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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Cassette Reviews For February By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , February 22nd, 2016 09:09

Tristan Bath is back once again like a renegade master with this month's least classifiable music on magnetic tape, not to mention his most recent radio show

Spool’s Out Radio #42: Sacred Tapes

Each Monday evening on London’s Resonance FM, I continue to host an hour long show exploring contemporary cassette culture, playing new music from the hundreds of tapes we receive for this column, and hosting mixes and interviews with guest musicians and labels. This latest episode from the 15th February focused on Manchester’s peerless noise and experimental label Sacred Tapes, including some exclusive plays of new music due out on the label soon. You can tune in to the show every Monday evening at 10:30pm, download the thing as a podcast, or check out the full archive on mixcloud.

Aarktica - Ceremony
(Fnord Tapes)

Deceptive in its apparent simplicity, this tape from Aarktica - the guitar-scapes project of American musician Jon DeRosa - takes a small side step away from the sonically dense influences of Windy & Carl, Flying Saucer Attack, and The Durutti Column, and draws more deeply from the well of ritualism and sparsity hinted at in the title. In addition to his music, DeRosa’s purportedly been working with ‘sacred plant medicine, both in South America and in the US’, and it comes across here in three gently paced guitar instrumentals seething with lethargic beauty. ‘Ascension’ is perhaps the finest and darkest moment, pairing the guitar with jangling percussion and an oddly dejected heartbeat rhythm. ‘Her Divine Light’ is a much more familiar run through beatless atmospheres and glacial strands of interlocking guitar loops, while 13 minute finale ‘Awakening’ treads a similar path with more compelling results. There’s something decidedly spaghetti western deep within DeRosa’s plucking, far more so than many similar explorers. He plays as if wandering lonesome through a cosmic desertscape, mired in the sound of twangs and a resolute state of contemplation.

Amxd - Realizables (Cong Burn Tapes)

The second in the Cong Burn Tapes series curated by John Howes in Manchester, this again follows the format of stitching together hours of improvisation into a pair of sidelong suites. This time it documents Amxd, the duo of L. Pearson and Haddon who utilize homemade sequencers and software to craft dubby techno jams. If there are any seams between edits, they’re well hidden. Each side of Realizables rides never ending beats and arpeggiations well through the sunset, deep into the night, and eventually on into the existential shapeless cosmos astronaut David Bowman delves into during the final act of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a music technology exercise and a testing ground for their aesthetics, Amxd are trailblazing a very specific path between minimal/dub techno and the currently very popular epic synthetic bubblings emanating from modular synth players from Berlin to Portland. As two pieces of music though, both sides perform incredibly highly as intoxicating minimal odysseys that work arguably more directly than structurally similar trips by the likes of the recent Moritz von Oswald Trio or Terrence Dixon. It’s damn near impossible not to get wonderfully lost in this one.

JPEGMAFIA - Black Ben Carson
(Memorials of Distinction)

Few words come as welcome as JPEGMAFIA’s exclamation on side one track one here: "I’m just trying to take hip hop out the Drake era." Thank fuck for that. The rap project of NYC-born, Alabama-raised Barrington Devaughn Hendricks has issued his second tape via Brighton’s obsessively lo-fi Memorials of Distinction label, and it’s something of a fucking vast and overblown masterpiece. The production is dank, gunky, and funky, and JPEGMAFIA’s lyrics exclusively reflect on the state of affairs in a fictional dystopic modern America. It’s a country where the only non-white presidential candidate is so right wing and maladjusted as to make Donny Trump seem near-rational, and where rap has become little more than an idiocratic race to the egomaniacal bottom. It’s easy to see why JPEGMAFIA sounds so pissed off. The album’s split into two halves, with side A - pretty frankly subtitled ‘N*gger’ - covering more aggressive ground akin to Death Grips (they even get namechecked on ‘I Smell Crack’). The production’s full of rough synths and drum programming, occasionally veering into needle-burying territory as with the harshest beats on ‘JPEGMAFIA ALL CAPS NO SPACES’. But then there’s also the unfurling glitched samples and densely focused cut ups and busy hi hats as heard on the hymn-of-hate to trust fund kids and artsy types, ‘You Think You Know’. It all comes to a head on the title track and its followup ‘Black Steve Austin’, Hendricks rhyming at his most sneering, witty, and sarcastic.

