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Spool's Out: Cassette Reviews For July By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , July 22nd, 2019 07:16

Tristan Bath summarises July’s best cassette releases by picking six ambitious tapes from the increasingly blurred boundaries of noise, folk, sound art, poetry, and improvisation

This duo comprises the fruitful collaboration between two of West Yorkshire’s noisy experimental keystones. Sophie Cooper and Julian Bradley have both already spent many a year inverting and interweaving folk and noise tropes under the ‘underground’ umbrella, often in a constantly evolving, and very loose knit collective of residents, visitors, and mates in the Calder Valley. Thus, the solidification of this duo into an ongoing project dubbed The Slowest lift is every bit as organic as one would expect – yet it manages to add a distinct new strand to a widening musical palette.

Bradley has been one of the key figures behind the earthquake drones of the Vibracathedral Orchestra since its get-go two decades back, thus it’s no surprise the extent to which these songs rely on viscous tectonic plates of fuzz and near-frozen chord movements. On ‘Take Off Your Badge’ a distorted synth line pulsates as a small choir of multi-tracked Sophie Coopers gathers, chanting poetically potent slogans across the stereo field: “You shouldn’t call me... take off your badge… I miss the sunshine.” The duo slowly lift the lid during the track, unleashing a whirlwind of gnarly fuzz wig out. (Is it guitar? Is it keys? It matters not.) The hailstorm dies down, leaving behind that distorted melodic line, cycling onward, only to be suddenly cut off.

The tracks are relatively short for this kind of operation too (only the accursed squall of the closing title track breaks the six-minute mark), each one feeling trim and pre-meditated for maximum potency. By this point, both Cooper and Bradley are seasoned vets of noise-folk, psych-drone, and everything in-between, but Plutonic Shine ranks amongst the most direct work by either artist. Also – this self-released tape edition will in fact be issued on vinyl some time in the future too, but surely the hissy warmth of magnetic tape is the only true way to experience Plutonic Shine?

Renato Grieco comes from Naples – but you’d never ever get any of that from his music. Hell, you could’ve told me that some of this stuff doesn’t even come from planet Earth and I'd have believed it if it said so on the J-card. This double cassette of emanations released under the pseudonym kNN stems from various bits of work Grieco’s done utilizing magnetic tapes. Sounds are collaged and cut and looped and sewn together, all mired in the murmuring sonic aesthetic of spools of tape. To put it more descriptively perhaps, these sounds are pondered upon and reimagined.

“Edges of memory that undergo the most arbitrary of assemblages to exhale their last magnetic breath" is how Grieco fittingly describes the first tape, queste cose non avvennero mai ma sono sempre (roughly translating to something like, ‘these things never happened but they always are’). It’s the more mystical of the two, at points sounding like an intergalactic radio telescope has picked up a choral ceremony from the other side of the milky way. ‘Back Pink Poem’ and ‘Cane Fra le Fate’ both focus on faint bell-like tones quietly shimmering like the glisten of distant nebulae spotted lightyears away. ‘Vernacolaria’ and ‘Cono d'Ombra’ introduce a more orchestral hum beneath the increasingly intrusive presence of tape wobble and analogue glitches.

The second tape, rlecchinesque (presumably a mashed up reference to the Italian ‘arlecchinesco’, meaning ‘harlequinesque’) is far more down to Earth, featuring Grieco utilising the portable tape recorder as a diary, overlapping and dipping into the same tape repeatedly over the course of a month to capture surrounding noises. The two resultant sidelong montages are a beautiful ferromagnetic mess, revealing no long form narrative, but rather showing (or perhaps creating) fresh details inside every sound – from the speed variation wheezing of rushing water, to the interference hum caught during what sounds like a car ride. Similar to the work of North Italian Carlo Giustini (covered previously in this column), kNN uses magnetic tape like an infra-red lens, revealing a parallel cosmos of sound from the mundane hum of everyday life.

With their second release and first full-length, YATTA storms into view as a key figure in a current evolution in the overlapping lexicons of digipoetry, electronic montage, and musical improvisation. Similar to the likes of Klein or Eartheater, echoes of R&B pop and noise music thrive within perplexing musique concrète structures. This music owes as much to Sonic Youth’s Confusion Is Sex as it does Erykah Badu, joining the aforementioned generation of musicians in pioneering fresh ways of exploring rich cultural and personal themes in illogical sonic shapes.

The Sierra Leonean-American YATTA plots a route through WAHALA like an art exhibition, presenting each piece as a collection of thoughts sewn together in a colourful fashion. It’s certainly never dull, and while it never truly slips into anything resembling a banger or poppy tune, it fires out enough bassy thuds and sketched out beats (as on ‘Rollin’) to keep listeners hypnotised. Voices also flood the record, with YATTA’s words variably fired through cyborgian effects, spiritualized incantations, and theatrical readings, often taking the form of memorable and potent one-liners. They do a brilliant job of pointing to the heart of YATTA’s chosen themes in limited space; in this case themes of “being black, being trans, and being African on foreign land”, as YATTA describes. It’s best typified by two searing lines that overlap on the outward crawl of ‘Cowboys’: “Cowboys are black, and techno is too / Artsy black girls are like Pokémon, gotta catch ‘em all.”

