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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Tape Reviews For November By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , November 10th, 2015 11:06

Tristan Bath is back with the best music on tape for November including a charity project for those affected by the Nepal earthquake

Photograph courtesy of Eleanor Bath

Various Artists - Power Moves 015
(Power Moves Label)

Six months on, and too many buildings in Nepal still lie in ruins. The earthquake that hit the country on the April 25, and the many aftershocks and landslides that followed, left tens of thousands of people dead or injured. Hundreds of thousands of buildings were also destroyed. The struggle to rebuild is ongoing, and as such the artists of the Toronto-based Power Moves Label have got together and put out a tape compilation with all proceeds going to the excellent Kids Of Kathmandu foundation. The aim of the foundation is to rebuild 52 schools in the hardest hit region of Nepal, as well as to assist with some much needed groundwork concerning infrastructure for proper medicine, food and energy resources.

Full disclosure - I am one of the artists on this label too, and have provided a track for the compilation under my Missing Organs guise. So I shan’t be giving my opinion of the music on the tape. There are 12 tracks from each of the artists that have previously featured on the label, ranging from washes of keyboard, to harsh noise beats, to acoustic guitar fingerpicking. If you’re interested in the music covered in this column, you’ll most likely enjoy this. Visit the bandcamp page above and contribute to get a digital or tape copy. Alternatively head straight to and help however you can.

DJ Sandji - 100% Balani Show
(Sahel Sounds)

The incredible Sahel Sounds label has been digging deeper into the fringes of Malian music than anybody else right now, and this new mixtape by Bamako street-party-starter DJ Sandji is one of their most outright fun offerings yet. DJ Sandji’s been at it for a while now, graduating from cassette tape DJing to CDJs and eventually adding his own drum machine to the mix. DJ Sandji’s now spearheading a street party called the Balani Show, and this mix represents a selection of prime cuts from the current Malian party circuit, taking in a bunch of styles from across the African continent including high speed kuduro from Angola, coupé-décalé from Côte d'Ivoire, Nigerian pop, and local hip hop. The entire thing’s underpinned by DJ Sandji’s own drum machine interjections on Boss DR-660, plus lots of jump cuts and chopping and screwing in between tracks. The effect is a pretty freewheeling mix of scantily sewn together party bangers, some of which are at madly high tempos, while others (e.g. first half of side B) display much deeper, guitar-led funkiness. DJ Sandji’s drum machine work at points leaps centre stage rather than peppering vacant space hype man style, showering a pounding pile of synthetic drum hits. It’s something of a guide through an obscure and vital street party scene, but mostly it’s just an unbeatably high energy party all its own. You’re strongly advised to join in.

(Still Heat Recordings)

And so another fine label is called into existence. CARTHAGE’s 9115 is the first release on Newcastle’s Still Heat, with more tapes soon due from friend-of-the-column Joseph Curwen and A Wake A Week. 9115 is a hell of a way to start up a label though, with CARTHAGE spewing a broad ranging mess of doom-ridden noise with sidebars into prettier guitar instrumentals and shapeless ambience. ‘REND_THREE’ opens the tape with gigantic wash of black droning noise that melts into fuzzed out guitar meanderings seemingly broadcasting right from the base of Helm’s Deep. ‘4th POSSESSION’ is an outright chunk of industrial stoney riffage burning over a slowly marching drum machine and demonic bass tones, and ‘TAKE A WALK’ and its brief sister prelude ‘walk01’ supply gentle moments of beautifully Robert Smith-style chorus pedaled guitar plucking. The slowly moving atmosphere of the ten minute ‘IK_SET’ is undoubtedly the album’s highlight though, snaking its way through gothic waves of uncertainty via a blend of sampled hiss, amorphous tones and wobbly slowed down percussion samples. It may be Still Heat’s first, but 9115 is the second release for CARTHAGE, and shows off main man Damian B’s skill at crafting densely gothic atmospherics in a variety of queasy droney ways. Watch this rather murky space.

