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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: July's Tapes Reviewed By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , July 28th, 2015 09:34

Tristan Bath fires up his cassette decks to lead us through some of the most exciting music out there (that just happens to be released on tape)

Sly And The Family Drone picture by Katja Ogrin

rkss - Cell

Following on from his quietly spectacular debut for the Stockton On Tees based Reject And Fade label last year, rkss takes a step further down the route of sparingly utilised sonic aggression, and another away from the relative comfort of cosy melodicism. His debut focused on recontextualising a vast array of samples and found sounds into rhythmic compositions, blending with crunchy beats made up from an indecipherable mix of synthetic percussion, industrial sampled clatter and the odd keyboard tune. Cell - put out by the increasingly excellent Seagrave label - offers a mix of shorter ambient pieces and longer tracks, which are for the most past rhythm-oriented. ‘Blush’ opens to glitches and what sounds like the plucking of a koto, with ‘Bicycle’ and ‘Work’ completing the opening trilogy. These three venture through the former’s squeaky theme (perhaps a sample of a bike wheel in need of oiling?) and the latter’s crunching loops (something between typewriter sounds and bones snapping), all building up to a beautiful chaos over a banging beat. ‘Rain’ lives up to its title as buried kicks (in fact made from heavily EQ’d raindrops) punch their way through a haze of drowning grey notes and what sounds like wipers on a soaking windscreen. The title track toys with earsplitting noises before chopping them into chunks and crafting a groovy tech house track out of them. The best thing about Cell is it indicates how, even a mere two full length releases in, rkss’ distinct sonic persona seems cemented. He’s defiantly against using the same old sound packs as everybody else, and manages to crunch sampled noises of all kinds into relatively user friendly compositions - musique concrete for dancefloors, if you will. The clatter of the world is simply a billion incidental noises waiting to join the sound library at rkss’ disposal; waiting for him to come along and splice it into alluring beatscapes.

What’s more, Robin of rkss appeared on my weekly radio show on London’s Resonance 104.4FM this month, choosing a gorgeous array of music on tape, and taking us through some of his own sample-crunching process behind Cell track, ‘Rain’. Listen again below.

Spool's Out Radio #13: 20th July 2015, w/ Special Guest rkss!! by Spool's Out Radio on Mixcloud

Sly & the Family Drone - A Fiesta of Skin and Tears
Raising Holy Sparks - Trances of the Blast
(Cruel Nature Recordings)

Skin and tears are aptly all over this incredible C45 of sly noise and family unfriendly drones. Frantic screams and yells emanate from both crowd and band, heavy drum blasts punch a beat forever forward, and a dark belly of metallic noise grinds away. The legend of Sly & the Family Drone’s live chops are well deserved, and this red raw recording from a gig at Campbell Road Studios in Brighton last September possibly represents the most glorious document of the Family to date. The first side opens with a waves of freeform noises punctuated with screams from all in attendance, then travels through a propulsive repetitive ten minute section melting into tribal drumming and again to brief passages of drumless oscillator noise before climaxing with an outright motorik noise jam that bleeds over onto most of side B’s 17 minutes. S&TFD ritualistically split up drum kits and pass the pieces out into the crowd for onlookers to jam along with / unleash their aggressions on to, and resultantly the core elements of the band’s screams, oscillators and beats are constantly encased in a surrounding barrage of audience noise. The jamming on the second side simply stumbles and falters, and the fury fizzles to a halt. How else could it have ended? This is primordial music, joyously pumping itself ape like in the chest, wordlessly roaring until it hurts, then roaring some more.