Side B, ‘Peggy’, enters deeper, more pensive territory, opening to the sound of soft guitars and the all too familiar sampled sounds of racist police violence. It feels pretty tough to argue with JPEGMAFIA’s autotuned sentiments in the context, "Who gonna weep when these coppers die?" The lines between R&B and hip hop blur throughout side B, and a handful of guest rappers contribute rhymes, while the beats get more vaporous, airy, and heavy on samples (‘The 27 Club’ makes Dilla-like use of a vintage vocal snippet). There’s a lot to digest in Black Ben Carson. It’s ridiculous length - 22 tracks in 90 minutes - is perhaps what it has most in common with modern mainstream hip hop, but unlike those posturing rhymes only available on Tidal, the rewards for digging into this album are colossal. This is simply an incredible release, and with any justice JPEGMAFIA will breach the big time soon enough. Justice however, is in short supply these days.

Promute/ Homogenized Terrestrials - Infrared Dynamo
(Bicephalic Records)

Part of a series of split tape releases from Wisonsin-based Bicephalic Records, this one feature strange sidelong pieces of improvised clatter and alien acoustic noises. Promute’s ‘creaky kermis’ is one of the weirdest moments, made using an array homemade instrumentation including ‘springboard’, ‘long zither and rods’, ‘acoustic laptop (spring, kalimba, lapsteel, brush)’, and ‘Weird Sound Generator’ amongst other things. The ghostly sparser noodlings of Derek Bailey, or the messy rumblings of Musica Elettronica Viva sometimes spring to mind, but the gloopy mix of random noises, creaking string plucks, and buzzing bleeps sounds for the most part exactly like absolutely nothing else in existence. Some drones and percussive slaps come in near the end adding a handful of more familiar shades. The intriguing sounds of Illinois-based sonic sculptor Homogenized Terrestrials on the flip side brew an alluring whirlpool of sine waves and smushed acoustic noises across 14-minute daydream ‘I Don't Like Fractals’. Lonesome banjo notes are buried in the mix, doing little to bring the subtle mesh of gliding sounds back to Earth. They disappear with the help of synth choirs into a Popol Vuh haze during the final minutes.

Maven CX - Overburnt Afterdrive
(Dream Fader)

This tape by Vancouver duo Maven CX is the first release for label Dream Fader, and manages to quickly makes its mark - something that’s getting tougher and tougher to do in the overcrowded realm of softcore instrumental experimental electronica. The duo of Kevin Maeng and Steven Scherrelies have a keen eye for details, and introduce a vast number of weirder additional sounds to the warm beds and beats that help it stand out from the crowd as more than a mere rehash of Boards of Canada’s formula. ‘Train Crash Zero’ utilises metal guitar stabs, and there’s an omnipresence of whirring field recordings of machinery and shopping mall ambience (the artwork heavily features escalators). At times the sampled noises even seem to mutate into part of the icy melodies and rhythms - most of ‘Door Song’ appears to make heavy use of doors slamming and creaking to craft its rhythms. The same conclusion can be made about both this and Matmos’ sound foraging methodologies: in an age where technology makes sounds boundless, focusing on the source of sonic material is largely bunk. Similar to Matmos’ work though, how and why this was made barely matters when the results are this good.

California Bungalows - Synthetic Breeze EP
(Never Anything)

Part of a glorious quartet of beautifully packaged tapes from Never Anything Records, this EP by California Bungalows was quickest to make an impression. Two tracks are organ driven instrumentals that ride rhythm presets and incorporate jangly guitar playing. The last track’s a montage of samples and mellotron vibe and piano sounds that evokes a real postcard beach paradise (aided by the sound of lapping waves). Opener ‘Tarzana’ is the obviously shiner though; a slacker anthem and surfer hymn with the artist’s woozy singing atop a jangly guitar earworm. There’s potential here for either an exotica tinged samples-and-beats project akin to L. Pierre or Lilacs & Champagne, or a cosmic surf take on The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s sixties reimaginings. Hopefully California Bungalows continues to explore both as heard here.