Augenmusik - Augenmusik
Zeta One - DreamSnake II
(Eiderdown Records)

Seattle’s Eiderdown Records have been pretty reliably putting out packages of transportative cosmic music housed in covers adorned with beautifully twisted cartoons. Two of their 2015 releases have set the par particularly high in the realm of bewitching sci-fi atmospheres. First, a meeting of minimal violin explorations by Samara Lubelski (Chelsea Light Moving, The Sonora Pine) with the old school electronics and tape manipulation from Thilo Kuhn, and Werner Nötzel of trippy Stuttgart collective Matabolismus. There must have been something happening in the space-time continuum in Degenfeld (near Stuttgart) when this was recorded back in December 2013. The results are some of the best deep space improvisations this side of the godlike trips that the Takehisa Kosugi and Taj Mahal Travellers took some 40 years ago. In fact Lubelski’s violin playing is all glacial bow screeches and gentle wah pedal modulations, directly embodying the spirit of Kosugi’s unmatched cosmic violin playing on 1975’s solo outing Catch Wave. Augenmusik seem to tune right into the singing of some far distant astral bodies here, with a shimmering bed of bleeps and bloops beautifully guiding Lubelski to lead the way through a mass of sonic wormholes. The finale of the fifteen minute ‘Phase IX’ at the head of side B sees semblance of operatic tension enter the fray, as the trio’s droning atmosphere suddenly comes to something of a head. For the most part though, the four improvisations are of the sort that don’t rely on repetition, rather mutating at a rate of knots from atonal textures into passing clouds of melting melodies. The timbres employed by the trio on Augenmusik are deeply satisfying and warmly old school too, presumably down to some vintage gear and the relatively low key analogue recording quality. It’s probably way more successful than even the trio of Lubelski, Kuhn, and Nötzel themselves imagined, but Augenmusik is actually one of the year’s essential tape releases.

Zeta One is the project of Dawn Aquarius, a one-time member of Herbcraft from Portland, Maine (recent stars of J.R. Moores’ essential new tQ psych column), who has since moved to Chicago and founded an "institute of galactic witchery". DreamSnake II is the debut release for this project, and it comes from the same eerily haunted universe as Augenmusik, albeit heading to the more melodic heart of the sun armed with murkily analogue organs, synths, and witchy incantations. Zeta One is flawless at capturing these psychedelic ritual pieces, living in a constant dream sequence blending the yawning magnetic monsters of Bebe and Louis Barron’s epochal Forbidden Planet score with the vocal chants akin to Gilli Smyth’s cosmic whisper. It’s another excellent release from Eiderdown, and a bold statement of alluring witchy intent from Zeta One.

MMMOOONNNOOO - The Act In Between
(Speaker Footage)

The absolutely brilliant Phinery label from Denmark has given birth to the potentially even more brilliant offshoot imprint, Speaker Footage. Besides a compilation to launch the label, this tape from Lisbon-based experimental noise, ambience and beat weirdo Daniel Neves (aka MMMOOONNNOOO) is the first full length on the imprint. And it’s one hell of a doozy. It’s the second album from Neves, and the music on The Act In Between was inspired by a trip to Tokyo in 2014 to attend a high profile music academy, and the resultant tracks resound with nervous tension, only occasionally relieved by tuneful pads and densely black beats. Opener ‘Third Transition’ has Neves guide a storm cloud of fuzz and sampled sounds into a towering monolith. ‘Strayed Source’ is a terrifying set of looped, speaker-busting bass fuzz. As the tape goes on, Neves works club music histrionics into some of his splintered monochrome compositions, like the triumphant bass drops on ‘Decay Movement’, or snatches of beats on ‘Lost Recollections’, but for the most part these tracks exist as self-contained three minute exercises in texture and meditative exercises in bleak industrial aesthetics. Speaker Footage already has other flashes of genius from Temple Volant, Birdy Earns and CORIN, but MMMOOONNNOOO stands out as absolutely one of the most promising new producers out there. Shame about that name.

