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Spool's Out

Spool's Out, Slight Return: May's Tapes Reviewed By Tristan Bath, Part II
Tristan Bath , June 3rd, 2015 14:34

In the second half of Tristan Bath's monthly cassettes round-up, he takes a tour through new releases of long-form Italian drone, Belgian black metal and clarinet-led experimentation from Chicago

Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo - Doropea
(Old Bicycle Records)

This tape comes from Old Bicycle Records - a label based out of the idyllic tiny Swiss village of Piazzogna - sporting two long form drone pieces from Italian musician Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo. Palumbo has worked with dozens of bands and projects over the years, even collaborating with Nurse with Wound in his capacity as guitarist/violist in Blind Cave Salamander on a meet-up LP between the two bands put out in 2012. Here, a solo Palumbo is in a wistful, and resultantly very pretty mood, with two sonic landscapes recorded in tribute to his hometown of Turin (the tape is in fact named after the two rivers that cross the city, the Po and Dora). The town was famously where Dario Argento's giallo classic, Profondo Rosso, was shot, and Palumbo does his part to faithfully capture that same atmosphere, an alluring blend of breathtaking beautiful surroundings, and deeply submerged psychological troubles.

The fifteen minute first side builds mesmerising viola and organ drones, while the desperately nostalgic sound antique upright piano tinkers away in the foreground. Bowed guitar enters the mix, and the piece barely evolves for its duration save a handful of piano and guitar peaks and troughs, like a long walk through stone Alpine architecture, only occasionally punctuated by the sight of a distant jagged mountaintop. The second quarter of an hour side seems to have us enter the uglier subconscious of the city, opening with horrific snoring sounds, then heading back into organ alongside looping field recordings of running water fountains, hissing deflating tyres, and Palumbo idly singing 'bum-bum-bum' to himself as demonic tonal shifts in the drone steer us from the sublime to the insane. Noisy guitars circle above menacingly, but eventually the piece quietens for its finale, switching to processed inversions of those vocal tics and 'bum-bums' and running water sounds, drifting skyward on a bed of cycling synth notes. This is understated work, and all the more brilliant for it.

Rand and Holland - Rand and Holland
(A Guide to Saints)

This tape from Australian folk band Rand and Holland contains music that nearly never saw the light of day. The band, led by Sydneysider Brett Thompson, parted ways in what sounds like pretty unhappy fashion back in 2011, just having completed the recordings heard on this cassette. A quick listen to the Sydney band's 2004 album Tomorrow Will Be LIke Today reveal an already pretty moody band of not-so-merry songsmiths, integrating sparse minimalism and occasional field recordings into very downbeat folk songs. But the sessions that essentially ended the band and produced this astonishing self-titled album seem to have captured the sound of a group heading down a rabbit hole, abandoning much of their relative normality in favour of a perhaps self-destructive intensely emotional path. The tape opens with 'Cobra', a doom-like instrumental that spends seven minutes weaving slowly introduced acoustic and electric guitars, bass and sparse percussion through a series of chilling melodic anticlimaxes. 'Walking the Plank' and 'The Plague' are grand folk songs of the best possible ilk, in line with the likes of Timber Timbre, reaching gigantic peaks integrating drum machines, organs and rhodes tinkling into very un-folky moments of near-prog drama. The group is audibly falling to pieces - the sessions were apparently trying ordeals, constantly getting cancelled or outright missed by disgruntled band members. "Is this the end?" sings Thompson, "our hands are tied, my legs are heavy". A brief instrumental two minute interlude of grinding synth ambience follows as 'My Halo', closing out side one before the grand finale and death knell of the band that is on side two.

