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Spool's Out With Tristan Bath: Tape Reviews For January
Tristan Bath , January 18th, 2016 08:26

Winter’s truly come, and it dominates the year’s first Spool’s Out with icy ambience, washed out synths, and saxophone abuse

Amonism + The Revenant Sea - The Hidden
(J&C Tapes)

The brilliant J&C Tapes from Nottingham has tragically decided to call it a day. They are however, quite sensibly going out on a big high with an ace quartet of releases this month. This collaboration between cellist and sound designer Simon McCorry (aka Amonism) and multi-instrumentalist Matt Bower (aka The Revenant Sea, Wizards Tell Lies) is potentially the weirdest and most wonderful of the bunch, with McCorry’s cello leading the way into four distinctly differently envisaged sonic environments. ‘Blood Gull’ resembles the forlorn passages of strings and dusty drones on Stars Of The Lid’s finest outings, while the 17-minute ‘There Are No Lullabies’ bleeds from passage to passage, ultimately shifting from a sparse and sketchy set of gothic free form noodling into a full blown sonata for cello. The emergence of a lilting, but sharp and clean, digital piano on closer ‘Vulture Path’ seem to bring us back to Earth. Proceedings close with solemnity, which in turn gives way to a wash of fuzzy feedbacking noises. The album is soaked in the sounds of grief and nightmarish decay, yet the leading voice of McCorry’s cello is an irresistible beam of light in the darkness. Terrible as it is to see J&C Tapes go, the night time visions of The Hidden make for a worthy requiem.

HOLOVR - Wheel Of Time
(Indole Records)

This one was actually released at the tail end of November 2015, and it was a pretty invaluable asset to the countless plane, train and automobile rides that inevitably came with the festive season. HOLOVR is Jimmy Billingham (the guy behind Indole Records as well as a vast array of other prolific projects including Tidal and Venn Rain, with releases on the likes of Sacred Phrases, Opal Tapes and Tranquility Tapes). This is most definitely the follow up to Line Of Flight, the first HOLOVR vinyl LP released on Indole back in March. Like that album, the Wheel Of Time cassette houses a pair of long form acid house jams, bathed in upbeat major key synths. Both the 24 minute ‘Gravity Lens’ and the 34 minute ‘Outer Time’ spend a lot of their duration on repeat, baby-stepping their way from theme to theme in a presumably improvised fashion. ‘Outer Time’ somewhat thickens the plot with a few sampled vocals as well. It’s all a very light-hearted re-imagining of early acid house - Aphex’s Classics after a couple of happy pills perhaps - and beautifully sucks you in, never outstaying its welcome or having you fiddle with those stop, pause, or eject buttons. Between the two longer tracks sits the achingly nine-minute ‘Metallic Ocean’, where washes of uplifting keys sail across choppy seas of analogue drum snaps, drifting slowly into the sunset. It’s most likely the prettiest thing HOLOVR’s ever done, and from the looks of things both the HOLOVR and Indole catalogues are gonna be particularly worth keeping an eye on this year.

SR Hess + RM Zuydervelt - Re:collecting (Umor Rex)

Using ‘mysterious’ and ‘alien’ when describing music is a pretty sketchy idea. In fact both words are practically the absence of any idea at all! Conversely, both words very thoroughly apply to the music of Steven Hess (percussionist with Locrian, Anjoy, Pan•American, and loads more) and Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek). This postal collaboration sees Zuydervelt reconfiguring base materials culled from Hess’ archive of murky home recordings of guitar, drum, radio, cymbal, and wooden floorboard noises filtered through a range of pedals and an old four-track. Zuydervelt definitely seems to have done an ace job of heightening the inherent dark drama of Hess’ arrestingly weird sounds. The question as to precisely which noises came from whom remains thoroughly unanswered, though fingerprints from both party remain, be they Hess’ lethargically scattered stickwork or Zuydervelt’s harshly mistreated samples. The ways in which Zuydervelt submerges Hess’ playing takes on the feel of a sonic remnant from an entirely other universe, protruding through the fabric of space into an AM radio (particularly on the title track).

