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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Tape Reviews By Tristan Bath For February
Tristan Bath , February 27th, 2017 09:43

Tristan Bath is back with another round of the best recent cassette tape releases - including the epitaph for recently defunct rockers Bad Guys, schizoid electronics from Edinburgh and the soundtrack for an imaginary 70s French thriller

Spool's Out Radio #90: Live Tape Mix

In support of a modular/video synth performance in Vienna by German artist Sferics, I DJ’d with tapes and warbled some analogue synth noises over the top. Most of the mix featured on this recent episode of Spool’s Out radio, broadcast on London’s Resonance FM.

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

Art Of The Memory Palace - Voiture Blanche Dans Le Noir
(Horror Pop Sounds)

The Dundee duo of Andrew Mitchell and Raz Ullah contribute the second ‘lost soundtrack’ to the mysterious Horror Pop Sounds imprint. Purportedly, it’s the score to 1972 movie Voiture Blanche Dans Le Noir ("White Car In The Black") by Left Bank director, Claude Doinel (perhaps a reference to François Truffaut’s fictional alter ego Antoine Doinel). "The film depicts France during the period of volatile, civil unrest of the late 1960’s," says the press release, it "tells the story of politically active factory worker Iris, and her lover, and fellow worker, Alain."

Whatever the backstory, Art Of The Memory palace wear their sinister 70s thriller soundtrack mask totally convincingly. It’s similar - superior even - to Broadcast’s collection of harpsichord and mellotron-laden miniatures for real-life Peter Strickland movie Berberian Sound Studio back in 2013. The atmosphere here is aptly melodramatic, and the musical motifs are chunky and hooky, while the duo’s love and mastery of vintage style gear bathe each of the 25 tracks with frank warmth, syrupy bass lines, and awesomely krauty drum grooves. Though mainly clocking in below the two-minute mark, tunes like ‘Impressions Of Belonging’, ‘A Tilt Remains’, or climactic showdown number ‘Nothing You Seek Is Real’ fully portray that era of Don’t Look Now, Suspiria, and The Wicker Man, with perhaps a sly nod towards the likes of Garth Marenghi in the process. Even without the context, Mitchell and Ullah have the knack for writing stellar keyboard-borne melodies to fit the various paces and moods of this (imagined) movie. It’s all so perfectly realised that by the sound of a car driving off signals the Julee Cruise-ian final credits tune to roll, you can be forgiven for feeling like you’ve actually just experienced a vintage thriller, full of Citroen chases and murky trench-coated Frenchmen.

Bad Guys - No More Mr. Bad Guy
(Hominid Sounds)

Described as a "banging rock epitaph", No More Mr. Bad Guy is the final release by London’s ruggedest and nakedest rockers Bad Guys. It’s a slight five track mini-album/long-EP, salvaged from the sessions for an aborted third album - although it sounds absolutely nothing like a band on the verge of calling it a day. Lead singer Stuart growls better than ever on super-heavy war song ‘Ekranoplan’, yelling about "500 tonnes of Russian death machine" like an angry landlord temporarily called upon to front the Melvins. The track ultimately hits a ridiculously great crescendo of cave troll yelps and a stellar tapping solo. The tape continues spewing Bad Guys’ meat and potatoes of bass-heavy riffs periodically littered with Brian May layered guitar licks and constantly narrated by Stuart like the man’s possessed by Pazazu. Closing anthem ‘Weed Money’ is one of the band’s cockiest tunes ever - "I have to spend my weed money / on my rent, because my rent was late" - it just makes it seem even more of a shame that Bad Guys’ time is up. I laughed and headbanged my way through every second of this glorious bit of tape. Perhaps we just can’t handle any more gun-toting masculinity right now - even when it’s the good kind. You can watch a full video of Bad Guys’ final ever performance in early February here

Barry Helafonte - Neon Beach
Hans Appelqvist - Swimming Pool
(Orange Milk)