M/M - Before We Lost Ourselves
(czaszka (rec.))

Launching the new Edinburgh-based czaszka (rec.) label is this stupendously effective pair of ethereal droners. Michael McGregor aka M/M has explored experimentations with lo-fi techno in the past, but here opts to slowly carve two half-hour sides. There’s hints of Basinksi’s famed decaying loops, particularly in the worn and hissy aesthetic, but M/M’s atmospherics evolve more perceptibly to the human ear. Swathes of reverb swoop across the stereo field, while crackles and pops of field recorded noises litter the foreground. Tendrils of submersible melodies trot their way across the outer edges of the cavernous atmospheres, and slowly but surely the pieces march on, with ghosts of rhythmic crackles occasionally scattering through the prism of McGregor’s reverb unit. This one creeps up you, and is ultimately a real stunner.

Lantern - Black Highways And Green Garden Roads
(Fixture Records)

In the wake of Paul Kantner’s recent departure, this album’s aligned itself in my mind as something of a spiritual continuation of Jefferson Airplane’s pure form of groovy psych and anthemic writing. Far from that warm California sun, Lantern are part of Philadelphia’s thriving scene, and sound somewhat spun from the same wool as fellow Philadelphian Kurt Vile. Every one of Black Highways And Green Garden Roads’ fourteen tracks is a ready made classic-in-waiting of the highest order, recorded with the same warmth and depth as the countless sixties and seventies bands from whom they aesthetically borrow.

The wonderful harmonies on ‘Don’t Worry Baby (It Won’t Be Long)’ sounds just as Beach Boys as you might expect (it’s not a cover, but comes close), but Lantern also integrate a forlorn bottoming out of the melodies and emotions, and wield a meticulous arrangement surrounding some incredible Forever Changes acoustic guitar sounds. ‘He Is A Pinball’ opens the album with some elfin folk akin to Ty Segall’s brilliant Marc Bolan impressions, ‘Black And Green’ is a straight up joyous groover, ‘Wait, Wait’ is a near doo-wop period bit of balladeering, while ‘We Are Here’ ups the pace and adds dabs of darkness and post-production psychedelia. They take on rough Link Wray guitar noodling on ‘We Are Here Again’ and even convincingly deploy a harmonica on the hoe down of ‘Gravel’. Undoubtedly the best recorded, best written, and most multi-fascinated American indie rock records I’ve come across for a long while. It’s getting better with each listen too.

Library Of Babel - Blue Nineteen
(Blue Tapes & X-Ray Records)

It’s at times almost impossible to believe this music is all improvised. The trio of guitarist Shane Parish, double-bassist Frank Meadows, and cellist Emmalee Hunnicutt craft an intensely beautiful octet of improvised instrumental chamber folk pieces here, dealing in unspeakable abstraction, going at length to sonically describe vast swathes of inner landscape. The typically inky Blue Tapes imagery that accompanies the album seems more apt than ever for Blue Nineteen: a misty unclear vision, nonetheless tinted with a luminescent and heavenly shade of pink, staring down the face of a pathway, unclear as to whether it is a vision of what lies behind us or before us.

The trio hail from Asheville, North Carolina, and Frank Meadows has previously worked with fellow Blue Taper and guitar maestro Tashi Dorji, and while there’s an intrinsic link to Dorji’s sonically dry, minimal and pure aesthetics, Library Of Babel are so soaked in melody there are moments that are approach becoming utterly overwhelming. No one player truly holds the limelight, although Meadows’ playing makes for a particularly weighty voice at many points. His melodies and nimbler plucks recall the likes of Greg Cohen (one of John Zorn’s regulars) or Thierry Amar (GY!BE, Black Ox Orkestar, etc.), leading proceedings with wondrous melodies that flow fully formed. Hunnicutt’s cello bowing invariably opens doorways into more crystalline strands of sound, and Parish often twists and contorts his guitar into strange new forms, often standing in for percussion while sparring with his cohorts. Blue Tapes rarely disappoints, but even by their standards this is an intensely special recording.

