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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Tape Reviews For April With Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , April 25th, 2016 08:26

From Polish underground techno to music made just using wine glasses - it can only be Tristan Bath's monthly exploration into the world of cassettes

TALsounds - the solo project of Chicago-based artist Natalie Chami - recorded an exclusive live session for Spool’s Out. We broadcast the thing a few weeks ago on the Spool’s Out radio show on London’s Resonance FM. The episode can still be streamed in full above.

Skewbi & Head Dress - Aglantha
(Speaker Footage)

Speaker Footage is the futuristic dance music offshoot of much further out there experimental Danish imprint Phinery. An intensely busy release schedule has seen the young label (it only started in June 2015) quickly rack up one of finest, and most idiosyncratic catalogues going. The aesthetic is often digital, and thus as open-ended and bottomless as could be, but Speaker Footage releases tend to incorporate rhythms where Phinery evades semblances of groove.

One recent highlight came from Polish duo RSS B0YS’ wobbly mess of cables. They’ve already made a name for themselves via appearances at key Polish festivals (our own John Doran saw and loved them at LDZ Music Festival in Łódź in 2014), aided no doubt by their bonkers and unmistakable homemade costumes resembling beekeepers outfits made from old doilies and the set of Bagpuss. Their tape B0DY FL0W is a brutal wad of technicolour techno, sewing together aleatory pieces into a nutty but structurally cohesive whole much like their attire. The five long-ish bangers barely let up, smushing all sorts over that long suffering kick drum - blasts of static, gameboy bleeps bitcrushed into oblivion, digital interference, and distorted bass lines all make a showing. ‘R00N 0N’ goes unusually heavy in its second half with an angered robotic arpeggio, and ten minute closer ‘N00R’ sees the session open up into icier caves, gradually easing off the gas on those live drum machines for a spaghettified climax.

Another pair, this time from LA and brandishing modular synths alongside goodness knows what else. It’s a collaboration between the already well known and prolific Head Dress (aka Ted James Butler) and newcomer Skewbi is a more purely experimental excursion into digital noise than RSS B0YS. Simple themes and repetitive beats play out on the duo’s gear while they knob twiddle them into noises that sit right in between meditation and punishing brutalism. The way they utilise the beats to add structure to the mostly shorter pieces is excellent, as on ‘MPC Medusa’, which is melodically oddly pretty while the sharper beats cutting through its underbelly are uniformly heavy as fuck. The 13-minute title track and brief interlude fill out side B with a less immediate set of quieter beats and softly simmering hissing that never quite coalesces, building tension as the duo’s clutter meshes indeterminately.

Morning Veils - Her Kind
(Kant Cope)

Hailing from Cork, Ireland, Morning Veils came into existence when a folk duo expanded into a trio, and integrated some wispy atmospheric touches (tinkling percussion, droning bowed strings, guitar pedal ambience) into their uniformly great songwriting. Each of the three members - Elaine Howley, Roslyn Steer, and Aisling O'Riordan - contribute singing and songwriting, yet the emotional range of the album remains constant and profoundly strange, aptly self-described on Cork Community Radio as ‘uncomfortable folk’. There’s a lingering bittersweetness here blending lovelier moments akin to the songs of Kath Bloom with a deep-seated paranoia. ‘Hiveless Bee’ is a definite highlight, evoking loneliness on a foggy landscape, while ‘Bring Out Your Dead’ adds simple percussion and funereal chants for a darker turn. Instrumental ‘Oíche Fáin’ and a spoken word title track close out the tape like the rest of the album - in eclectic, mysterious, and pretty fashion. Ones to watch.

