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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Tape Reviews For October By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , October 24th, 2016 07:37

Featuring improvised analogue techno from France, abstract sounds from Hungary, scarred giallo noise from Italy plus some Canadian jaw harp and Russian free-punk, Tristan Bath goes against the grain of Brexit Britain with another month reviewing the best international tape releases

Last week’s episode on Spool’s Out radio broadcast on London’s Resonance FM we played a live tape mix recorded at Tor Fest in Todmorden, West Yorkshire last month. The mix was made without a pre-planned tracklist Andy from Crow Versus Crow and Natalia Beylis from Woven Skull, working in "a call-and-response manner" from their respective piles of tapes.

"It’s raw and imperfect, with glitches and pops, cable crackle and tape warp, but I think all of that fits within the idea of an experiment, of a conversation."

The episode can still be streamed in full above, or downloaded as a podcast.

Acid Fountain - Sabina
(The Tapeworm)

Recorded in one take in Corbeil-Essonnes, France, last October, Sabina seems to be the result of Acid Fountain taking inspiration from The Tapeworm label’s wish to get artists sprawling out across the sides of the format. Richard Francés - the man behind both Acid Fountain and the Parisian Hylé Tapes label - has improvised a stellar suite of chugging beats and cosmic tones here. Initially he pummels a drum machine through a stereo spread delay in the manner of Autechre’s epochal Amber for the opening ‘Dreaming/Drumming’ before mutating into beautiful drift of airlock notes on ‘San Pedro’ and then a cute noisy matchup between field recorded bird song and an overture of long sustained keyboard notes on ‘Goodbye Industry’. ‘Heavy Sand’ rounds off the 19 minute A Side with a funkified jazz-techno miniature, clearly scarred from the live recording process, nonetheless utterly ridiculous when one remembers it’s an improvisation. Things remain beatless generally deeper throughout side B’s dreamlike trilogy of tracks. ‘Terres Rares’ is a hall of mirrors composed of degraded piano sounds spiralling around the listener, while the seamless ‘Étoiles Filantes’ and ‘Mujer Espíritu’ could easily be an alternative soundtrack to Blade Runner’s love scenes. Beautifully yearning synthesizer notes stretch out from Francés’ fingers as he gently opens filters and tones linger in a wide open reverb pedal for dozens of seconds at a time. He eventually wiggles notes and climbs scales higher and higher, tracing a melody that abandons Earthly delights and heads straight for the heavens.

Acid Fountain’s previously issued synthesizer-and-drum-machine albums on his own label, are built from similar base materials, though not recorded with such spontaneity. The limitations of the live takes on Sabina force Acid Fountain to bang harder than ever when doing the techno stuff, and evolve the melodies of those softer tunes organically. The results are spine-tingling.

Various Artists - Knock Knock Who's Dead?
(Kikimora Tapes)

"With a predominance of Chicago, Berlin and Toronto-based artists," states the liner notes on this 13-track compilation. While the cred and sounds of several of these artists certainly live up to what we expect from those cities, this Knock Knock Who's Dead? manages to avoid feeling like your run of the mill compilation. For one thing, the quality of the tracks is ridiculously high. Opening ‘Whistle When You're Low’ by Beau Wanzer (half of Civil Duty who previously released material on L.I.E.S.) is a very thorough industrial techno banger that seems oddly enough to take place atop an electronic version of a Cuban guayo scraper, while ‘Telemark Landing’ by Chicago-based producer Windbreaker harkens back to the proto-techno days, resembling Moroder and Kraftwerk more than anything else. Tüth, also from Chicago, mesh dread, harsh Factory Floor pounding, and analog techno hi hats on the stellar ‘Unstable’. On ‘Mirrored Places’ the mysterious Spread Function builds synth voices into a teetering house of cards before slashing into them with katana like tones. The entire compilation flits around between some ridiculously potent industrial bangers, and the sort of wonky digital productions that sound like music filtered through the thousands of tessellating compound eyes. As things come to a close with a bruised bit of tape-worn ambience by Masker - the duo of Kranky’s Benoit Pioulard with Blue Tapes’ unfollow (aka Tony Boggs) - Kikimora’s seemingly opposed ethereal and brutal states seem decreasingly dualistic. It’s a vision of the world that naturally stems from cities like Toronto, Chicago, or Berlin (and once upon a long time ago perhaps, London): greying and decaying, yet welcoming and full of hope.