D. Glare - 68 Samples At 68 BPM For Phased Heads
(Opal Tapes)

As the artists himself puts it, this tape is "neither pointless free noodling nor endless spiritual drones", most definitely falling somewhere into the less explored region in between. D. Glare is the solo guise of Dom Clare from tQ-approved techno duo Chrononautz, and these two vast and strange montaged loop-scapes make for a pretty damn powerful first statement, well placed in the midst of Opal Tapes’ bleak roster. Both tracks are circa 35-minutes long, and both stem from the same sonic limitations as described in the album’s title.

Side A is the fully realised final piece using only 68 samples at 68 BPM, and is filled with plenty of vacant space as D. Glare sparingly cycles through his bag of slow-paced and glitchy sounding loops. There’s snatches of murky voices, pianos, crackling static, and only a handful of bassy tones (the absence of low end in several longer passages winds up sounding what Prince fans would describe as haunting), and the entire exercise never ceases to be intriguing. The loops are cycled and chopped up, repositioned and skewed, and the atmosphere is for the most part woozy and gothic, paying off in the third act with minimal beats and release as bass enters the picture. Side B collects "failed starts, experiments with the phase levels, grooves that felt good but didn't pan out", but winds up in many ways more approachable than the first side. The centre section is a massive throbbing banger that mutates into a few different shapes and industrial grooves before climaxing and disintegrating into fuzz.

Joseph Quimby Jr. - Court
(Tombed Visions)

Joseph Quimby Jr.’s third release on Tombed Visions is a gigantic leap forward for the artists. 2015’s epic double album Wren/ Le Chat Est Parti was such a vast statement of straight up drone, it now looks like a long farewell from the old Joseph Lawrence Quimby Jr., who has now notably dropped the middle name and increased the range of his timbral palette to more symphonic aspirations. The distant edges of ‘Hearing’ include angelic tinkling while the foreground sheets of sound shimmer with elegiac string section sorrow. ‘Judgement’ gathers murky tones and mutant whispers of notes around a saddened synthetic piano figure, and ‘Proof’ pulls off a more celestial version of the same trick around both piano and strings, closing as the processed tones file off over the horizon one by one. Excellence in the busy field of lush ambience is getting tougher to discern these days, but Joseph Quimby Jr. is a constant high achiever. Court wields an almost mystical level of soul-stirring strength, best listened to alone, at full volume, and preferably while staring out at the sublime sadness of the great grey outside your window pane (listeners in sunnier spots are advised to wait until nightfall to get the full effect).

Docteurlamort - RADIOLOCAUST
(Black Ship)

Docteurlamort is the long running project of French artist Yann Berne, and while several CD-Rs were issued in Japan during the mid-2000s, plus an introductory collection on Standard in-fi in 2013, RADIOLOCAUST is nonetheless the first ‘official album’ for Docteurlamort. The album was conceived as a tribute to Berne’s experiences listening to FM radios on construction sites, where multiple radios could lead to phasing and delayed mutations of a single station, or the confused criss-crossing of multiple stations, all the while assisted by the drum fills of pneumatic drills. The results aren’t really as brutal as the blurb suggests (except perhaps the sub-bass and assaulting screams of the aptly titled ‘Brutal Motobeach Party!’), but the atmosphere conjured is definitely consistently challenging and intriguing. A lot of it brings to mind Nurse With Wound’s relatively humorous mid-eighties Sylvie And Babs Hi-Fi Companion. Sampled radio hits from The Shadows and Roy Orbison are sewn together in a restless montage alongside buzzes of static and sonic detritus, periodically succumbing to brief segments of furious fuzzy beats and tones.