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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Tape Reviews For June By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , June 25th, 2015 12:46

Tristan Bath gets to grips with all of this month's best cassette releases. Uncredited Umfang live photograph courtesy of

Nadia Khan - Deep Court
Umfang - Umfang

The Camberwell-based videogamemusic label has only existed since 2014, but May of 2015 saw a flurry of activity, including this stunning EP from Nadia Khan. Four barely sketched out digital portraits of lethargy consume the stereo field with distant tones, deep slow moving beats, and intensely minimal melodic themes. ‘Middle Elite’ is a quiet simmering web of start-up tones, the title track tickles a barely perceptible theme over a rumbling bass figure, and side B’s untitled opener trickles dripping delayed ticks over a bass drone. The seven minutes of repetition that comprises closing track ‘She Slept Here’ is the highlight though, speaking volumes of weary emotion with little more than a handful of lethargic, repeating notes.

The debut album from Umfang continues the killer month of May for videogamemusic with a full length set of near-whispered beats and watery atmospherics, all of which seem to coerce synthetic elements into organically evolving ambient technoscapes. Umfang is Emma Olson, who’s been DJing since 2009 and comprises part of the Brooklyn-based collective DISCOWOMAN, committed to “representing the wealth of female-identified DJ talent”. For a debut set of productions, this cassette is deceptively mind-blowing. Sonically, it verges on being as minimal as a sheet of plain white A4, yet each of album’s ten tracks slowly stuns, taking a minute semi-musical phrase, looping it, tweaking it, and eventually fading suddenly to white before the growing tension becomes unbearable. The ironically titled ‘Comfort Zone’ begins with a playful beeping phrase, which is slowly twisted into a detuned monster of its former self. Playing with such gentle dynamics lulls the listener into a false sense of security, like the infamous audio track on Lynch’s Inland Empire, and just like Inland Empire the power of even the slightest divergence from calmness to aggression increases exponentially. ‘Universal’ at the end of side A sees drum machine claps enter the sonic palette - the sharpest sound on the tape up to that point - and while it’s hardly a gigantic sound, the listener under Umfang’s spell after 22 preceeding minutes of subtlety feels like they’ve just heard the beat get dropped like an H-bomb. The five tracks on side two feel imbued with slightly more energy, veering more towards overtly danceable rhythms. Umfang coerces a microscopic number of her elements into wonderfully strange structures, and her debut set of productions is resultantly something outright addictive.

The Nag’s Head - Luxury Slime Vortex
(Kit Records)

Brighton producer Stephen Maskell toys with a wide array of tropes in his music, and this latest tape as The Nag’s Head, shows off the versatile composer at his best. ‘Glass And Steel’ opens with rising tones leading to dramatic bursts of melody akin to the more synthetic side of Ben Frost, Valgeir Sigurðsson and the Bedroom Community sect. ‘Supermalt VIP’ weaves classic jungle breakbeats into a spacey airlock bookended with moody choirs, while the title track builds short sharp bursts of throbbing percussion into muddy minimal techno. ‘Crushed Memory Era’ is a highlight, veering again to deathly serious ticking beats and lurching waves of noise driving forward melodic percussive melodies, but the finale of ‘Blind Willie Beyond The Void’ offers the most lasting (and perhaps even simplistic moment of sheer beauty). It hints at the likes of Sandro Perri (particularly in his previous life as Polmo Polpo) or even John Fahey at his most psychedelic, as a deep pulse and ocean of Eno-esque pop-ambient sounds straight from ‘Deep Blue Day’ make a bed for lushly picked acoustic slide guitar melodies.

This tape also has the odd distinction of having a game developed especially to accompany it. A dreamy sidescroller by game designer and artist frd, giving you the opportunity to unlock tracks from the album battling your way through a variety of colourful worlds. As Kit Records put it, “Ever felt the compulsion to fling a grumpy Lewis chessman through a green wormhole? Course you have.” The game is embedded below for your endless pleasure.