An especially good month for one of our favourite label’s, Cruel Nature Recordings out of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Like Sly & the Family Drone’s release, Raising Holy Sparks present us with two side long recordings on Trances Of The Blast, skimming the nether regions between ghostly pastoral folk forms, and darkest black metal. What is usually a loose knit collective from Ireland, seems this time to solely comprise main member, David Colohan, blending field and studio recordings from around Ballymahon in Ireland and the Scottish Isle of Jura into a sweeping 40 minute suite. The sounds of lapping water and bird song duets against bowed and brushed cymbals, eventually adding booming vocal chants and the ritualistic banging of drums. Later, noisy guitar and harmonium workouts squall over greying meadows, and eventually there are furious passages of black metal, replete with insane blast beat drums and anguished yelps. The entire thing is intensely melodic, deeply rooted in local folk musics, and even the less musical moments (field recordings and atonal drones) seem to take on a soulful, pre-destined meaning in Colohan’s hands. The feeling isn’t quite the one of intense sadness and longing heard on previous releases from Raising Holy Sparks, with the seamless suite ultimately coming across as celebratory in tribute to the beauty to be found across the icy damp and grey of these islands.

The Diane Plains - Somnambulist EP
(Tenderly Surrender)

The music of the Diane Plains comes drenched in glorious lo-fi, sprayed thinly throughout some cavernous reverb-laden virtual interior, with Maycox laying down multiple tracks of knitted guitar and wordless vocal lines, along with a few psychedelic flourishes of droning sruti boxes and organs. For the most part, the music sounds somewhere in between an MBV gig recorded from the opposite end of a vastly long tunnel, and the dreary overcast skies of The Cure at their most gothic and drawn out. The grooves hit a full peak at the end of final track, Only You, ending with several minutes of drilling guitar squeals a la the battling axes of Sonic Youth. The Diane Plains’ debut EP feels perhaps a little overly drenched in copiously applied reverb and willfully dizzying lo-fidelity, but the deep psych jams and deathly dark spaces in the core remain intact, and work unusually well.

Holly Waxwing - Peach Winks
(Noumenal Loom)

PC Music and Sophie have recently been twisting super cute pop music tropes into a hyperactive new strand of electronic music here in the UK, but what began as a parody of consumerism, seems to have become a self-obsessed over valued example of consumerism gone wrong. (Plus, those racist comments were pretty shameful.) Meanwhile across the pond, Holly Waxwing - the alter ego of Garrett Cosby from Birmingham, Alabama - has relegated the importance of consumerist parody and made this excellent release out on Noumenal Loom. Chipmunk vocal samples are sliced into melodic nuggets that soulfully boogie atop Holly Waxwing’s glittering and densely meticulous productions. The action isn’t rammed down our throats, and the structure of these brief pieces lures us in (rather than the likes of Hannah Diamond’s sheer explosive pop attack). ‘Chalant’ gently glides along at mid tempo, with bars of bass bouncing along as simmering percussive elements amass seamlessly driving the groove from sleepy to hyper. The song collapses into rhythmic glitches, and reassembles into a dizzying array of scattered chiming tones and near-dubstep beats. The two minute ‘Sochi Girls’ is more pointedly cutesie, and shows off Holly Waxwing’s blinding ability to squeeze and morph unexpected source material into sugary sweet music. A pitch- and time-stretched MIDI trumpet doesn’t jar, instead practically singing over the thing. The title track comfortably integrates a more overtly poppy chord movement and near-vaporwave cheesy keyboards into a glorious beat punctuated by handclaps and snatches of female vocal samples. ‘Vibe’ is outright childish, playfully adding music box (or perhaps mbira) notes and bleeps to the mix. This is the music you’d want to hear walking into a sweetshop in some sunny Nintendo adventure land - saccharine, playful, and nonetheless genuinely uplifting.

Werk - Wk. 1
(I Hate My Records)

Emerging from the ashes of Elk Blood (yet another noteworthy band from Manchester’s brilliant freewheeling scene) Wk. 1 is the first of three EPs from improvisational trio, Werk due out in 2015. They rightly highlight these improvisations as being ‘drum centric’ - opening gambit, ‘Beed To Dip’ is an outright banger - and at times calls to mind the glory days of Black Dice circa Beaches And Canyons and Miles Of Smiles. ‘Lump’ grows into a subdued industrial dancefloor filled with hushed sirens and short-circuited rhythms, and ‘Tradition’ verges on noise rock as vocalist/guitarist Edwin Dorley lets rip screaming bloody murder into a room full of beats and static. ‘21-4-15 Edit’ demonstrates more perceptively how the trio work, cementing improvised musical building blocks into structures over ten minutes. Their methodology seems to produce the most listenable form of experimental band music going (the comfort of those 4/4 beats helps a lot), and for those interested there’s a list of ‘featured devices’ on their website. From the sounds of things Wk. 2 and 3 are going to be well worth investing in.