Mary Lattimore - Luciferin Light
(Kit Records)

Harpist Mary Lattimore has contributed to songs by Kurt Vile and Thurston Moore, and jammed with Sunburned Hand Of The Man, but this tape focuses on Lattimore’s experimentation with the Harp’s sonic possibilities. Besides explorers like Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, and a whole host of new agey types from back in the day, the harp remains a pretty under-explored noise maker, and Lattimore goes some way to addressing that here with these improvisations out on Kit Records. ‘For PTD’ is a 14-minute waking dream of sparse meanderings, with Lattimore guiding the strings through a variety of effects to create unrecognisable squeaks and rumblings, that slowly work their way into and out of a simplistic lullaby-like theme. ‘Princess Nicotene (1909)’ is a more potent wash of watery harp notes drifting through little more than a delay pedal, while ‘Sleeping In A House With A Lot Of Dolls’ is a meditative wander around a repeated theme with Lattimore singing along wordlessly. Her instrument can’t help but evoke nostalgia and sense of pastoral beauty, but Lattimore exponentially expands the plucked strings’ emotional scope to include bountiful sonic strangeness and the odd moment of outright queasiness that really doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard before.

Jacober - The Gray Man
(Geographic North)

David Jacober plays drums in the Drag City signed Baltimorean noise punk band Dope Body, but this tape of solo works on Geographic North finds the percussionist in a far gentler, overtly wistful mood. Recorded in the dead of winter in his grandfather’s beach house, The Grey Man comprises seven brief lo-fidelity instrumentals based around marimbas (whether real or digital, it’s actually very hard to tell) and it’s simply dripping with murky stoned tropical lethargy. ‘Seven Headless Laps’ even dives into something nearing dust and cobweb covered reggae, while ‘Patapsco Girls’ more closely resembles some melancholic minimal film score. Jacober’s dealing with an unusual aesthetic here, but the results are brashly potent. The drum kits, drum machines, and sparse array of instruments that back up the dominant marimba remain sleepy and unintrusive, while sparring with a handful of wordless vocal chants and old school synth notes through brilliantly formulated melodies. It’s as much a sort of sleepy cousin to Tortoise’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die as it is menu music for the slowest ever edition of Monkey Island. That is to say it’s very good indeed.

Lee Noble - Un Look
(Patient Sounds)

The tough-to-define Lee Noble has been a constant presence on the transatlantic tape scene for a few years now. He’s been steadily releasing solo music that drifts between haunted folky soundscapes with a futurist synthesized core and bizarre instrumental digital rituals. He has also been putting out bizarre tapes of improv as half of Circuit Rider UK on Nottingham’s J&C Tapes and running his very own No Kings tape label. However, Un Look comes across as the apex of Noble’s recent efforts. It’s a web of sparse emotions and perfectly realised textures, knitted together into a suite of pieces that interlock into a powerful whole. Forlorn guitar pluckings and smoky songs form the skeleton of several tracks, like the melancholic whisperings of ‘Light Death’. Elsewhere though, Noble makes rocking miniature lo-fi anthems (‘Valley View’), cosmic country (‘Lock-Breaking by Magic’), slow moving instrumental drifts (‘Holy Ghost People’ or ‘Marble Shroud’) and even sluggish stunningly pretty gamelan replete with a crystalline violin (‘Pearl Divers’). Noble’s always happily assimilated a broad array of textures and stylistic signposts into his recordings, but Un Look packs the weighty punch on that very first listen he’s never quite reached before. The cassette tape edition on Patient Sounds is currently sold out, but Noble’s got it up for NYP download on his own bandcamp. A second pressing of this would also be entirely justified.

Ondness - Sentinela
(Where To Now?)

Ondness is the undisputed Portuguese master of melodic concrète, stretching and skewing gentle sample into montages that have been getting smaller, slicker and increasingly expressive over recent releases. These six latest compositions on tape for London’s pretty flawless Where To Now? label are some of Ondness’ most subtly engrossing yet. Small snatches of whispered repetitive melody come to life, and small incisions turn loops into ghostly rhythms. Each composition slowly engulfs and destroys, growing from a light breeze to a veritable hurricane of emotion before we know what’s happened. The ten minute closer, ‘Aisle, Arroios Style’ reaches for the most atonal tools in Ondess’ arsenal, with jagged samples of metallic scrapes and rocky crunches giving way to gloopy synthesized wobbles and short-circuiting glitches that suddenly disappears over the horizon a cosmic epic. Few artists can ever suck the listener in utilising such sparse tools, and no other has done it so consistently in recent years.