There should be quite a bit to actually dislike about this tape. From the tiresome spoonerism of the artist’s name to the retrofuturist signposting of the sounds used throughout the tape (disembodied Windows 98-era robot voices and shopping mall drum machines), plus those overly familiar song titles (one is plain old called ‘Japanese Game Show’). And yet Neon Beach is a distinctly pleasing listen. Rather than re-hashing vaporwave or James Ferraro tropes, Barry Helafonte in fact reallocates and redistributes said tropes/memes into more direct beatscapes, populated by cross-crossing Lego bricks of tonal colour. It's all summarised by the title title of the closing track: ‘Complex Simplicity’. Tunes like ‘Sunset’ or the title track are straight up handclapping vintage synth funkers, anchored on pitch bending baselines and the odd midi horn. It's easy to imagine there being an orphaned vocal track somewhere in search of these instrumentals (fans of Russian artist NV’s own brilliant Orange Milk release last year will know the sort of thing I mean), but these certainly work brilliantly as they are, appearing more deceptively detailed with every listen.

This mysterious epic by Malmö composer Hans Appelqvist is pretty damn overwhelming upon first encounter. MIDI orchestras, shimmering electronic caverns, darkly erotic spoken word, and even a couple of Skrillexian blasts of aggressive dubstep. What on earth is this damn thing? A sort of ‘surreal dystopian electronic opera’ would perhaps cover at least some of what’s going on here. Swimming Pool is certainly an album with multiple personality disorder, one minute evoking Laurie Anderson’s more cyborgian turns, only to then go into outright chamber music, consistently hinting at a deeply submerged narrative long lost in the translation to surreal music. ‘The Contract Signing’ and ‘Holding Water’ are actually somewhat groovy, the former utilising the sampled sound of pen on paper, the latter deploying MIDI electric guitar plucks to strangely similar effect. The title track and its eerie reprise later in the album are clear highlights too, casting Appelqvist himself as a twisted robotic narrator atop a synthesized filmic string section. The album’s clear centrepiece however, is the ten minute cinemascope epic ‘We Touch We Part We Tear Up’, deploying a jittery single repeated synth note around which Appelqvist gathers a furious storm. MIDI drums and cymbals get caught up in the tail wind, and ultimately the piece spirals right out of control and into a lattice of dispersing notes. Only a lonely piano is left behind to close the piece with tearful poise. Erratic doesn’t even begin to describe what’s happening on Swimming Pool. Orange Milk, will you ever let us down?

Caligo - Audiodidakt
(Sama Recordings)

This brand of beats-and-samples hip hop production, though now decades old, still retains so much appeal well into the 21st century. German producer Adrian "Caligo" Opok utilises thick wet warm analogue samples alongside snipped up beats and the odd bit of original instrumentation across Audiodidakt. There are even some great snippets of vintage spoken radio, the likes of which DJ Shadow well and truly rinsed throughout the 90s. Although clearly far from groundbreaking, the tape’s a real delight from reel to reel. ‘Gangarin’ lifts the main melody from late Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson’s ‘From Gagarin's Point Of View’ wholesale, whacking a beat underneath and filtering the main sample a bit up and down for less than two minutes. Elsewhere ‘Igzabea’ darkens a roots reggae snippet into a trip-hoppy three minutes, and ‘Ma Vie’ marbles a sampled brass band into a wonkily processed rhythm. It’s potentially run-of-the-mill stuff (maybe ‘old school’ or ‘traditional’ are better descriptives), but whatever you call it doesn’t stop Audiodidakt from being a damn great listen.

NOL - Anthology

This duo from Edinburgh make intensely brilliant experimental electronics, indebted to Trap music’s instrument sets and the frantic abstraction of Autechre, with the odd helping of cosy melody inspired by vintage game music. On the self-released Anthology, both opening tunes - ‘Voluxes’ segueing right into ‘Halyc’ - move at an insanely unhinged pace, pattering crunchy rhythms across the stereo field, occasionally syncopated dangerously close to slipping out of time. There’s all manner of warmer noises going on underneath, but the duo staccato open and close little virtual lids on the music, as if playing whack-a-mole at hyperspeed. Both ‘Halyc’ and ‘Flextrap’ boast contributions from guest violin and bass respectively, but these elements are snipped up and littered randomly throughout by NOL’s lightning speed methodologies. Miraculously everything holds together, creating some resemblance to the sparse production and dense pacing of footwork (except for noisy drumless interludes like ‘Idithol’). The palette is cold and sheer, like some old Star Trek sound effects package, or the early tones of musique concrète, yet the pair cut and splice and open and close the noises into such breakneck rhythms they’re almost entirely unrecognisable, and often darkly danceable. Some of the the best schizoid rhythmic electronic experiments I’ve come across in a while.

