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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Tape Reviews By Tristan Bath For January
Tristan Bath , January 23rd, 2017 10:04

Tristan Bath returns to sift through the month’s best cassette releases, including a new solo EP by Samara Lubelski, some banging techno from Budapest and the latest stellar release from Anji Cheung

Spool's Out Radio: #87 Waskerley Way

Waskerley Way is both a public footpath and a pop project by musician Michael Philip Bridgewater - both from the North East of England. For the latest episode of Spool’s Out radio broadcast on London’s Resonance FM we had an exclusion live session by Waskerley Way (the musician), plus a full episode of tape releases emanating from prolific North East, including the likes of Richard Dawson and Joseph Curwen.

The episode can still be streamed in full via the above, as well as via podcast.

Anji Cheung photograph taken by Agata Urbaniak

Nicholas Langley - Thinky Space
(Entertainment Systems)
Nicholas Langley - Violin & Audio Generator
(Self-Help Tapes)

Brighton-based artist Nicholas Langley has put out several minimal collaborative and solo releases in the past, but a pair of solo tapes that came out in mid-December are easily his finest achievements yet. Much like the roster of his own Third Kind Records, Langley’s music handles serious and weighty emotions via a variety of methods, never losing a nice whiff of humour either. These here are animatronic tone sketches presented sometimes casually, almost as if scribbled in the margin of a maths exercise book during class. Thinky Space is more crisply recorded and meticulously produced, featuring higher fidelity synthesizers, richer atmospheres, and generally longer running times. Tinkled keyboard chimes open the album and continue to litter the first side, largely comprised of heterogeneous keyboard compositions that could fit in with the soundworlds of Stravinsky as much as Emeralds. The title track injects a bit more drama to side A, adding sampled noises that snake their way around some orchestral synth stabs. Side B shifts towards darker territory, particularly on the 11-minute ambient monster ‘Svalbard Gothic’, at times resembling the empty spaces of that time Nurse With Wound broadcast from the Arctic Circle. Finally it closes with a funereal zither-scape.

It’s pretty easy to make a guess as to what the instrumentation on the matter-of-factly titled Violin & Audio Generator out via Swedish label Self-Help Tapes comprises. Far harder to predict however, is where the tape is gonna go at any given moment. Layers of overdubbed violin scrapes and plucks constantly battle against gyrating audio generator bleeps for the foreground, like gamelan performed by R2-D2. All eight untitled tracks flow with a logic all their own, riding cosmonaut bleep rhythms that seems menacing one second and laughable the next. Some of Langley’s own chants and moans make their way into the belly of the pieces too, as does some marimba on the distinctly pleasant seventh track. Thinky Space might well feature many more beautiful atmospheres, but Violin & Audio Generator sounds entirely unlike anything I’ve ever heard before.

Marlo Eggplant - Callosity
(Fractal Meat Cuts)

Based in Leeds, Marlo Eggplant is the project of American artist Marlo DeLara (hence her not being ‘Marlo Aubergine’). Following a varied background which includes training in classical guitar, voice, and cello, and a brief stint playing drums in an improv noise band, the modern day Marlo Eggplant has almost eradicated any tiny semblance of the noise pop leanings that were once (admittedly only vaguely) perceptible in her music. Armed with an array of pedals, contact mics, and an autoharp, she brought Callosity together in October and November 2016, a period that regardless of how recent it was, stung with intense international ‘uncertainty’ and cultural upheaval - even by 2016’s standards. So the haunted bleak presence of the void throughout Callosity is not without good reason. The album resembles a ritual taking place deep in the belly of the beast, as long stretches of hissy loops and whispered fumblings creep out of your tape deck. Whenever a discernible note or rhythm is played - a deep autoharp pluck or a manipulated voice or sample - it’s as if a camera flash briefly reveals the features of the chamber DeLara has been sketching out.

The penultimate and final tracks eradicate much of the reverb ritualism that came before and see Marlo Eggplant much more playfully experiment with vocal manipulation. Overall though, the unemotive strangeness of the finale only brings into sharper focus the 25 minutes of music that came before. A haunted record of the recent fear and paranoia epidemic we’re all still recovering from.

Samara Lubelski - Joy Rides
(Drawing Room Records)

Following on from her most potent statement as a weirdo pop songwriter yet in the form of last year’s full length The Gilded Raid, this tape EP joins the dots between Samara Lubelski’s dichotomised personas. Joy Rides balances Lubelski the singer-songwriter with the Lubelski the improviser and cosmic-explorer. Along the way she sounds more than a little like Gazelle Twin (the menacing vocals on ‘Let It Fly’), chucks in some dark acid trip exotica (‘Joy Rides’), and exhumes the squished analogue galactic drift of stellar one-time collaborative project Augenmusik wherein Lubelski’s violin through pedals became the drunk and woozy cousin to Tony Conrad’s own drone machine. Anchored by melody, the sound Lubelski hits on this EP of strange songs and stranger drones is definitely not a compromise to the cost of either one of her fascinating facets. As a litmus test of how a mix of her styles sounds, Joy Rides definitely leaves one wishing Lubelski had made it a full length.

