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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Your Tape Reviews For March
Tristan Bath , March 20th, 2019 08:18

Tapes are filling up with emotional purges, Polish synth dirges, and Portuguese ambient mergers in this month’s roundup of choice cassette releases, picked by Tristan Bath

A large chunk of a recent episode of Spool’s Out Radio was dedicated to a recording of a live set by Nottingham-based artist Bredbeddle (aka Rebecca Lee), made last year at Primary in Nottingham. Lee makes has made music using variety of systematic methods in the past, but Bredbeddle focuses on collages made by "organising ideas from different musical situations/scenes". This recording represents the first live appearance of the project, which appeared in this column’s Tapes Of The Year 2019 list.

Head over to spools-out.com, or the Resonance FM website to find out more about the show. This episode and others can still be streamed in full via the above, as well as via podcast.

Cyberspace representing a place for self-help isn’t as dumb as your 21st century gut might think. While it more often seems a place better suited to the back pages of Dante’s Inferno these days, the synthetic places explored on You’ll Always Stay Beautiful by Broshuda were designed solely to make us feel better. Robotic voices abound, whispering encouragement and warm advice over the top of heaven-sent bitcrushed ambience, drifting out across a single half hour collage.

"Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things," says the bot. "If you want to go somewhere you like, but no-one else wants to, go by yourself - you’ll meet people with similar interests as you."

Hell I’ll say it, I was reminded of Baz Luhrmann’s 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)' at first - but a version squished through a mesh of dodgy car radio speakers, mired in weed smoke, and remixed by Fennesz after a couple of bottles of wine. Graphic-artist-slash-producer Broshuda, has such a uniquely well developed voice as a music-maker, steering firmly between dreamy electronic instrumentals and outright atonal sound art, that it outstrips all comparison. This is his firmest and fullest aesthetic statement so far, teeming with sonic material in varying states of disrepair, yet constantly anchored by its sheer melodic beauty.

As the piece progresses, it’s possible to detect a sense of cynicism buried inside all that self-help guff, as if Broshuda sees as dystopia and the death of human interaction behind the idea of being reassured by a machine (the text-to-speech samples all originated with a self-help Twitter bot). To me though, the closing coda seems more hopeful than worrisome; either that or I’m drinking the robotic help Kool-Aid a bit too easily I guess.

Hailing from Kraków, Akpatok Ensemble (the duo of Dawid & Nina Adrjanczyk) remind me of the meditative bliss I first experienced checking out Nico’s Desertshore. Dawid’s electronic organ powerfully drones onwards for five, ten, fifteen minutes at a time, Nina gradually entering and leaving with a mixture of wordless improvisation and moody, poetic, secular mass (check out ‘IV’). The duo refer to these as "micro movements", referring to "organic fluctuations between voice and electric organ". It’s emotionally muscular music. The duo are underselling the melodicism of their own performances. Dawid’s organ pushing is musically chunky, with wads of heavy bass vibrating throughout this live recording, and all of his melodies relying on user-friendly ostinati and repetitions.

The reverb and reverence of the space where this was recorded - an excellent venue called Punctum located in Prague’s Žižkov district - does the sparse music great justice. Notably, this tape comes from the venue’s own in-house series of live recordings (the third of four) and actually dates back to 2017. Hopefully the patience and persistence this music requires hasn’t dissipated from Akpatok Ensemble during the intervening period.

Dis Fig taps right into something industrial and noise music has always been good at providing space for: a good old Purge! This ain’t just your run-of-the-mill wall of power electronics and angry screams though, Dis Fig’s range is surprisingly undogmatic, including synthetic brass sections, flutes, and piles of quiet. She weaves them all into dramatic theatrical shorts underpinning what she’s described as the "first experiments with her own vocals on tracks". The result is an idiosyncratic mash-up of industrial tropes, sunken club beats, and cinematic sound-design histrionics.

Despite being purportedly new to this kind of singing, Dis Fig’s vocal performances are actually perhaps the outright best part of this tape. The deranged beats and rugged bass behind it all are familiar, but her unintelligible moaned and groaned lyrics on ‘Unleash’ come from a rarely-reached emotional spot. She manages to vocalise the nuanced strangeness of frustration, irritation, hatred, and sadness, which can all come at once, and when they do it can be without deserving a pure scream or a weep.

Along with rough noise, the album’s got plenty of creaking beauty - which the similar likes of Puce Mary have been tilting towards of late - plus lashings of ear-piercing sine waves. Press your ear close to the title track, and inside its subtleties - wordless echoey voices, tentacles of keyboard notes, piercing quiet tones - is the most emotionally damaging track of the album. It represents the flipside of that outright sense or purging, a state which reveals itself during the closing thuds of final track ‘I Am The Tree’. One of the more original debuts I’ve come across in recent months, and an introverted noise play bound to reveal more to me as those spools keep on turnin’.