At 24 minutes long, 'Old Crow' takes up the entirety of the second side, and seems to musically signpost the death of Rand and Holland. Beginning as a bittersweet gothic song ("who stole my halo?"), catching the group in the throes of a Leonard Cohen-esque depression before about turning into a proper folksy hootenanny rave up of snare rolls and violins, before plunging into the depths of colossal bass tones and percussion crashes that fill out the final quarter of an hour of the album with sparse, cleansing ritualism - purging the souls of the players. It's the sound of a band trying to shatter something, like the explosive sonic nuclear bombs heard on Swans' recent masterworks. It's the sound of a band destroying itself.

Dino Spiluttini - All I Want is to Be a Happy Man
(Sacred Phrases)

This Vienna-based artist has put out several releases of yearning drone music in recent years, largely created by playing a piano and processing the resulting sounds through a series of effects, jettisoning almost all recognisable aspects of the piano's sound and leaving behind washes of chords, seemingly rumbling as the piano deep beneath tinkers with showering notes out of earshot. The entire tape plays beautifully as one cohesive listen, and the timbres vary very little between tracks, instead indicating a range of emotions. 'Resurrender' and 'Reminiscing' open the tape with lilting nostalgia, 'Ice/Age' twists and contorts like greying skies, and 'Body Issues' simmers with dormant anger and depression. It's all music made to symbolise deep-seated feelings, and tracks names like 'Father', 'Body Issues', even the album title itself, All I Want is to Be a Happy Man, seem to suggest this music is the yearning of a lonely soul, one who perhaps can't even bare to hear the real sound of his own piano playing. preferring the comfort of hazy whitewashed ambience. This is essential music for fans of drone - particularly in the more romantic Stars Of The Lid ilk - and has already made several dozen passes through my own cassette player during the quiet part of the late evening.

Maleficence - Journey to the Depths
(Blood Harvest)

This cassette tape edition of Brussels-based black metal/thrash band Maleficence has been put out by Swedish label, Blood Harvest, and it is truly great. So many bands seem to come and go in both the black and thrash metal scenes, it can seem as if the format is dying, but these guys write so many addictive riffs, and play with a real vintage fury that injects some badly needed adrenaline into the corpse. Drummer, Alkhöloïkh plays with a thrashy energy occasionally missing from black metal percussionist (who can focus way too much on pumping kick pedals than they should), but the two guitarists are what make this Journey To The Depths worth taking and taking again. Destroyer G (rhythm) and the unfortunately named Disgusting Semen (lead) unleash killer riffs in stereo, tremolo picking  in unison, and occasionally breaking off for some insane soloing that would leave the gods themselves on their knees begging for more. Just check out the fury of 'Blood Rituals'. The sheer number of black and other metal tapes that gets put out is pretty daunting, and this column's not done its part over the last year to cover them. If there was ever evidence of how much we've been missing, it's Maleficence.

Wei Zhongle - Nu Trance
(NNA Tapes)

Hailing from the incessant hotbed of indescribable glocal musics that is Chicago, Wei Zhongle have few peers. They comprise a drummer, a clarinetist who makes use of electronics, and a vocalist/violinist/guitarist who sings in a language of his own making. The result is boundlessly energetic, with the trio's sonic whirlpool yanking distant planets right out of orbit and garnering a vast array of influences and non-sequiturs. Clarinetist John McCowen applies modulation amongst other tricks to his instrument, leading to alien sounds parping through the album's lumpy gravy. Vocalist Rob Jacobs' sings like a madman, summoning an alter ego from an alternative universe, and his prepared guitar - along with the powerful busy drumming of Sam Klickner - lend the album some of the post-modern, post-industrial mood of New York's 80s downtown no wave scene, where anything and everything could happen. Structurally the pieces push and pull in many directions - 'Fortunate 2' simply finds its way to and from the main theme four or five times before disappearing - but largely there's an element of stream of consciousness to the music, winding up with even the oddest moment feeling logical. 'Darting Fish' adds violins and drum machines, while the vocalisations on 'Pledge' could feel almost new agey, if it weren't for the clatter of drums and harsh metallic guitar picking. It goes without saying, but Wei Zhongle really sound nothing like anybody else (which is perhaps what has lead to some This Heat comparisons, though the main similarity is in their indefinability, and perhaps the powerful fluid drumming). There are parts of Nu Trance you can dance to, there are parts you may even eventually sing along to, but the entire thing is a colourful and joyous headfuck, broadcasting right from the very brink of insanity.