Philippe Lamy & MonoLogue - Blu Deux
Dino Spiluttini - I Do Not Want what Heaven Gave Me

The lofty standards Phinery has managed to uphold while continuing to release new material at a similar rate to Coronation Street dishing up new episodes is pretty staggering. No fewer than five cassettes emerged from the Danish imprint in December just gone and all well worth the investment. As Christmas season had me busy digesting or playing charades however, it wasn’t until early January that I could really get to grips with the batch, and of the five, these two stuck right out. Besides the striking photography by Elena Zago adorning the cover of a collaboration between French musician Philippe Lamy and Italian artist MonoLogue, the strange concrète logic with which the soundscapes unfold makes this one well worth revisiting and dissecting. Lamy’s previous work has been stubbornly atonal for the most part, but MonoLogue (aka Maria Rosa Sarri) has a bit of history issuing more blissful brands of gentle noise tinged by Voigt-ian ambience. The pair seem to constantly tug and pull each other towards and away from standard textures in either field, so ten minute drifts like ‘Prime parole, Dernière Pensée’ sift their way through a massive range of field recordings, fumbled glitches, and by its finale a billowing wall of bass rumble. To an extent they’ve perhaps neutralised each other to be neither too concrète nor too atmospheric, but the final product winds up being a stream-of-consciousness that’s constantly in motion, overflowing with understated snippets of ideas.

After Dino Spiluttini’s mother showed him where their ashes would be interred posthumously, the artist became shaken. As a concept, it’s the sheer inevitability of decay that’s so terrifying. How and why a sound or emotion should live on in our memories longer than a fleeting momentary synaptic zap lies at the heart of what makes people people. In order to musify the agony of empathy, Spiluttini set about making the recordings that form the basis of I Do Not Want What Heaven Gave Me utilising the organ at the very church his ashes are destined to call their final home. Heavily processed through myriad distortion, delay, and reverb effects, and overlaid with lilting piano loops, the result yearns more so than any previous release by the artist. The dreamy piano and organ chambers of ‘Hymn’ or ‘Chant’ drift around all distorted like truly ancient recordings. Only ‘Prayer’ does away with chiming piano or organ key melodies, focusing in on a gaping organ drone that weighs down heavily with melancholy. Spiluttini’s taken it upon himself to wear and decay his own music, outdoing death at its own game, and immortalising his elegance as a composer in the process.

A i w A - Prepper Mindset
(Always Human Tapes)

Pretty much a dream pairing, the appearance of Budapest analogue techno producer A i w A on Minneapolis-based Always Human Tapes makes total sense. Always Human have slowly and steadily made an impact, issuing experimental acid- and ambient-techno type sounds without ever veering into anything less than user-friendly territory - A i w A himself has taken a pretty similar route thus far. Much like the similarly spirited roster of Vancouver’s 1080p Collection, these tunes assimilate retrofuturist vibes and vintage textures into snappy 21st century structures. Just check out the vaporwave bed of ‘There Yet’ which gets chopped and snipped around snappy beats into near-footwork territory. The synthetic shopping mall vibes continue in the bed of ‘webcoast digital surf news’, but the kick drums and handclaps are shoved up into lo-fi needle-burying heights, distorting into harder thump-thumps geekier producers would normally expect. A i w A’s maturation has been gradual, and the artist is still yet to issue a big statement. His general aesthetic and beats can still stay in the middle of the road for a bit too long at times, but cranked up high enough there’s plenty to get lost in on Prepper Mindset. Incredible tunes for night driving.

Anji Cheung - Daughter Of Fortitude
(Aurora Borealis Recordings)

The initial pressing of this tape by London’s ritualistic drone-meister Anji Cheung sold out in under 24 hours, so Aurora Borealis Recordings have seen fit to offer up a second pressing. Along with her Hypatia tape out via Belgian imprint Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere., Daughter Of Fortitude continues to document Cheung’s drone structures blossoming from their relatively lo-fidelity and guitar-focused past into a broader palette. Cheung’s ability to imbue her soundscapes with an intense sense of dread is stronger than ever here, particularly on 11 minute opener ‘Skry The Blackness Of The Pupil Of My Eye’. Over a murky bed of hypnotic medium paced beats, an endless squall of guttural guitar is guided through a long-suffering amplifier. Besides the deep kick drums, there’s wind-like hiss and grinding high pitched tones too. The quieter next track introduces mumbled voices and stereo shifting brushing sounds, and ‘He Whom The Winds Fear’ mostly features a weirdo priest holding mass in a church of reverb and rumbling calm tones, threatening to lurch back into vaster walls of noise any minute. Later in the ‘440’ adds in some actually pretty pleasant synth pulsations, and closer ’The Nothing Of Night’ manages to be intensely beautiful despite being so quiet and vacant. Anji Cheung is very aptly due to support Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg’s KTL at St. John on Bethnal Green Church in February, so Londoners would be well advised to both attend and pick up a physical copy of this while you’re at it.