Chik White - Malform

Armed with nothing but a jaw harp, his voice, and some odd mic techniques, the music of Chik White (aka Darcy Spidle) feels like a something of a missing link between two seemingly unrelated traditions. On paper, a jaw harpist who often records outdoors in his seaside homeland in West Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia, should perhaps end up similar to the spiritual solo voice albums of Richard Youngs or Keiji Haino, or perhaps even the Arctic Cirlce Joik practice of Ánde Somby or Laura Cannell’s hypnotic recorder playing. In practice however (particularly as Malform focuses on utilising some very up-close-and-personal "throat mic techniques") the results are at times closer to freeform nutjob explorations by raw noise artists like Justice Yeldham or Masonna.

Opener ‘self’ is a building moment of intense gentle jaw harp plucking, reimagined into this quivering, doomy, epic sound. It’s presumably all a tad funny by comparison when seen in the flesh - a bloke twanging a jaw harp at a lethargic pace, occasionally spewing wordless gibberish from his mouth at the same time too - but the results are strangely powerful. The scraping of the mic against Spidle’s own flesh highlights the most striking aspect of the instrument as something of ancient bionic body augmentation. The two longer tracks on the tape have Spidle twanging away wonky rhythms on his jaw harp while the man simultaneously coughs and splutters, tipping the close miked sound more often than not right into distortion. The 67 second ‘ex.1’ is a notably chilling moment on the tape, with Spidle chanting slowly like the voice of Pazuzu in The Exorcist while his jaw harp tingles away like a wind chime. Closing track ‘seep’ too seems imbued with a sense of dread, and the distorted crashing of waves lap into the recording with the same off kilter irregular rhythms as Chik White’s jaw harp. A thoroughly unique and brilliant experiment with the instrument that proves less is more.

Mirrored Lips - MOM
(Cruel Nature Recordings)

Mirrored Lips are the trio of Lusya, Ksusha and Sasha from Russia’s fifth largest city Nizhny Novgorod, who somehow seem to make what they deem riot grrrl music mostly stemming from improvisation. To my ears it’s too raw and open ended to be riot grrrl, more closely related to the strangely sad psychedelic punk of ill-fated late-80s Siberian singer Yanka Dyagileva. The raw backline, mostly deployed into echoey practice space and consistently different sounding, rages between Stooges-esque raw power ‘ленин’ (which means ‘Lenin’) and then jangly Low-esque moodscapes on ‘моспроект’. ‘Профессия’ (‘Profession’) has the band improvise their way into some really wonky regions filled with non-sequiturs and dodgy melodies, while the trio seem to compete for who can yell the loudest freeform Russian poetry. It’s a damn confusing album, but the results are totally stellar. The energy’s sure to please punk and hardcore fans, while the constant unpredictability dishes out the goods for the free-jazz and noiseheads. The band are hoping to tour the UK in 2017 too, presumably to repair some of the damage done to Russian punk music’s rep by Pussy Riot, who forgot about the bit where the music isn’t supposed to be an afterthought.