A Wake A Week - Twelve Days
(Still Heat Recordings)

Based out of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Still Heat Recordings is still a teething infant only having put out their first tape in November. It doesn’t show at all though. This third outing is a powerfully tranquil and calculated piano trip from A Wake A Week. The project is the beatless outlet for David Dando-Moore, who also releases heavier and more rhythmic material under the name Detritus. Twelve Days plays out like three extended chunks of incidental music from the world’s moodiest thriller; not least ‘Reminders’ which would play over the end credits. The opening scene would see slow pans across murky winterscapes of snow, ice, and greying ruins of European architecture. Excellently synthesized strings and drones shimmer between ominousness and beauty, while Dando-Moore traces out Satie-esque piano melodies that disappear and re-emerge as the will of the ambience in the background will allow. The plucked strings and very long-sustained, painfully unresolved orchestral chords of ‘Twelve Days (Part 2)’ are pure horror, while ‘Part 3’ heads down a trippier route with distant organs entering the mix, and synth drones growing ever deeper and harsher. For something presumably almost entirely made in a computer it sounds phenomenally and hauntingly real - but Twelve Days gets most of its mysterious strength from Dando-Moore’s patience with melodies. He allows them to unfold gradually from whispered ideas to some surprisingly wondrous gentle climaxes.

Leonardo Martelli ‎– Distanze II

Hazy rain-sodden techno doesn’t come much hazier and rain-sodden than this five track EP from 21-year-old Leonardo Martelli. The Italian producer offers up two brief and interludes nearing shapelessness, two longer seven minute beatscapes, and an icy looped coda finale for this tape on the MIXED-UP label. The decaying aesthetic of William Basinski comes to mind, with Martelli pretty happy to sit on his grim looped beds of murky synthesizer pads fading like sun bleached photographic ink. The longer tracks, ‘Cosa (Trattato di Pace)’ and ‘Il Suono della Violenza’ (which translates as ‘The Sound Of Violence’) both languidly boogie their way onward with Martelli’s faded synth beds riding straight up house grooves, submerged into the backdrop. The beatless ‘Ritorno’ at the end of the EP is the highlight though, painting an overcast image of morose magnificence, all decaying droning chords and submerged bleeps as if picking up ancient cries for help in your Walkman.

Various Artists - Half A Decade Of Chrome
(Field Hymns)

Celebrating five years of existence, Field Hymns release their first compilation - and what a compilation! There are 26 tracks across two gloriously packaged cassette tapes, each tune an unreleased gem from one of Field Hymns’ illustrious alumni. The label’s always maintained a pretty broad sonic palette, so the full 95 minute compilation wanders a winding path that takes in the groovy analogue techno bleepscape of opener ‘Synare King’ by Strategy. Then it passes through a very Throbbing Gristle-like turn from German Army before heading to some child-like party punk from Portlandian duo Sad Horse (‘Trick or Treat’). As has become standard for Field Hymns, the art is a wonderfully bright bit of psychedelic graphic design from artist Tiny Little Hammers, and in total this monster comp is one of the soundest investments you can make this month.

Colin Webster / Andrew Lisle - Firehouse Tapes (Raw Tonk)

Sex Swing’s sax master Colin Webster continues his streak of relentlessly brilliant recordings with this duo set put out on the man’s own Raw Tonk label. Drummer Andrew Lisle is an excellent pairing for Webster raw sax tones and textures, offering contrasting waves of precise drum hits, utilising lessons perhaps learned more from the sheer punch of metal rather than jazz drummers. Anything Webster touches seems to turn to gold (if you’ve not heard any of his collaborations with Graham Dunning then rectify that immediately), but this is a particularly exceptional tape that’ll shake up anybody tired with, or unversed in the very rawest of contemporary free jazz.