Potions - Light and Dark
(Hausu Mountain)

For some, this tape will come across as drastically half-baked, for others it will be brilliantly and wilfully restrained. I fall firmly into the latter camp. Chicago multi-instrumentalist and producer, Tom Owens, has gathered together the standard tools of the solo (and laptop-less) electronic musician trade - a system of drum machines, samplers and synths - and rather than veering too far in the direction of disco-tinged danceability or drifting dub explorations, has chosen to contemplatively chill in the zone between. Light And Dark is an immensely listenable piece of work, and that’s without sacrificing a dense sense of free-wheeling 4/4 experimentalism. Opening track ‘Herb Break’ is playful, groovily riding almost childish drum machine and basslines, and wielding little more than a lightly tapped out organ synth for melody. There’s a huge amount of space, occasionally filled with proto-dub style delay effects, and the entire track comes across like some thoroughly innocent and sparse take on instrumental disco, recalling Heatsick at his most approachable (but maybe with less bass). Many of the tracks flow seamlessly as one, invoking the spirit of some uber cool DIY party, scoring the likes of which has become Potions’ raison d’etre, and Tom Owens’ utter mastery of his form is pretty beautiful to behold. The sense of space is unintrusive, and alluring, and renders many moments - such as the centre of ‘Lake Swim’ - all the more compelling, when we awake from passive mental grooving to find a lush ocean of synth tones has built up around us. Seven minute closing gambit ‘Dry Heat’ takes things up a slight notch with a lo-fi take on a deep house beat, scattered hand claps and the ghostly guest vocals of Laura Jane Friedman, mashing dreamy Grouper-ish atmospheres with intense gnarly hissy house of the kind found on NY label L.I.E.S. This isn’t music that smashes you in the face, every tack is a slowly entrancing groove, and it’s definitely a release that you’ll find yourself returning to repeatedly, finding more hidden joys every time.

Beat Detectives - Boogie Chillen/ The Hills of Cypress
(Where to Now?)

This unwieldy piece of work is a gigantic double cassette, straddling the murky ground between mixtape, stream-of-consciousness sample buggery, and stoner montage. Beat Detectives - the American trio of Oakley Tapola, Chris Hontos and Aaron Anderson - span four sides of cassette with four 30 minute suites of tightly knit samples, oddball audio clips, and at times, stoned jamming. Side four opens with muddily slowed country music and Lemmy’s isolated vocal from ‘Ace Of Spades’, the centre of side two is awash with Oakley Tapola’s slackly delivered sing-rap vocals (not sounding unlike Inga Copeland after a few pints I imagine) over energetic drum machines, claps and bubbly retro synth effects. So much ground is covered in the two hours of sliced, blurred, messily reassembled samples and beats, along with endlessly lo fi additional instrumentation, it’s near impossible to follow it in any traditional manner. Best just to hit play and cruise through four intensely psychedelic trips into the furthest reaches of the 4/4-verse with the Beat Detectives.

Whirling Hall Of Knives - P​!​!​ggz

Blood Room - Mazikeen Scheme
(Fort Evil Fruit)

Named after a Butthole Surfers track, Irish duo Whirling Hall Of Knives have made music together for years now, unleashing several albums of broad, deep and widely varied noisy instrumental atmospherics. This, the pair’s second tape on the stellar Fort Evil Fruit label, is perhaps their most insistently rhythmic, with most tracks on the album comprising subdued bruised beats punching their way through a hazy net of gnarled fuzz and grinding feedback. The title track of P​!​!​ggz opens with stuttering fumbled distortion before veering straight into dizzying over amplified beats, gain liberally applied to every discernible element. The album is a blinding tour de force from start to finish, for the most part seamlessly presented as one long suite as timbres, beats and background noise carries over from track to track. ‘AV Flux’ is one of the most spellbinding moments, rumbling from an awakening beatless beauty at the start to a gentle three minute crescendo of rushing luminescence atop gigantic heartbeats, segueing into another beatless moment of respite on ‘Endless Bucolica’. P​!​!​ggz is probably Whirling Hall of Knives’ best release to date, counterintuitively balancing contrasting worlds of energetic rhythmic noise with beautiful sheets of power ambient abstraction. It constantly pays off for the listener, and thus the results are addictive.