Dusted Lux - Peace Gets Ignored
(A Giant Fern)

Previously located in Portugal, tape imprint A Giant Fern has recently relocated to the far sunnier locale of Leeds. They’ve also just put out one of their best ever batches; a trio of tapes each adorned by brilliant pastel collages by Danish artist øjeRum. This one from Dusted Lux deftly reconstitutes all sorts of sounds across 11 ace productions, mired in murky emotion and flashes of wonky hooks and beats battling it out with incidental sonic clutter. Lee Camfield - the artist behind Dusted Lux, based out of New London, Connecticut - has already released a pretty broad range of sounds, including some folkier songs, and the instrumentals on Peace Gets Ignored are no exception, conjoined only by their density and the hiss of overlapping elements. Distant pianos, six-string repetitions, wobbly tape noises, interference, wonky loops, and cosy beats all feature. The pairing of ‘Extra Ferro’s short-circuiting loops, murky ambience, and mechanically flagging noises, with the incredibly pretty lushness of strings, organs, and beats on ‘Clandestine’ should give you an impression of what’s going on in Dusted Lux’s excellent and open-ended soundworld.

Waskerley Way - Nexialism
(Nijinsky's Asylum)

Named after a walking route in County Durham passing sheep farms, heather moorland, suburbs, and the Hownsgill Viaduct (a former railway bridge), Waskerley Way is the project of Michael Bridgewater. The music aptly evokes a blend of Northeastern greenery, greying urban decay, and a sort of locomotive beat, similar to the vintage synth-driven rural propulsion of Pye Corner Audio and the Ghost Box sect. Singing over the bubbly electronics of opener ‘Finisterre’, Bridgewater’s voice isn’t unlike Animal Collective’s Avey Tare at his most commanding (before they started painting with shit that is), but his instrumental palette is his own, mangling found sounds, and melodies pieced together from old games console emulators over those metronomic drum beats. Despite Bridgewater’s great vocal turns, the pronounced melodies and foggy beauty of slowly unfolding instrumental ‘Bullets for Days’ is a highlight. It’s a stellar EP, mired in dark pop that expertly utilises slow release.

Danny Paul Grody - Sketch For Winter VI: Other States
(Geographic North)

American west coast guitarist Danny Paul Grody (member of currently inactive San Francisco groups Tarentel and The Drift) has released several solo albums since 2010, mixing guitar soli with synthetic ambience. This latest edition, and the sixth entry into the Atlanta-based Geographic North label’s ‘Sketch For Winter’ series, is Grody’s most potent effort yet, perfectly cataloguing the splendour of that wild Western terrain. Grody assists his own sparse acoustic and electric guitar with light beds of synthesizer, recalling the textures of John Fahey & Jim O’Rourke’s Womblife or Neil Young’s twanging Dead Man score, and remaining tightly restrained when it comes to melodies. Opener ‘Other States’ barely shifts from a single chord, composed of a small handful of sparsely plucked electric guitar notes atop synthesizer stasis. ‘For Western Skies’ and ‘Mineral Springs’ are more raga like, the latter layering on recordings of bird song, while the eight minute finale ‘Cloudhand’ does away with guitar entirely, melding further rustling nature sounds with paradisiacal keyboard washes. Mike Cooper’s ability to invoke textured landscapes springs to mind, although Danny Paul Grody’s got much more of an ear for utterly shattering and simple interleaving melodies. He puts it to full use on the stunning ‘On Leaving’, which is perhaps the single most beautiful piece of music covered in this column to date.

These Feathers Have Plumes/ Isnaj Dui - These Feathers Have Plumes/ Isnaj Dui
(Was Ist Das?)

The second split album from the eternally stellar Was Ist Das? imprint seems especially touched by magick. Side A features These Feathers Have Plumes, the solo project of Andie Brown (Remedial Queen Of England), who focuses almost solely on utilising a collection of extremely large wine glasses fitted with microphones for her instrumentation, making washes of crystalline ambience punctuated by the odd glacial thud. A few guests appear as well, including an unnamed choir from St. Albans, the sound of primary school kids smashing plastic boxes, Xylophone notes by Stoke-on-Trent experimentalist Joincey, and spoken word with field recordings by South Londoner Dale Cornish. Andie Brown’s wineglass tones are imbued with a weight and colour far beyond drones from synthetic means, and the jangle of the glass tints proceedings with a sense of lethargic ritual. Dale Cornish’s London street noise and sombre spoken words on ‘Soho Living Room’ are notably stunning, summarising that sense of loss felt by anybody who’s recently been through or comes from the city: "like London as a whole Soho has undergone significant change in the last ten, fifteen years, more commercially minded, a little cleaner, a little more polished…"

Isnaj Dui is Katie English (The Owl Service), making similarly earthy soundscapes from flute. Rather than the eight brief discrete pieces on side A, side B comprises one excellent 18-minute trip from Isnaj Dui, layering looped flute lines for much of its first half before tinkering through a few passages of cave-like clanging and oddly processed flute sounds in the second.