Josh Millrod - Chasing Ghosts

Layering trumpet loops on top of glacial string-like electronic atmospheres, Josh Millrod's Chasing Ghosts is minimal chamber music of the highest order. As a horn player, Millrod doesn't resemble the unusual sound exploration of post-jazz experimental trumpeter's like Jon Hassell or Arve Henriksen, taking a more directly musical path, a la Garrett List, whose 1972 masterwork, Your Own Self, takes a similar approach to scattergun layers of looping and disappearing tones employed by Millrod here. Each side comprises a single 15/16 minute piece, and 'Opening the Doors' on side one makes also includes wordless vocal contributions from Noa Fort, blending with string-like tones and a multitude of reshaped horn loops from Millrod, who then improvises on top of the stunning dawn-like ambience. It's some of the most instantly compelling minimal music for a while, and as 'Opening the Doors' cycles continuously onward, the tiniest microscopic shifts in tone occur. By the closing minutes, Millrod's blaring out a descending funereal figure. The flipside, 'Closure' wanders down darker and far less explored paths, as Millrod's processed horn blasts away like a city-sized ship coming into port, and a mass of Millrod's begin to gather in his loop pedal, at times recalling the horn-led high points of Sunn O)))'s Monoliths and Dimensions at its most thoughtful. Later in the piece, Millrod plays his trumpet drenched in feedback, guiding harsh lightning bolts of noise over the hodge-podge black hole of horns he's amassed, and after brutalising his audience, Millrod drops out the menace, and plays out the closing minutes of the album in hymnal fashion.Chasing Ghosts is as powerful a statement of minimalist music as an experimental and yet thoroughly approachable art form to rival the heyday likes of Garrett List, Fred Rzewski or Terry RIley, and one of the finest debut releases on tape this year.

Maersk - Wolfsburg
(Sacred Tapes)

Sacred Tapes has been firing potent cassettes of experimental noise from Manchester's hyperactive experimental scene since 2013, every single one of them housed in plain white covers with a serif font. There was also of course deviation, in the form of their now legendary archival box set release, encased in concrete that could only be accessed via brute force. But it's mostly all very minimal, functional, and leaving the music to speak entirely for itself. The label is also notably tied to Gnod and co - previous releases have come from the likes of Druss, as well as Gnod's sax player and Tombed Visions tape label head, David McLean. The fourteenth entry into the catalogue comes from Maersk, the new nom de plume of Sacred Tapes founder and Islington Mill venue manager, Callum Higgins, and is described as being most definitely "an introduction of things to come" on the tape's bandcamp page. Higgins has released under other names in the past, such as Yes Blythe, but this new project eschews the subtlety and gradually shifting atmospheres of Yes Blythe for something noisier, sharper, more industrial and immediate. The seven minute first track, 'ISO 6346', opens with stabs of walkie talkie radio chatter dropping out of the mix like a mistake, before spindles of colliding noise arise, and submersible kick drums pound out sketched  rhythms far below. Higgins' skillful ability to craft murky atmospheres with little more than samples and noise is without question, and on the second nine-minute cut, 'ISO 830', we ride a near-absent wave of distant ambient noise only punctuated with incredibly sparse recorder parps and blasts of sonar blips, before the final three minutes add an old sampled jungle rhythm, dropping out the low end and piercing through our eardrums for two concluding minutes of industrial scraping. At only about a quarter of an hour, this release barely fills out an EP-sized space (for music this long-form at least), nonetheless considering the power of this release, the prospect of more from Maersk is a prospect to get excited about.

Read part I of May's Spool's Out here