The many layers of framing behind the modern listening experience, the DAW compressors, press release afterthoughts, zeitgeisty themes, it can make one feel so much distance from the reality of the music. This is, of course, by design. The reality is often just a 23-year old trust fund kid, fresh in Berlin, bashing MIDI trigger keys between bong hits, and thus ain’t all that compelling. Dr Fate however, seems to have made music that invites the listener right into his little workspace, pulls up a comfy armchair, hands you a cup of tea, and happily shows you what he’s been up to. A project by Californian multi-instrumentalist Joe Santa Maria, Snow Crash by Dr Fate brims with neat little ideas and multi-tracked saxes and oboes, bursting with a spontaneous life and colour.

There are wonky synth bleeps, echoey keyboards, and jolly chamber ensembles of woodwind, all composed with both skill and wide eyes. And then there’s the closing track of side A, a laughable little ditty about eating pastries, executed like a bad take at the karaoke machine at around 3:36AM. Side B brings in more dreamy post-production, but the tape is still define by a warm atmosphere, accented by those multi tracked woodwinds - surely one of the lushest sounds in music. This one draws massive power from its potent feeling of simple musical discovery, and the sense that we’ve being warmly invited to along for the ride.

Originally seemingly under the name Non-Human Persons in Warsaw - now shifted to Berlin and renamed NNHMN - the duo of Lee and Michal Laudarg make a haunted sort of grey, dark, and emotionally heavy electronic music. It reminds me of a time I found myself wandering across a rainy Alexanderplatz, hungover, kick drum from the night before at the back of my mind. Singer Lee’s vocals are kept at a slight distance compared to Michal’s instrumentals, rendering her voice the subconscious, lost in guilt, daydreams, memories.

‘Love Is Dead’ is a tune that appears in a different form at each end of the album, resembling an outtake from the Roadhouse sessions in Twin Peaks, Lee’s voice glistening out over an ocean of reverb, synth pop slow dancing, and distant industrial keyboard whirrs. The second version at the end of the tape buries the track and doubles the kick drum pace - essentially a slight dub techno rework. Apt considering the duo’s mood, if a little unnecessary. Elsewhere NNHMN enter less familiar Lynchian territory, blending further dub techno rumblings with distant dream pop aesthetics. ‘Fountain Of Myrrh’ has them caught in a stasis of tidal synth motions and key washes, and opener ‘Selfhate’ is a ritualistic meditation of wordless errs and booms that gradually blossoms over three mindful minutes.

Two chaps from Catalonia and England respectively end up jamming electric guitar duets in Lisbon. We’ve heard it all before, right? The duo of Andreu G. Serra (Ubaldo, Odd Labu) and Kiran Leonard take their name, Or Sobre Blau, from a literal Catalan translation of a Portuguese idiom, "ouro sobre azul" (blue over gold). It equates roughly ‘the cherry on top’, though I’m assured that it doesn’t make total sense - which is the point of course. This idea, one of vague misunderstanding between the international pair, was also a key inspiration for the project.

It bodes well with the music, which stumbles around steadily between ideas amassed over a quick three-day jam fest made back in 2017. The pair ain’t shredding, nor are they sleeping on it like Loren Connors, and neither are they wigging out. This is all music from that in-between-y place where melody and noise overlap.

Tensions arise, such as on ‘Do Sagrado Coração’ (sacred heart) where we encounter heavy strums circling menacingly, but this simply jump cuts to ‘Da Memória’ (from memory), replacing anger with sustained tones and thoughtful plucks. It’s an almanac of ideas, thoughts and moods, contrasted and compared for effect; the sound of two guitarists sizing each other up and learning something new themselves in the process. It’s how learning a new language works I guess. The increasingly angular final tracks have guitar notes splintering into slow-moving solos, abandoning safer melodies and rhythms for razor-edged sonic ideas. The pair ultimately work in greater harmony than they should, and the gaps between the two guitars make for the music’s most essential moments, where confusion turns out to be in fact great realisation.

Another sonically investigative duo from Portugal drawing strength from their contrasts, HRNS (pronounced as ‘harness’) is Rui P. Andrade & Farwarmth. Both artists have previously releases solo music via London-based ambient tape imprint (and Spool’s Out regular) ACR, and this time the duo are christening a fresh ACR offshoot named warm winters ltd. Comparing their previous output, Andrade’s work is mostly characterised by its delicate nature and sensitivity, making use of quiet-yet-aggressive low frequencies, along with delicate field recordings shielding denser emotional content. Farwarmth by comparison has made music which bursts with fire and electronic action, swirling together dabs of synth music into heavy and heavy instrumentals.

As HRNS however, the duo end up in a beautiful halfway house, buoying their sounds with Farwarmth’s ecstatic sense of celestial electronic melody, while Andrade’s brand of leering, sinister, or frail sound design hides inside like a Magic Eye trick. Tunes like ‘Swan Palace’ even add a fresh autotuned vocal line alongside seagulls cawing up on high while synthesized waves bob down below. Also, closing track ‘Angeles’ (probably inadvertently) seems to nod to a massive sonic influence in Vangelis at his very slowest. There’s an impressionistic worldview behind this music, as if the listener is drifting through the world helplessly, surrounded on all sides by a hurricane of emotions every day. HRNS extract a mountain of suggested meaning and feeling from some relatively simple elements, presented calmly and patiently for you to soak up. Set aside some time to stick this one in the ghetto blaster after dark, and have a long, slow think.

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