John Johanna - I'll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes
(Whipped Cream Records)

It’s tough to know what to expect on paper from John Johanna. American gospel standards reworked by a white Londoner into rock band arrangements, plus some gentle acoustic balladry, all with a psychedelic drawing of an orthodox looking priest on the cover, seemingly of Ethiopian origin. The entire thing could easily wind up seeming contrived, or worse yet, dull. Luckily for Johanna he’s a thoroughly gifted musician, and an off kilter vocalist in the vein of Eno, or perhaps even Thurston Moore. The opening title track eradicates almost all signs of its gospel origins, riding a near-Afrobeat snare and plucked guitar groove while he delivers the spiritual in a slack rock moan. It’s a shiny happy opener full of energy, but nothing else on the tape deploys a full band in the same way. ‘Fold in the Light’ is a simple acoustic guitar tune recalling some young wide-eyed 60s folk singer, while ‘Cockleshell Laye’ integrates westcountry piping over delay-ridden guitar pluckings for something that sits between the Incredible String Band and Timber Timbre. ‘Lazarus of the Four Days’ is another about-turn in the vein of homespun Momus tune, including quirkily sort-of-out-of-tune singing, cheesy 80s TV score synths and passages of spoken word. Johanna’s may be mostly delivering old ideas with new twists, but he’s by far gifted enough to make it all worth checking out. It’s mostly a collection of his homespun skeletal ideas thus far too, and one’s gut feeling is Johanna’s a talent that’s only just getting started.

Hattie Cooke - Hattie Cooke
Embla Quickbeam & Graham Dunning - Inside Memory's Head
(Third Kind Records)

Hattie Cooke’s a twenty something from Brighton who describes her method thus: "I magic up music in my bedroom." Mixing stripped back vocal songs with synth pop tunes, what ultimately ties together Hattie Cooke’s self-titled, self-produced debut is the tunes. The hooks on old school, lo-fi sounding VST drum and synth assisted bedroom pop anthems ‘Song 14’ or ‘Shut Your Mouth’ are pretty searing. It’s like Cooke’s scoring the somewhat less sexy and pragmatic Brighton set remake of Drive. In stark contrast, half the tracks on offer are straight up singer-songwriter jams, mostly comprising raw electric guitar plucks and vocals and little else. On whispy intimate closing track ‘Winter’, Cooke’s vocal delivery resembles the smokey tranquility of both Billie Holiday and Dick van Dyke’s chimney sweep from Mary Poppins, giving out sweet lines like, "To say goodbye never would still be too soon." Few singer-songwriters do so little to meet their two contrasting personas, and overall it has the advantage of spreading energy evenly throughout the album, never sounding samey.

Whereas labels dealing with other formats might have second thoughts about doing so, it seems only natural that Hattie Cooke’s debut tape of pop songs was released on Third Kind Records concurrently with the alien sounds of this collaboration between Embla Quickbeam (aka Rowan Forestier-Walker) and the unstoppable Graham Dunning. Originally the pair would post tapes to other, each time containing a new track plus some "visual paraphernalia, found objects, and bits of art and writing that related to the nature of the sounds [they] made and recorded." Next, they were invited to participate in an exhibition at Prestamax House in Brighton, displaying some of the paraphernalia alongside several of their library of assembled sounds spread over three tape players which the audience could play back at random creating new bits of music in the process. Ultimately, armed with all the sounds the duo had collected over a period of months, Embla Quickbeam and Graham Dunning went into a studio to record live mixdowns, and Inside Memory's Head is the result.

Although nothing is quite normal in this ramshackle sound world, tracks like ‘Floating Worlds’ do in fact conform to accepted beauty standards, with warm beds of bubbly river like noises and droning notes. For the most part though, this is a murky world of creaking noises, fuzzed out distant loops, the hanging threat of feedback, jangling percussions, and semi-audible murmurings. It’s a pretty chilling experience to get lost in, evoking the cold and grey of a British coastline mired in memories of summers that never really were. The duo are excellently matched foils to boot, barely allowing themselves even a fleeting moment to experience normality, let alone each other.

L. Pearson - Stone Circles
(Cong Burn Waves)

As is the standard with the stellar Cong Burn Waves label, this tape comprises two sidelong tracks blending together jams and beats produced sporadically, assembling them into sprawling mixes. Stone Circes is the first solo release by Leeds-based Luke Pearson, though he previously contributed to the label as half of Amxd.

