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Spool's Out

Spool's Out: Cassette Reviews For January By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , February 4th, 2020 11:57

Tristan Bath looks over this month’s best tapes including ambient sax entropy, a nightmarish trip to a German partykeller, lingering ancestral whispers from Northern Ireland plus krautrock recorded in 1993 at a Lake District cottage

Catherine Debard has been a quiet constant on Montréal’s underground scene for a while, recording as YlangYlang. Among the various reported benefits of the essential oil after which she named her musical project, are both pain relief, and improvements to both mood and libido. I’d argue that YlangYlang (the musician) could well help out with all of the above too, and more.

YlangYlang’s been swimming around between various electronic vibes over her many releases to date, breaching the surface of the ambient and abstract, or composing more rigid tracks of bedroom pop – the entire process often united by a distinct style of singspeak.

Interplay however, feels like a huge step forward. Here, Debard ropes in a host of guest instrumentalists to flesh out her various DIY beats, synthy pads and melodic licks, adding in saxophone, strings, santur, flutes, double bass, and rich brass.

The result, as heard on lead track ‘Limitless’, is some really soaring work. ‘The Key’ shifts through passages of cosmic synth bleep and a string interlude that emotionally sweeps you off your feet. ‘Motion’ is an ambient instrumental full of wind chime tones, blissful keyboard washes, and a plucked string so creaky it sounds like an iced-in ship.

‘Our Provisional’ notably features some stunning Arve Henriksen-esque trumpet from guest player Aaron Hutchinson. Musically, the album’s utterly free and breezy, with the vast array of luscious orchestral and synthetic timbres interleaving around a vaporous rhythmic pulse, the melodies and chords somehow collaged together without seeming atonal, and Debard’s own vocal delivery abandoning strict tunes and pristine delivery in favour of an infectiously blissed out grin behind every word.

Inspired by Danish poet Inger Christensen, Debard’s sing-speaking throughout the album seems to muse on flailing relationships and broken hearts, or as she describes it on one song, “drifting away from language” in search of bliss. Interplay is a thoroughly exceptional outing, due to Debard’s uncanny ability to glue together loose experimentalism and cosy melody with the sheer warmth of her dreamy persona.

The realm of sax-and-looper music stretches back at least a few decades, best typified by Dickie Landry’s recently reissued Fifteen Saxophones; Terry Riley jamming with himself back in the day; and more obliquely to Gilbert Artman’s Urban Sax recordings. (Those were in fact ensembles, but it sounds the part.) While that was all done back in the glorious bell-bottomed heyday of the 1970s, here in the proto-fascist horror of 2020, Canadian-born Londoner and theatre-maker Christopher Brett Bailey is tapping into the form in search of... well... puns and peace if you will.

The track titles of Sax Offender is where the laughs come to a swift stop. The music on lengthy tracks such as ‘Sax Obsessed’ and ‘Sax Worker’ is for the most part comprised of slow saxophone solos, unwinding for minutes at a stretch. Far from some textural virtuosic exploration a la contemporaries like Lea Bertucci, Bailey’s simple melodic explorations are stretched into a winding ambient orchestra through the means of delay, looper, and octave pedals.

Bailey’s been responsible for some compelling theatrical works, focusing in on his words, but here Bailey manages to extract tension and drama from chaotic sheets of saxophone, twinkling in delay-pedal-space like distant stars. Things get especially doomy on closing track ‘Sax Pest’ (perhaps aptly?), veering into some Sunn O)))-ish stretches of barely shifting, bleakly droning sax hell. The entire thing is surprisingly engaging considering its simple formula, painting vast Rothko-esque visions in FX pedal entropy.

Culture can sometimes feel like a stretch of bogland, teeming with both living breathing lifeforms, and built on submerged dead matter. It’s something of a time capsule in any case, and plunging our hands beneath its surface can reveal long-forgotten ancestral remnants. Its a theme running through the work of Northern Irish, London-based producer ‘An Trinse, and an obsession he discovered was shared with Sardinian Londoner and fellow ambient conceptualist, Il Santo Bevitore. “The more they spoke of their histories, the more interesting synchronicities showed themselves,” explains the text with the tape, “even so far as some of the oldest humans found in what is currently Northern Ireland, dating from 5,000 years ago, and whose closest relatives are the inhabitants of Sardinia.” This mixed split/collaboration from the two seems to have been something of an inevitability after their paths crossed.