Chatoyant - Place Of Other Destination
(Astral Spirits)

This improv group from Detroit includes several intensely interesting instrumentalists from the city. There’s “Crazy” James Baljo (aka the big bearded current guitarist from Wolf Eyes) playing drums. Then there’s Marko Novachcoff - a very in-demand player of many wind instruments - and double bassist Joel Peterson, here only playing Crazy Jim’s Fender Rhodes for some reason. Local Detroit legend Matt Smith, who’s played with everyone from Kim Fowley to Sixto Rodriguez (aka that guy from Searching For Sugarman), contributes his usual electric guitar.

Nothing is quite what it seems with Chatoyant, which is perhaps the aim of the whole thing, as each of the four players staunchly deviate from their respective musical norms. Matt Smith winds up taking the lead on the first side-long improvisation and title track, noodling like a lobotomised Jerry Garcia. The group defy all logic, tinkering keys and scraping drum skins like those apes at the start of 2001, never expressing emotions as clear as anger, aggression, sadness, or joy. The reverbed lo-fi space where the music was recorded soaks up the sounds, fraying the edges of every note, blurring the proceedings into a viscous primordial ooze. Jagged figures and more pronounced textures do sporadically appear, and the title track races towards a cosmic crescendo at its end, Novachcoff parping a trumpet into the vacuum that follows. ‘The Secret No More’ on side two is even more unpredictable with strange augmented chords getting stabbed out of the Rhodes, the ghosts of bluesy licks curling from Smith’s guitar, and Crazy Jim simmering behind the kit, rarely even approaching the thought of a groove. It’s hookless, raw, and instinctive, but there’s something addictive about this music’s sheer unknowability.

Hence Therefore - Machine For Destroying Value
(3BS Records)

The project of Sydneysider Simon Unwin, Hence Therefore, is perhaps what Loscil would have been by now had Scott Morgan delved deeper into the house and minimal techno tropes he toyed with on those first releases. ‘Anxiety Dream Terrain’ has flickering pads shuddering over semi-formed beats (akin to the choppy waters of Loscil’s Sea Island), but the pulsating minimal beats of track two - ‘North Pacific Gyre’ - are where Hence Therefore sets out his modus operandi. While dabs of Rorschach test melodies litter the background, ticking beats drive the track onward, staying staunchly minimal and never peaking. ‘Cicada Death Roll’ side-chains some moody chords into wonky shapes, and skews hi-hats into hissing icicles. The hi-hat heavy closer ‘Hyperobject’ remains again far from ordinary, more or less meditating on one chord, free of distinct bass and awash with echoing sound effects, again never spiralling upward into the floor-filling banger it could - and Hence Therefore’s hypnotic minimalist workouts are stronger for it.

The Leaf Library - Nightlight Versions
(Where It's At Is Where You Are)

Last year, London-based droney pop group The Leaf Library made an excellent album called Daylight Versions, made up of repetitive tunes reminiscent of Stereolab at their least complex, or Yo La Tengo at their most Stereolab. This Nightlight Versions cassette features most of those tracks remixed. The tracks have been stripped of drums, vocals, and guitars, leaving behind lengthy organs chords and dreamy textures. As an experiment in revealing something new in old goods, it’s a resounding success. They rightly nod to Brian Eno’s fourth Ambient release from 1982 - On Land - as a reference point, though it’s all of course by sheer accident. Eno would no doubt approve.