Bus Gas - Live On Leave Us
Hainbach - The Evening Hopefuls
(Spring Break Tapes)

Californian imprint Spring Break Tapes deserve some kind of reward for the sheer quality of their releases. Each is deftly curated, beautifully designed, and perfectly photographed. Even their website is cut above the average. This latest two-tape batch dives into drone-like lushness headfirst, with Nebraska collective Bus Gas gathering for two long pieces of countless overlapping loops and layers. They both run a similar cycle of build-build-BUILD-disappear, but these are truly blessed drones. The music is haunted and ghostly, as it transmitted from the otherside directly onto magnetic tape. Cycling synths pulsate and strands of lingering guitar build. The flipside ‘Infinity Cymbals’ even has the guitar enter into some epic Americana territory over the top of the mess, squalling like Neil Young’s Dead Man as performed by Stephen O’Malley. Magnificent.

Less heavy but absolutely no less staggeringly beautiful is The Evening Hopefuls by German composer Stefan Paul Goetsch’s experimental electronic project Hainbach. While working on his first piece for an orchestra, Goetsch began idly reworking snippets from rehearsal tapes, and found the quiet moments - although grating in the rehearsal space - to be pleasant in hindsight. The snippets are extrapolated via looping and editing, Goetsch overdubbing new synth parts and extra tones, crafting miniature Basinski epics and gutted Steve Reich phrases in the process. This is truly hypnotic music, and it’s perhaps even lucky the edits keep things mostly below the six minute mark, or else we could easily get sucked into these snippets for hours. "What I especially enjoy about the record," says Goetsch, "is that in many pieces there are about forty people present, sitting in an old cloister, playing my music for the first time. Electronic music can be a lonely affair, but not so in this case."

Naked (On Drugs) - This Gift
(Tombed Visions Records)

Debut albums don’t come more fully realised than this set of noir-esque jazz-punk tunes by Manchester collective Naked (On Drugs). Purportedly in the works for a good few years, the proceedings invariably linger around the gravitational pull of vocalist Sébastien Perrin. He commands a Nick Caveian presence over the songs, but similar to the Bad Seeds the backing bad prove potent voices in colouring the music. Guitarist Luke Scott nimbly flits between some Frippian noodling and reverb-laden gangsterland, bassist David White and Alexander Pierce anchor the group on some potently No Wave repetitions, while Tombed Visions label runner (and Gnod’s part time sax man) David McLean along with Perrin litter the foreground with saxophones, bass clarinets, pianos, and synthesizers.

Photograph of Naked (On Drugs) taken by Renan Péron

Tunes like ‘The Hair Suit’ are chaotically funky in that James Chance or Lounge Lizards sort of way, while ‘Boudoir Fingers’ is a demonic jazz club nightmare, backlit and drenched in cigarette smoke. The title track could almost resemble a Mancunian drum-heavy Factory Records classic, were it not too psychedelic to be entirely downbeat. Perrin’s a commanding presence at every turn, pushing his voice to some really guttural extremes on the title track only to then croon as beautifully as Scott Walker on moody closer ‘The Hotel’. The songs are utterly masterful and Blue Velveteen, filled with fantastic hooks, yet drenched in a pre-Hays Code aura. Without reaching for the obvious cliches of murky sax lines or sexy guitar twangs weaving through reverbed tension (it gets pretty damn loud!), the noir-esque atmosphere is so strong one imagines the band donning both sharp suits and world weary expressions, lighting up Gauloises between tunes.

