes he continues to issue periodically. (I’m not sure what happened to his Athena partner Asmi Butt FYI.)

German musician Felix-Florian Tödtloff is perhaps best known as guitarist in black metallers Sun Worship, but his solo work as Sferics heads deep into ambient territory via guitar and modular synths. This session, recorded live outdoors near the North Sea back in 2015, is a sensitive set of loops and processed guitar, rambling its way from cinematic drone washes to a closing forest of crumpling guitar plucks. The flipside is just the first side played backwards, but easily works as an entirely new piece all its own. This is technically the farewell for Tödloff’s Sferics project, although as a member of the Berlin scene he’s not likely to stay quiet for long.

So this guy Andrew Fitzpatrick has been a quiet part of the scene in Madison, Wisconsin for a decade or so now. As a member of an outfit called the Volcano Choir, and latterly a member of 22, A Million-era Bon Iver, he’s been close to the higher annals of US indie, but his solo work remains staunchly experimental. This new tape under the name Noxroy comprises two sidelong cuts for an array of electronics, synths, processed guitars and pianos, field recordings, and disseminated rhythm, all squished into (as one might guess from the tape’s title) a schizophrenic flurry of ideas.

Halfway through side A’s single quarter-hour track, ‘Turnaround Mesa Coats’, you find surrounded by a thudding bass pulse, countless fluttering electronic particles, a whirring looped phrase that sounds like a toy monorail, and background gurgles that could be coming from a dying Furby. It goes in all sorts of directions though, ending with a moody wash of distant drones. The next fifteen minutes, comprising side B’s ‘Hi Jose Shelter’ is perhaps even more unpredictable. Meaty thudding beats puncture static hiss during the opening moments, aping latter day Autechre’s constant mechanisms, before careening into a cut-up piano sharp cutting to whacky samples and a long series of emotionally ambiguous moments. Alone, the many brief moments brought together across the montage aren’t especially surreal, but Noxroy’s assembly certainly is. It’s too full of non-sequiturs to even call it stream-of-consciousness. Chucking normal structural syntaxes out of the window, Noxroy’s music is a disarming listen. Not since I first heard Black Dice’s Beaches & Canyons have I felt so utterly yanked down the proverbial rabbit hole.

What with the recent passing of guitar ensemble pioneer Glenn Branca, the vast unfurling epics of Hypnodrone Ensemble seem timely. Canadians Aidan Baker and Eric Quach (aka Thisquietarmy) join forces on effects-heavy axes in front of a trio of drummers. The result however, is neither Boredoms nor Chatham. It’s directly related to the leading duo’s own projects, rinsing away all the edges and semblances of the rock band format until it’s one single gigantic sodden ambient beast.

This show, recorded in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district last year, largely sweeps constantly upwards throughout each of its tracks. The three drummers paint mostly sit back on simple beats - given extra heft by getting tripled in strength - while Baker and Quach encircle them with a mixture of textural drones, post-rockian noodles, and horizon-shifting squalls of heavy distortion. Everything about this music is tectonic in scope; moving at the pace of continents crashing slowly into each other. Things do actually turn kind of Branca/Chatham on the third movement, with fifteen minutes of repetitive beats and guitar strums, but it always ends up spiralling skyward. Ultimately it’s an amp-quake which closes out this hour of huge, huge music. Both Baker and Quach are consistently prolific musicians, but Hypnodrone Ensemble continues with their uncanny abilities to (seemingly) effortlessly create emotional depth and musical drama.

I saw Aja Ireland perform in Vienna earlier this year, done up in a strange octopussian costume of her own creation, and seemingly intent on destroying all our eardrums while grinding on the floor between the audience’s legs. Not all that surprising for a one time Perc collaborator I suppose. Her debut, now simply as AJA, is aptly sonically punishing. It’s perhaps even a simple model I guess, with hefty drum machine thuds and leering bass looping in the foreground while AJA litters the stereo field with groaning noises, dread-filled synth notes, and above all her distorted utterances and squeals. Her mastery of the drama is uniquely compelling though, akin to the most cursed moments of Throbbing Gristle’s output. There’s a politically-bent edge to AJA’s performances, inspired by gender issues amongst other things, but it’s the confrontational aspect that mostly comes across. The visceral punch of AJA is staggering, ‘Rattles’ opening with a demonic buzz of hefty bass between vast marching bangs. It warps into a punishing industrial techno vamp, pummeling your poor little walkman undeservedly.

I’m definitely wary of applauding mere heviosity, but AJA’s economy with sounds is brilliant. On side B, ‘Tuck It, Tape It’ is mostly waves of drum hits interspersed with white noise and AJA’s distorted voice, but it’s structured for maximum effect. The less beat-heavy ‘Black Stain’ - more ritualistic with its unfurling drones and distorted moans - is no less effective, taking its time to fill a bleak cavern with menace. The seven minute ‘Marbles’ closes out the tape with an almost ridiculously perilous industrial banger. Pulsating synth emerges towards the end of the track - suddenly you’re in a rave, and AJA hits its final cadence. It’s a brutally brilliant debut for AJA. Dark and danceable, but taken to marked heights by AJA. It’s one thing to be confrontational and noisy, but to make it as engaging as AJA does is something else.

There’s a deceptive oddness to Courtesy’s music. This trio from Chicago (although apparently first established in Memphis in 2009) make such dancey tunes, they could happily open for the likes of LCD Soundsystem, or marry seamlessly with Liquid Liquid in a groovy mixtape. The opening title track of Hey is a simple mix of a straightforward dry drum beat, warm cosy bass, and some slow moving keyboard interjections behind some cool slacky vocals; almost post-punk disco by numbers. Strange shades and odd little flourishes litter the tape’s beats with oblique moments amid the grooves though. The drum-machine-grounded missive ‘Earthworm’ gets taken over by a marginally off-key synth line that kills the beat for a woozy full minute of drumless drifting in the middle of a bouncy tune. ‘Future Gap’ has a squelchy off-putting VST filling in for the bass grind, without which it would be a distinctly pleasant electronic indie balladry.

All in all, it’s probably a far more alluring tape than one would expect precisely due to its oddball flourishes. This kind of disco-influenced modern electronic pop is an undoubtedly appealing prospect, but by the end of slow-burning closing track ‘Koto’, you realise Courtesy have taken you on far more of a journey than you expected.

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