Having started its life as “a loop-based musique concrète and plunderphonic project”, the music of Blood Room (aka Tim Matts of the Seagrave label) has grown increasingly musical, beat-ridden and mired in darkness. It fits right alongside Whirling Hall of Knives in this latest batch from Fort Evil Fruit, but while that record is bruised and rusty, Blood Room is comparatively clean, gleamingly razor sharp, and all the more potent for it. There’s head-smashing drum loops like the speaker-busting kick on ‘STRAY’, or the buzzing claymore-heavy beats on ‘QUELL’, but for the most part, Mazikeen Scheme opts for stuttering atmospheres and slow pronouncements over ball-busting high energy. The project’s concrète roots still show, as on the slowly looping field recording of muddy sounding footsteps that makes up ‘O P’, or the hissing in the background of ‘K’K’, which eventually gets reshaped into rhythmic chunks that evolve from ghostly hiss into a pounding submerged rave. Recognisable instrumentation is scarce besides the core beat making tools, with the majority of sounds seemingly arising from miscellaneous musified audio elements, but the twisted-yet-recognisable logic of the shapes and patterns that arise from Matts’ productions make Mazikeen Scheme a vital listening experience. At the tail of the album, there’s a remix of a Blood Room track by fellow Seagraver, Ovis Aurum, who sculpts Matts’ core into an entirely different sort of abstraction - all skittered beats and cavernous reverb. Somehow, Fort Evil Fruit continues to slay with each passing month.

Nicola Tirabasso / Valerio Miaolo - Landscape Suicide

The Italian underground really seems to be exploding right now, firing out powerful packages of psychedelic tribalism, voodoo drones, and grinding industrial weirdness that put Germany and the US to shame with each passing month. This fifth release for young musical collective and label ArteTetra comprises two sidelong 23-minute suites, one apiece for Nicola Tirabasso and Valerio Miaolo, each imbued with free flowing mind-fucked melodrama. Tirabasso’s side tugs at the listener with emotive droning organ chords, and distant raindrops of tapped cymbals, going on to include new agey vocal inflections and widescreen synth notes during its second half along with a trembling closing coda that smacks of unfinished business. Maiolo’s side never gets as melodically comfortable as Tirabasso’s, relying on dissonance, a strangely evil mumbling monologue towards its middle section, and bursts of radio static and atonal rumblings for its finale. This is definitely music from the country that gave us Musica Elettronica Viva, packaging two long form collages into one coherent ritualistic suite.

Beachers - Portrait
Plains Druid- Before Summer Let Us Down
(Illuminated Paths)

Following on from his debut tape on J&C Tapes, Daryl Worthington, aka Beachers, issues a second cassette of subtle minimal compositions. His music tends to start life as Dictaphone recordings made walking around his adopted home of Riga, but while his previous project - Kostoglotov - integrate the sounds of London far more literally, Beachers uses the tones of cities as a mere blueprint from which to cultivate slow moving downbeat music. The five untitled ‘portraits’ on this cassette put out by Floridian label, Illuminated Paths, sluggishly trundle along as if over encumbered with the weight of the world. ‘Portrait 1’ typifies proceedings, with a yawning bass track, distant sleepy beats, and a foggy veil of icy synths and atonal field noise. There are several almost filmic moments of musicality amid the sleepy atmospherics, at times not sounding unlike a missing cue from a score by Italy’s Goblin or Iceland’s Jóhann Jóhannsson (think Copenhagen Dreams). Take ‘Portrait 3’, where jutting keyboard bells tinkle away like the mindful self-examination of an Argento character during a second act refrain - but then again, ‘Portrait 3’ spends its second half in dishevelled limbo as a vintage sample loops behind further misty wisps of atonal noise. Beachers’ explorations with slow moving loops and foggy aesthetics gradually yank the listener into Worthington’s moody, sleepy universe, summarised by the cover art of a chopping board in an angular corner of a kitchen. Utterly mundane and utterly beautiful in equal measure.