While chaos is something of an aesthetic choice here, disintegrating the material into a dreamy, psychedelic, and often anti-musical potpourri of thoughts, this only strengthens its vibe and message. It’s like climbing inside YATTA’s mind, words and ideas butting up against each other, whispered melodies lingering unfinished between a sonic mulch of processed samples. ‘I Will Definitely Feel Good’ is perhaps the most uplifting moment on a record stuck between hope, despair, humour, and anger. YATTA’s stacked vocals delicately wrap around themselves, repeating the song’s title like a quiet prayer.

London-based The Leaf Library set their controls for the heart of your heart on this blissful album-and-a-half of sweeping ambience, delicate field recordings, and airy vocals. The title track of About Minerals should give you a good idea where we’re headed with the outfit (here a quartet of two instrumentalists and two vocalists), Kate Gibson and Melinda Bronstein chanting harmonised musings atop a single shimmering synth chord and birdsong: “Keep me cool / keep me watered / I’m spinning around." It’s like my entry for last week’s game of Fantasy Dream Pop Outfit down the pub came to life, resembling as it does Julee Cruise and Trish Keenan guesting on Fennesz’s Endless Summer.

They continue on in this vein, marbling various levels of duo vocals through cirrus clouds of heavenly keys, guitars, and violin, creating minimal dreamscapes it’s infinitely easy to get lost in. Little as there is to it, the group’s sheer patience and commitment to soaring, ambience is something to behold, and lends the gentlest of shifts – such as the menacing rhythmic bounce of ‘An Edge, An Ending’ near the end of the album’s first half – awesome dramatic amounts of power. The second half of the album comprises the three-part 'Mineral Bloom’, and over the course of 45-minutes the band spend even more time going nowhere even slower. A handful of barely identifiable tones filter past your eardrums during that time, including some steel-drum-like melodies in part two, and some whistling winds on part three. It’s a dive off into the deep end of ambient pool, but it could also be the only bliss out tape you’ll need this year.

The word ‘raw’ could have so many connotations. Uncooked? Intense? Simple? Straightforward? A chance meeting between these two improvisers in London led to an Irish tour and ultimately to this session recorded in Leitrim – and it’s raw. Emotionally it’s pure and simple and honest; musically it’s intense with ideas, never resorting to instrumental histrionics or impulsive gyrations; and sonically it’s as straightforward as you could hope. The result lends a massive, intoxicating, raga-esque power to this series of duets, in particular on the 22-minute title track spilling over onto the second side of the tape. Named after a book of illustrations completed by Irish artist Harry Clarke for Hans Christian Anderson’s eponymous The Garden Of Paradise, the improvised epic violin-and-mandola duet screeches and squeals and swells and squalls, melting between passages of heavenly plucks and cosmic scrapes. Delay pedals turn acoustic murmurs into a spiralling psychedelic gatherings of spirits.

Based in London but originally from Lyon, Agathe Max has often performed as a solo violinist (though has worked with the likes of Carla Bozulich and Alexander Tucker), while the Kiev-born / Baltimore-raised / Leitrim-based Natalia Beylis plays mandola in freeform trio Woven Skull (plus various other experimental projects and a label). Thus both artists share musical DNA as open-ended improvisers whose instruments yank them firmly towards folk traditions, and both live away from home. The music reflects this too – rambling through the cosmos while hinting at musical traditions almost like spirits emerging from inside the instruments themselves. Beylis plays an aging piano on two shorter tracks, her fingers tinkling through modes like the ringing of miniature church bells above a creaking horizon from Max’s arco violin strings. The opening track is notably raw too, Beylis pushing the oud-like cümbü (an instrument of modern Turkish origin) through effects while Max scrapes her instrument into submission. This is an exceptional tape of instrumental incantations and explorations that delve into freeform string-instrument landscapes. These landscapes remain surprisingly fertile ground too it would seem – let’s hope Max and Beylis stay in touch and discover more.

It’s not entirely clear, but this incredibly well realised tape on Atlanta’s Already Dead Tapes, though often sounding like a full band, appears to be the work of a single artist (plus a couple of guests perhaps) working under the name of Carey. The rhythms and song structures drop into odd little 5/4 moments, and a rhythm section of plodding deep bass phrases and tight/loose jazzy drums underpin a wild blend of breakneck piano lines, vibraphones, grinding keyboards, dreamy zither plucks, clarinet hums, and much else besides. This ain’t no cold and nerdy math rock album for music school kids though – this one brings to mind all manner of times and places, from folksy steam trains tearing through the countryside to futuristic ladies and gentlemen floating together in space.

The instrumental complexity isn’t everything on this record, but it’s pretty staggering the breadth of the palette The Driver sits back on. Forward motion floods the album from the get-go, and the title track introduces a moody restful lead vocal. The words and voices take a backseat more often than not though, the title track for example firmly belonging to a soaring synth solo. Instrumental track ‘You Never Answered Our Question’ is quite possibly the highlight too – an impossibly well-made and propulsive dance for dizzying piano arpeggios – but the vocals poetically put the album into perspective on moody closer, ‘Guilty Dreamer’. It’s an ode to the restlessness that makes such an undertaking as this massive-yet-lowkey epic impossible for the artist(s) not to make. In hushed tones, a male and female vocal duo stumble through a wonky melody: “I’m so restless! I am so caught up in it!” It’s an apt summary of the album’s feel, buzzing with musical ideas and restless energy, and so very easy to get caught up in.