Demonstration Synthesis - SAC #015 - DS23
(Sacred Tapes)

The experimental synthesizer project of Montreal-based musician Daniel Leznoff has put out 23 tapes as of this release on Manchester’s Sacred Tapes, and the project has grown increasingly interesting as it’s evolved. DS23 opens with a deceptive slice of searing techno, but Leznoff never stays in the same place for too long here, blasting stream of consciousness experiments from his setup which occasionally veer towards primal early electronic experimentation (issuing bleeps and buzzes straight from the early days of TV and film sci-fi sound effects) and polyrhythmic elements not quite falling into step. ‘My Song’ hints at a forthcoming groove for four solid minutes as arpeggios and snappy sounds repeat regularly, but it never quite tessellates, While these parts have missed each other though, a warm pad has been brought to life underneath the proceedings which engulfs the hypnotising anti-rhythms in its final moments. The brief ‘Intalude’ goes for the more typically melodic bit-crushed sounds of a dreamy gameboy theme song, while ‘Levitator’ is an irregular shaped epic of synth strings and recontextualised cheesy tones. Leznoff is never predictable - even on a second-by-second basis - and while some twenty releases ago it was almost maddening to listen to, his unique musical dialect is becoming increasingly intriguing. Like all the best art made indeterminately, now looking back over previous DS tapes on the likes of Phinery and Entr’acte, and way back to DS1 on Metaphysical Circuits, the entire hodge podge project is gradually beginning to make more sense.

Bobby Diabolo - Bobby Diabolo
(Entertainment Systems)

This tape from flourishing young US tape label, Entertainment Systems by mysterious producer Bobby Diabolo seems to consist of 18 diaristic musical sketches. Structurally this is experimental electronic music of the highest order (akin to New Zealand’s Tlaotlon), lining up motorised computer music elements, then letting them run riot in crazed cubist soundscapes. Rhythmically, much of the music still sits atop comfortable beds of kicks and hi hats, but the chaos overhead is a bleepy, buzzing mess of electromagnetic storms. Some tracks, like ‘Apr25A’, take proceedings to the more unwieldy fringes of noise, eschewing rhythm for rushing bursts of synth lines. ‘May12A’ is another noteworthy entry, as towering crunches of fuzzed out pummelling drums pierce their way through crystalline ambience uneasily. It’s part of a triumphant batch for Entertainment Systems, including notable tapes from Takahiro Mukai, and i.o., but Bobby Diabolo sticks out as a burgeoning visionary, thrusting an infinite sonic palette into his hardware and sketching out a heap of strange new sonic worlds.

Eton Mess - Delusions of Grandeur
(Wiener Records)

Recorded in Salford, but put out on the US-based Wiener Records (a subsidiary of Burger Records), the debut tape from Eton Mess initially seems to house little more than some unusually high grade indie songwriting - the sort of stuff that seems to have gone the way of the Dodo (save a handful of holdouts of course). Deeper inspection finds a powerful, emotively realised set of missives, set to the sunniest possible brand of hook-ridden jangly guitar music. ‘What You Should Do’ opens the album with a riff of the sort we’ve heard deployed a thousand times by a thousand Robert Smith imitations - all firsts, fourths and fifths on an acoustic guitar played off against joyous retro synth notes - but this one seems far more convincing. Eton Mess’ inner voice captured here seems pretty paranoid, whether it’s the domestic argument seemingly captured on ‘What You Should Do’, the worrying umming and aaahing of ‘Just Don’t Know’, or moody lamenting of atmospheric finale ‘Abandon’. It never gets in the way of the powerful gift for melodies on display here though. The melancholy ‘I Could Have Died’ rides its earwormy descending hook brilliantly, even replete with a gloriously Byrds-esque middle eight countermelody (the self-made video for this tune is above too, featuring Eton Mess’ bare buttocks). ‘Abandon’ too, has an effortlessly compelling chorus, and knows it. Aptly, considering this album’s release on Wiener, the best modern day makers of this sort of music tend to be American, such as the likes of Real Estate and Ducktails - whom Eton Mess’ band at times sonically resemble quite closely.