Various Artists - Self​-Identified Non​-​Male Artists Making Experimental Electronic Music
(Hylé Tapes)

What’s contained within this 34-track compilation should be relatively self-evident from the title. "The works reflect the diversity of experimental music as a field," says Hylé Tapes. "Those voices belong to women and non-binary people, whose common project is to experiment with sound, to explore its textures and combinations." It’s should be a simple almost boring statement, but that’s not the world we live in. The mission to de-bro-ify experimental music is still in its early stages - just look at this column or my very own radio show, both littered with bearded white American and British ‘guys’ - but thus far, the struggle is promising. Political statements aside, this is also just a downright killer collection, and a listen of nearly three dozen artists we’re going to want to keep an eye on.

The opening track alone by Abençoada is stunningly powerful, featuring near-unaccompanied modulated vocals heading funereally into the abyss. The same mantle is picked up later by Ambrosia Bartosekulva on ‘MILK’, a confused mess of distorted and process overlapping vocals - and the voices continually play a key role throughout the collection - I guess there’s little in music more historically tied to gender than the voice. There’s also plenty of shimmering synth scapes, modular bleep experiments, (Christine Webster’s ‘A Bird Meme’ is distinctly excellent at making electronics sound like birdsong), and plenty of weirdo techno. Yokonono (aka Italian artist Cristiana Palandri) aptly closes out the tape with a breezy blend of housey beats and vocal murmurings. Damn it, there’s really too many highlights to name (it’s a triple cassette release for goodness sake - that’s 3 x C60 tapes), so your best bet is to grab one of the remaining copies and start googling the artist names yourself. This album will make a perfect good starting point for your next shopping spree.

Forest Walker - UV Sea
(Constellation Tatsu)

American minimalists like Steve Reich are so often cited as a major influence it seems now bunk to bother - but the shuddering beds beneath Forest Walker’s sprawling new age-like compositions are actually worthy of the comparison. UV Sea’s opener ‘Desert Lighthouse’ assembles a netting of synth notes zig-zagging over each other just like the ecstatic heart of Music For 18 Musicians, cosmically bleeding from subtle chord change to subtle chord change. Walker sprinkles yearning brass like electronics periodically overheard, and tinkles perfectly slotted in piano keys between a few musical cracks throughout the piece. In its final moments a single marimba note emerges from the delay and reverb, almost as if yanking off a mask to reveal a mutated child of Terry Riley’s In C.

Forest Walker purportedly works as a professional engineer at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions, racking up mixing credits on the likes of Planet Earth in the process, so the quality of these productions is unsurprisingly stellar. The filmic qualities are increasingly apparent on the shorter tracks, easily suitable for a deep horror or off kilter thriller score. The two longer pieces are the meat of the album though, impeccably realised and slowly exploding in musical technicolor.

Suburban Cracked Collective - These Awkward Fractions…
(Altered States Tapes)

Formerly a member of influential Australian underground outfit Castings, Suburban Cracked Collective is the latest moniker of Shaun Leacy from Newcastle, New South Wales. Since dropping a long track via London’s own Where To Now? label at the end of last year, Leacy’s already dropped a small handful of CD-Rs and tapes on various UK and Aussie labels. Melbourne’s Altered States Tapes is home to These Awkward Fractions…, a monochrome fantasy reportedly built from loops, guitar, and ‘electronics’. Some of his other recent releases such as the Basquiat Upon The RSL CD-R dropped via Aetheric Records in the UK approached each single piece more head on and single mindedly - i.e. the ‘drone’ tracks really droned, the ‘noise’ tracks were really noisy, and the ‘pretty’ tracks were really pretty - but each track on These Awkward Fractions… is more like a concrete mixer into which Leacy happily chucks a bit of everything.

‘How'd It Come To This?’ mixes freeform fumbling sounds with what could be a cut from the legendarily beautiful meet-up between Richard Youngs & Kawabata Makoto, arpeggios cycling over the horizon while the needle is increasingly buried by lo-fidelity and imminent distortion. ‘Dummud’ is a gentle ritual of tribal sticky drum repetitions and whirring synths klaxons. The final track ‘Holiday Makers’ is somewhat inevitably the most impressive of the lot, breaching the 11-minute mark on a true psychedelic excursion that somehow starts with randomised bleeps and ends with epic noise guitar squall and stoned echo drumming.