Bary Center - Just Dust
(New Body Tapes)

Under the name Bary Center, appalachian musician Mark Williams (not to be confused with the beloved actor of Father Brown fame) has issued a mighty bunch of tapes in recent years. This new one is the zenith of his experiments into making rhythmic noise and techno-shaped tracks. The tunes never outstay their welcome, Williams having slotted speedy jump cuts between them, never even breaching the six minute mark. The aesthetic and tone generally find a balance between the playfully lo-fidelity likes of Brooklynite outsider Dan Friel - all childlike melodies and keyboard presets fuzz-amped into noise music - and the trippy late night house of Aphex’s first Selected Ambient Works. The two minute title track for example sees a skittered beat flailing over luscious creaky synth pads, and the finale ‘Sterile River’ could be the work of an utterly blissful Kranky artist if it weren’t for the hardcore kick drum slamming you in the head for most of its duration. Overall it’s an excellent piece of work you’ll most likely want to revisit and slot into those tape DJ mixes.

Caudal - Slope​/​Land
(Land Animal Tapes)
Aidan Baker X Lärmschutz - Heteroticisms Volume 4
(Land Animal Tapes)

Canadian artist Aidan Baker has always been prolific, and if anything he’s just sped up since relocating to Berlin several years ago. His fingerprints bless two releases on Land Animal Tapes this month. Firstly, ‘trancepunk’ trio Caudal has Baker on guitar with bassist Gareth Sweeney and drummer Felipe Salazar in tow. Living up to that self-penned genre name, this pair of dozen minute long jams never veer into any cheesy crescendos. The trio simply groove along through the cosmos while an array of guitar effects and bleepy noises simmer around overhead. Instrumental rock jams are rarely this blissful - if perhaps a little throwaway at the same time.

Baker’s meetup with Utrecht improvising outfit Lärmschutz has perhaps got a bit more to offer any sonic explorers. Trombone player Rutger van Driel adds all sorts of unexpected colour to gnarled soundscapes conjured by Lärmschutz drummer/keyboardist Thanos Fotiadis and Aidan Baker’s guitar/voice/drum machine setup, presumably all channeled into hideously complex pedalboards. The sheer amount of territory explored over the two 20 minute sidelong pieces is excellent, the presence of Baker’s warm guitar notes and that earthen trombone keeping the more cold and chaotic electronics in check. The tape is resultantly a carpet bag of myriad tones well worth digging deep into.

MJ Lallo - The Channeled Voice
(Full Spectrum Records)

Instantly reminiscent of modern female manipulators like Katie Gately, Gazelle Twin, Holly Herndon, etc., this tape by California voice artist MJ Lallo was in fact initially released in a hyper limited edition back in 1988. Unsurprisingly considering the title, Lallo spends most of the tape channeling her voice through some sort of pitch shifter, or keeping inaudible chants mired in reverb. Some of the ghostlier tracks such as ‘Blues For Buddha’ bring to mind Anna Homler’s similarly recently rediscovered Breadwoman works (which originated only three or four years before this recording), almost entirely comprising just a basic rhythm loop and harrowing vocal performance mutated with effects. The bongo-heavy keyboard preset beats on other tracks feel way ‘poppier’, such as the mutant minimal disco of ‘Mystic Mamba’ and ‘Gabriel’s Horn’, Lallo even replicating a trumpet with her vocal cords on the latter. The album opens way up when it closes with the 11-minute ‘Deep Dreams’, introducing much more synthesized instrumentation into a slowly moving atmospheric ceremony that would be ultra cheesy were it not so perfectly paced. It’s the same difference between the soppy new age work of Kitaro and the powerful synth epics of Vangelis. We’ve not even touched upon the title track, which does away with any backing leaving just a pitch shifted chorus of Lallo gregorian chanting in outer space. Clearly way ahead of its time, this is one hell of a discovery by Full Spectrum Records, apparently stumbled across in a "dusty storage closet". In the three deacades since, MJ Lallo appears to have become a professional voice over artist, and I can’t help imagine what strange musical directions she would have gone to next had this release received even just a smidge of recognition at the time.

Adrien Kanter - Infinites Réflexions
(Hylé Tapes)

Out via ever reliable Parisian label Hylé Tapes, this appears to be the debut solo release musician Adrien Kanter has issued under his own name. Also a member of often sprawling post-rock band Le Réveil Des Tropiques, Kanter composes his instrumentals with the sort of open-ended approach to genre most often reserved only for film scores. A creaky landscape of buzzy keyboards gives way to epic guitar notes on opener ‘Bagarre de Lions’, while ‘Elvin’ sees Kanter jam a dramatic minisuite against a sampled Elvin Jones drum solo. ‘Fleur de Nuit’ is a near-Loscil like pulsation of glitch techno, while the lof-fi latent noodling on ‘Satellit Transistor 6001’ resembles the haunted recordings of Grouper. Vocals enter for the final pair of tracks, including grittily crescendoing spoken word by Aurore Laloy on ‘Pas le Boum Boum’, and Kanter’s own fragile singing on understated finale ‘Bambi Puzzle’. The general mood is as playful as it is downtrodden, and the grab bag of sounds should appeal to a massive range of listeners.