Purpose16 - Purpose16
(Entertainment Systems)

Entertainment Systems has already carved out a niche comparable to that of Phinery, where digital production techniques truly open up strange new sound worlds that are both completely alien and strikingly elegant. I’m assured we know little-to-nothing about this artist other than they’re from Philadelphia, but they could just as easily come from the moon. The three long-form tracks here balance a Tim Hecker-style approach to sound design - all granulated samples and lushly processed distant synths - with an appreciation for those sparse and deep industrial nightmares of early Nurse with Wound. The 12-minute ‘Long Mirror’ in particular slowly seeps its way around your skull, gradually mutating from a misshapen but assuringly pretty bit of glitch ambience into an overpowering chasm of dark quivering noise.

The Hydra - Morals
(Nutty Wombat) & The Hydra - Soft Minerals

I really can’t get enough of Dimitris Papadatos’ music since stumbling across his Jay Glass Dubs project last year and including it in the Spool’s Out best of 2015 list. Papadatos seems to be something of a musical polyglot, with several extremely distinct musical projects under his belt, including a singer-songwriter project called KU. The Hydra however, is something more akin to the trippy instrumental sonics of Jay Glass Dubs, albeit far more open-ended and less indebted to Jah. The Morals album out on Nutty Wombat in Papadatos’ home city of Athens constitutes vast realisations of scattered dusty instrumental landscapes. We wander over a ground littered with synthetic drones, clambering over bountiful mountain ranges of queasy drum machine programming and squelchy samples. The vastness of the productions lends something narrative to both tapes, with the even longer form tracks on the Phinery-released Soft Minerals getting even more widescreen, more cinematic, and more scary. The 13 minutes of ‘Ready For This’ resemble a bastard child of György Ligeti and Muslimgauze, smashing ungodly atonality into industrial techno frameworks, while ‘The Secret Violence’ spends 17 minutes flying through the most unnerving cosmic voids since Klaus Schulze’s Cyborg. Noisy drum and bass even makes a showing in the sickening mix of crunched samples and overdriven pads that is ‘A Minstrel Captive’. A unique and bizarre new voice.

Arvo Zylo - Upheaval
(Tymbal Tapes)

Nebraskan label Tymbal Tapes is steadily becoming one of the most adventurous and reliable young tape labels in the States. Their last wonderfully packaged (again design by Tiny Little Hammers) batch of four sonic head trips features some banging weird techno from IXTAB; soundscapes from Romanian duo Somnoroase Păsărele; experimental noises from San Francisco’s bran(…)pos and this gem from Arvo Zylo. This cassette is about "the art of the edit" as Tymbal Tapes’ bandcamp page reveals, and each track is a reworking of the same base materials. Not that this would be easy to divine though, except perhaps in the generally metallurgic atmospherics. ‘Upheaval Version 65’ could positively pass for a muddy field recording of a steel mill - although the rhythms Arvo Zylo sculpts out of the noises end up outright meditative. ‘Upheaval Version 66’ and ‘67’ both shine up a rusty iron mass into gleaming church bells, while ‘68’ sits on a haunting moment of stasis for some eight minutes. In the able hands of Arvo Zylo, this is one of the most instantly rewarding experiences in resculpted noise for some time.

Rosemary Krust - Last Tape
(Washy Tapes)

And yet another excellent Newcastle tape label whirrs into action! Washy Tapes put out Rosemary Krust’s Last Tape at the end of last year. This Baltimorean duo bring to mind the very best of America’s sturdy noise rock heritage - in particular the primordial guitar noise Magik Markers were firing out just after the turn of the millennium. Katherine Plummer’s fuzzed out guitar sprawl and William Hardy’s raw drum work on the lengthy ‘Age 13’ and ‘Stormdriven’ owes as much to Fushitsusha as it does to Half Japanese. Other tracks see excursions into accordion playing (‘Two Bodies’), Merzbow levels of ear-splitting feedback fuzz (‘Moon 13’), and doomy riffs paired with free form woodwind blasts (‘Live’). Rosemary Krust really have the knack for crafting compelling freeform rock... hopefully the title of Last Tape is only a name.