Those organ keys grind away, and the skeletons of songs are still somewhat discernible, prettily sketching out vaporous pop songs as the chords slowly shift. Moments of beauty akin to John Hassell’s trumpet from On Land crop up too, such as the processed clarinet sound still present from the original version of ‘Evening Gathers’, but for the most part they’ve done little more than drop out the other elements and add a few extra notches of reverb. Perhaps to the annoyance of more dedicated drone artists, this is easily one of the better exercises in ethereal ambience I’ve come across in the last few months. One can imagine the Oblique Strategy cards right now: "Remove all the drums." "Turn up the reverb."

Druuna Jaguar + Phantasm Nocturnes - Speculative Realism
(Cruel Nature Recordings)

This collaboration between Portuguese and American noise artists Druuna Jaguar and Phantasm Nocturnes is a brutally brilliant slab of hateful doom and power electronics. The pair keep each other in check, happily straddling the fence that divides pure amorphous, arhythmic white hiss, with the slow marches and minor key riffing that defines drone doom and dark metal. On track one amplifiers groan and stutter in the deepest red of their registers, spitting out vicious parps that give way to cavernous feedback screams. The lengthier ‘Speculative Unknown’ simmers more slowly, crafting throbbing rhythms from percussive bassy mumbles, slowly drowning in climbing levels of gain and distortion until ultra heavy lightning bolts of eardrum scratching notes tear their way to the surface and take over the last minutes of the track. The five long tracks of noise on Speculative Realism take their time with those sonic extremes, only finally deploying full on Merzbowian levels of aggressive static on 11-minute closer, ‘Black Seas Of Infinity’. The rest of the tape applies the methodologies of homespun power electronics to crafting more ominous atmospheres of doom, taking place in a nightmarish abstract landscape of the duo’s own concoction. Deeper listening will see you rewarded with a state of utter terror.

ROM - Possible Mountain
(Hausu Mountain)

Recorded back in 2005, Possible Mountain is a hitherto unreleased album of tunes recorded in one fruitful week-long session by the US-based duo of Roberto Carlos Lange and Matt Crum. It’s well oriented in the unpredictable catalogue of Chicago label Hausu Mountain, aptly mired in weirdness and strange textures, while also riding hookier melodies and often some pretty banging beats. One could imagine Tortoise making an album like this, or potentially even Constellation Records’ stellar 2015 signing Last Ex. The building blocks on each 2-4 minute instrumental are relatively similar - a repetitive keyboard melody, a warm drum kit beat, a lightly plucked out acoustic guitar - but then jarring elements wear away that sugar coating, making the entire experience far more psychedelic, and ultimately more rewarding. Be it a whirring synth noise, a jangly unidentifiable sample off in the distance, or a slightly off time signature, the sweet and the sour coalesce perfectly, shading in vacant spaces between the duo’s many juxtapositions. Music this unusual is rarely so much fun too, with tracks like the deepest dub of ‘With You And For Me’, or the summery piano keys of ‘Gonzo’ hitting that perfect ratio between near-pop like melodic sensibilities and chin scratching quirkiness.

Skin Lies - Stimulus Regression
(FM Dust)

A solo project by Portland, Oregon artist (and tQ contributor amongst many other things) Dustin Krcatovich, Skin Lies gathers a broad range of sounds into creakily pretty assemblies. The ten minute first track here, ‘Friday Vibrations’, collates a droning organ and some very pretty high-end guitar string squeaks with a slowly boiling over underbelly of fuzzed out noises and delay pedal fiddling. The central trio of shorter tracks - ‘English Breakfast’, ‘Canine Teeth’, and ‘Reversal Of Fortune’ - are all far more abstract, comprising little more then slowly arcing rushes of densely reverbed noise flying through cavernous hangar-like spaces. Closing the sandwich is the 12-minute diptych, ‘Interlude/That River Is In My Way’, opening with a densely textured exercise in murky (guitar?) looping, then settling down for a serene locked groove meditation for e-bowed strings. The pieces aren’t really made from very much at all, but the proceedings seem somehow touched by dark magic. Were Fripp and Eno to record in a remote Tibetan monastery, one hopes it would sound like this.