This sort of guitar-based songwriting doesn’t often come along imbued with so much talent and so little ugly ego all at once. Eton Mess is off to an excellent start, and you can (and should) order the thing via their bandcamp page.

Ultraorthadox - Vital Organs

Based in Reykjavik, the FALK art collective have been a key part of the Icelandic underground scene since 2008, and having invited the likes of Grumbling Fur and Pye Corner Audio up to play in the land of hidden elves and rotting fish dinners, we can rest assured of the quality of their tastes. For the ninth release on their label, they’ve put out the debut album from Ultraorthadox, aka producer ArnarMár Ólafsson, who’s spent recent years shifting away from his metal and hardcore roots and towards electronic composition. Vital Organs is a bold opening statement with two cavernous long form compositions (16 and 13 minutes long respectively), filled with gaping epic slabs of colossal bass and lurching fuzz that paint wildly dark gothic images. ‘Einstein's Brain’ is over-encumbered with synths battling it out in the low end while broken hi-hats gradually introduce metallic notes which trace out a sluggish and demonic rave in a cave. The piece moves through three distinct stages, shifting from the opening melancholy to more dramatic washes of synth pads and whooshing wind noises before the climactic passages of higher paced beats and chiming bells. The flipside - ‘Rasputin’s Eyes’ toys with the same textures, arranging them into a second suite of malevolent slow moving electronics and distant beats. It’s deceptively filled with good ideas, with both suites harbouring sections that feel occasionally as if Ólafsson’s sewn together half-finished ideas, or rather that there’s the potential here for a longer album of several smaller tracks. As it stands though, Vital Organs is an incredible debut for Ultraorthadox, of equal interest to both dark ambient heads and minimal techno fans.

Glochids - Venutian Formula

Described on Phinery’s bandcamp as Glochid’s first album to use “unadorned kick drum samples, MIDI instrumentation, bowed styrofoam, modular synthesis, AM radio drift, reverb, distortion, and live performance recordings as collage elements”, Venutian Formula is quite as one would expect, far from normal. The Denmark-based Phinery label has made its name putting out inexplicably strange music on tape, and Glochids - the project of Arizonan sound artist, James Roemer - fits right in, coagulating melting aural detritus into engaging musical cubist sculptures. Don’t ask me to locate the “bowed styrofoam” - the origin of many sounds that lie therein are impossible to accurately identify. Opener, ‘AM Crucial Reward’ has a lilting (and heavily treated) MIDI saxophone twist over scattered hammering, but ‘Poster Donerspiess’ seems to have mushed up radio noises and the bleeps of waking up computer apps. Like the best collagists, Roemer’s vastly varied arsenal of source material is what makes his work so compelling, taking us on a tour of timbres we’ve most likely never heard before. Atmosphere is only gently applied to the nine short-ish pieces (two to six minutes each), allowing the bizarreness of every non-sequitur to breathe freely in a universe of Glochid’s own crazed making. The gentlest moments - like the bed of soft tones on ‘Messier Spam’, or the deep glitchy core of the brilliant ‘Deaf Accompaniment’ - are almost relaxing, but at its oddest, Venutian Formula can make you feel outright queasy. This music is endlessly unsettling, but it appeals to our curiosity, and rather than making us run away scared, it compels us to sit, and listen again, to try and decode just what it is that we’re hearing.

Sly And The Family Drone play at Cafe Oto along with Chrononautz and Hirvikolari on Monday August 3