There aren’t many musicians who could consider the gigantic canyons, chasms, and fifteen minute epics of Before Summer Let Us Down something of a streamlining of their sound, but then again Chicago’s Plains Druid is following up his colossal two hour opus, Super Real Islands, put out by Blue Tapes last year, which sprawled its way through four 30 minute monoliths of total euphoria. This time, Plains Druid focuses his sound into shorter 4-15 minute chunks, and has former Emeralds guitarist Mark Mcguire in tow as a sporadic guest contributor. Curtains up, and ‘Unholy Sublation’ opens with lapping waves of murky drones, and hidden tripped out guitar notes, sketching out the giant never-ending skies of the midwest. ’April In Arizona’ broadens the sonic palette with deeper tones, mutated vocals gutted and spread thickly into dabs of colour, looping and eventually decaying with the languid beauty of a Basinski composition. The album seems something of a journey, and by ‘Canyons’ the pace has picked up, with an arpeggiating synth (recorded in hazy lo-fidelity) ushers in a playful mechanic rhythm that cycles on for six full minutes, growing increasingly frantic as muddy guitar chords blast like fire from a jet engine in the messy, joyous cacophony. ‘Danie Loves Mountain’ and the ‘Bad Girl’ take up most of side two, as Plains Druid’s never-ending supply of sunny noise washes and submerged beats jams it out with some overtly pretty guitar playing. ‘Bad Girl’ in particular cycles through its state of blissful, fuzzy content, riddled with sunshine for a full quarter of an hour. Plains Druid makes slow moving music awash with fuzz, and overflowing with warm cuddly drones, yet this uniquely comforting music feels less synthetic and trippy than it does pastoral and nostalgic.

Suzuki Junzo - If I Die Before I Wake
(Was Ist Das?)

Since the turn of the century, Tokyo’s Suzuki Junzo has channelled gentle blues, space rock, and his homeland’s uniquely mental take on freeform psychedelic noise into a momentous body of work, which should see him ranked alongside Japan’s heavyweight cosmic jokers, the likes of Takashi Mizutani, Kawabata Makoto and Asahito Nanjo. The tape label imprint of Hebden Bridge based promoter Was Ist Das? is capping off a killer recent run of releases with If I Die Before I Wake, a stunning addition to Junzo’s discography. Side A contains three lengthy acid jams, recorded in studio with drummer Takahashi Ikuro, who has previously worked with the likes of Kousokuya, Fushitsusha, LSD March, and High Rise to name but a few. The stonking loud nine minute opener, ‘Crossing The Valley Of The Cosmic Death Demons’, truly lives up to the promise of its killer title, with Junzo spinning crazed six-string fireworks over Ikuro’s crazed free time flurries. ‘Les Visiteurs du Soir’ meanwhile, tickles the edges of the atmosphere with strange distant noises, manic percussion rumbles and the sound of Junzo seemingly pulling his guitar to pieces, reconstituted and warped through delay effects, sounding very like the freakiest moments in Germany’s history of music for acid eaters. The title track follows too, bringing side A to an unsettling close as a myriad of cymbal washes and atonal guitar drones consume the stereo field like wildfire for twelve horrifying minutes.

The flipside contains a solo Junzo show recorded at the Fortress Callosum in San Francisco last year. Junzo coerces galaxies of colour from his guitar for the instrumental first 20 minutes. Beautiful plucks sing into reverb chambers, squealing shards of feedback amass and slowly grow into blunter sonic instruments, and shaky storm clouds engulf all in attendance as Junzo freaks out. The closing seven minutes segue into a gothic bluesy death hymn titled ‘4 Mosche Di Velluto Grigio’ (presumably after Dario Argento’s 1971 movie of the same name about a musician stalked by a murderer). Simply put, this tape is one of the finest documents of dark psychedelia and blues-riddled noise in existence.