Snappy beats and squelchy synths plod along from passage to passage at medium energy, occasionally breaching weirder territory and fractured noises at times, such as a third of the way through side B, or two thirds through side A. Regardless of how far it wanders though, the bedrock of this music’s still more or less pounding acid techno, with a few dubby side missions along the way. Though a mere three tapes in, this label’s batting average is thus far impeccable.

Mai Mai Mai - Φ ("Phi")
(Not Not Fun)

Self-described Roman ‘noise omnivore’ Toni Cutrone triumphantly completes a trilogy of albums named after Greek letters, released under his Mai Mai Mai moniker. The tools of his trade come straight out of the European noisemakers’ starter kit - lurching heavy digital bass, deeply submerged kick beats, unpredictable background samples, and hiss of static often encroaching slowly into view - but the results seem exceptionally well thought out. It’s an obvious comparison to make, but the exotic menace of giallo film scores seems discernible somewhere deep inside here. Perhaps it’s the tendrils of old school synths forming a netted melody on ‘λήναις / Lenais’, or the jangly vibes on ‘ἄκεα / Akea’, both of which sound ripped from incidental music for Suspiria. Horror mood and serrated textures aside, there’s plenty to actually enjoy in these six sonic rituals. There are beats to bang your head to, hooky melodies that ascend into filmic themes, and hefty drops aplenty. If your halloween party needs some background music this year, give this one a go.

Black Spring / Miles Cooper Seaton - West Of Will & Cvrst Patience / Adige (for Luigi Lineri)
(M O N O C R E O)

An excellent split release between doomy improv trio Black Spring and Akron/Family member Miles Cooper Seaton, this tape was put out on Black Spring’s own Monocreo label, based out of their hometown - the hidden gem of the UK experimental underground - Milton Keynes! Though a trio, Black Spring utilise a nutty blend of guitar, voices, processed tapes, percussion, synthesizers, and homemade instruments in making their sprawling music, always taking their sweet time. Their 23 minute sidelong ‘West Of Will & Cvrst Patience’ is pretty damned magnificent, recorded in an audibly large gallery space in MK. It opens to piano tinkles before a ten minute blast of synth drones which in turn beget a world weary epic akin to recent Swans, replete with hefty drums, harmonising vocals (singing fittingly about how "distant lights plague my eyes"), and bowed guitar strings. The piece constantly feels like it’s going to blast into a predictably gigantic post rock climax, but rather loops and loops and marches on before segueing into a stunningly serene finale of Basinski tape repetitions.

Miles Cooper Seaton, who’s played not only with Akron/Family but also with Michael Gira’s badly named, yet brilliant Angels Of Light project, delivers a somewhat less sidelong suite recorded in Verona. His synthesizer tones are all beautifully realised, and after ten minutes of drifting aimlessly, Seaton introduces bubbly arpeggios and delay effects to give the piece some (admittedly vastly open-ended) sense of structure.

Új Bála - Butcher's Tears Dry Slower Than The Average One's
(Altered States Tapes)

Budapest’s killer analogue techno and experimental electronics scene has been pretty well documented to date, featuring lots of lovable and intensely talented dudes wearing caps making rugged beats. Fellow Budapester Új Bála runs in those same circles, but rather than deploying wonky electronics to make banging beats, he’s creating cataclysmic disaster zones, populated by synths and drum machines operated by insane asylum residents and aleatory vocal samples. ‘Tennis’ opens the tape with a manic bitcrushed melody line snaking its way beneath a repeated sample of a voice going ‘UGH!’, and rugged percussion programmes scurrying further below. ‘Pet Pit’ is a detuned windswept noisescape akin to Black Dice, and ‘Jannus Beat’ is a sort of Burned Mind style Wolf Eyes track though with a much snappier rhythm section. When it comes to meshing noise, psychedelia, and techno, Új Bála is truly doing god’s work, and this one out on Melbourne’s Altered States Tapes is easily his best work to date. The title needless to say, deserves some kind of special award all its own to boot.