Bear Bones, Lay Low / Superskin - Bear Bones, Lay Low / Superskin
(Feathered Coyote)

‘Bear Bones, Lay Low’ is the solo project of Belgium-based Venezuelan artist Ernesto González, and he helms side one of this split on Vienna’s Feathered Coyote. González’s catalogue to date has encircled a rich variety of influences, for the most part conjoined by an air of murky relic-like mysticism. His contributions here often resemble a particularly ambitious giallo film score, particularly the wandering lead synth melody on ‘Racines Tordues’ seemingly set to the "spooky movie” casio voice. The results are way more hypnotic than they should be in González’s hands. Viennese beat experimenter Superskin takes up side two with a pair of longer productions, expanding a brashly minimal set of simple synth notes and percussion into trancelike interweaving plaits on the ‘Golden River’ and the slightly weirder ‘Forbidden Island’.

D.Å.R.F.D.H.S. - Leave Of Absence
German Army - Preserving Senses
(Opal Tapes)

Experimental Swedish techno outfit D.Å.R.F.D.H.S. (as you asked, it’s short for ‘Dard Å Ranj Från Det Hebbershålska Samfundet’) have put out some ten or so albums since starting out in 2013, including three for Opal Tapes. Their fourth Opal tape, Leave Of Absence, is a particularly excellent set of soundscapes. The tape encompasses prickly drum machine beats, earsplitting moments of harsh tones, and dramatic filmic melodies, all captured in gothic black and white. There are several hooky highlights like the slow-burning tune behind the veil of ‘Shum Gora (Ruriks Grave)’, or the slowly irritating sine wave drones in the middle of the 13 minute ‘Claudius Prytz’, but every moment is well thought out and excellently realised far beyond the usual standard for such prolific artists.

Of all the bands in existence, the stupidly prolific German Army are the ones for whom the tape scene was practically tailor made. The American outfit has put out many releases in the last few years; their sound has remained near indefinable; their prolificacy is notable and they favour very brief track times. One of the best guides to their work exists here on Tabs Out. Their universe is one that both The Residents and Sun City Girls have poked their rangda-masked heads into on occasion, where pagan and Amazonian tribe rituals meet with Throbbing Gristle’s filthiest industrial incantations. Disregarding the symbolic importance of this first outing on Opal Tapes, German Army deliver 13 tracks of the lo-fidelity chants, beats and noise they’ve been issuing of late. Taking ‘Discussion On System Dystopia’ as our specimen, we get a harshly recorded rhythm and a leering demonic synth repetition, while the fringes are littered with tripped out vocal samples and scattered sonic droplets falling like acid rain. Presumably German Army will put out another three or four tapes by the end of the year, but this would be more than enough to tide us over until at least February. Maybe January even.

Sea Chanteys And Owl Songs From The Ambrosial Archipelago - s/t
(Indole Records)

The latest batch from Indole Records (the London-based tape label run by H O L O V R of Opal Tapes fame) is all brilliant, but there’s something irresistible about this mystical set of sewn together tribal vignettes. We get two sidelong collages of widely varying acoustic instrumental folk music, taking in instruments and tones from around the world. Dozens of tracks of South Asian piping randomly flutter over hand percussion. Flutes and harmonium bounce around a tin can quality recording that sounds like a lost vintage qawwali outtake. A scattering rainfall of zither (or dulcimer?) notes akin to Laraaji after a few extra drops of acid wash over us. The entire tape’s an incredibly unfocused miscellany but perfectly realises each mood every single time before jump cutting to the next scene. Wherever it comes from, few tapes are as easy to get lost in as this one.