The result is something of a swap of styles too, with ‘An Trinse’s side diverting into some ritualistic rhythms in the heart of a damp landscape of bass & fuzz, all of the sort one would usually expect from Il Santo Bevitore. The latter’s contribution is a shorter and sharper blast of beatless noise, ‘Interferenze possibili’, more similar to ‘An Trinse’s own earlier excursions. The final track is a remix of ‘Interferenze possibili’ by ‘An Trinse, and it’s the best moment of the meetup. Il Santo Bevitore nightmarish noise is subdued by ‘An Trinse, allotting them with the use of a single bashing and ancient drum. The drum ushers the noise through a series of evolutions and dissolutions until what’s left behind is a heavenly set of “tone clusters derived from Irish folk music”. The violence, dread, and erosion of history – particularly the history of downtrodden and erased cultures – here fuel some magnificent and emotionally-charged electronic noise.

All the way back in 1993, these recordings of rough and rugged rhythmic rock & roll were birthed in a cottage near Brotherswater – the titular body of water in the Hartsop Valley, in the eastern region of the Lake District. Bushpilot rose from the ashes of two noisy Leeds bands – Spectral Alice and Purple Eternal – the gang distilling the same kind of wig-out ayahuasca rock that The Heads were bringing to Bristol, or Terminal Cheesecake to London around the same time. Grunge’s rise seemingly did away with this burgeoning psychedelia in nineties guitar-land – so these raw and distinctly krautrock and Fall-inspired sounds of Bushpilot feel like a hidden history of what could have been for the era.

As opening track ‘Over The Earth I Come’ drops, the direct influence of Mooney-era Can is instantly recognisable. Vocalist Ross Holloway channels Malcolm Mooney’s panting restless stream-of-consciousness, while drummer (and future Norman Records founder) Phil Leigh and drummer-turned-bassist Karl Berlin lock into a suitably cyclical and tribal rock groove straight outta the Jaki/Holger playbook.

It’s all punkified though, the two guitarists pinging and strumming away angrily; a post punk, post-noise update of the far headier early krautrock bands, happily taking place down in the grime of the basement rather than up in space. ‘Uptight’ is the heaviest offering, also diving off into some charmingly primordial psychedelic sound-effect work, and the entire thing notably closes out with a 14-minute improvised cover of Can’s own ‘Yoo Doo Right’. It’s mighty absurd and rough as fuck around the edges, but these guys were having a hell of a time. The track would also be covered a few years later in shouty/ grunge/ 90s mode by LA alt-country band, The Geraldine Fibbers. Bushpilot’s version is, needless to say, infinitely better. Though the group disbanded after only three years in 1996, there’s a happy ending to the story. The appearance of Live From Brotherswater is in part due to the group getting back together! “Bushpilot will be playing live in 2020,” according to their Bandcamp page.

Hidden inside the casing of Ballermann Partykeller is something far darker than images of frothing beer, balloons and a map of Mallorca would have you think. It’s emblazoned with a Comic Sans invitation to head down to the Partykeller, get in touch with your Ballermann self (a colloquialism for boozy German tourists in Mallorca – yes they do it just as much as we do frankly), and kick it Schlager-style with DJ VLK.

The J-card looks as if it could be hanging on some noticeboard by the elevators in an under maintained package holiday resort, and DJ VLK himself is represented by a suitably jolly chap behind the decks. The notes with the record from not-to-be-trusted Strategic Tape Reserve even boast how the “sonic virtual-reality party-vacation of your dreams is just one play-press away!” Be wary though, ye in search of your summer schlager party. Rather than the continuous party mix of DJ Ötzi to help you dance off that last Maß and frankfurter by the pool however, this trip into the Partykeller quickly takes a Dantean turn down a few too many flights of stairs and deep into the darkness.

This wolf in sheep’s clothing takes the molecules from which the schlager party you’ll find on Palma’s beaches and Alpine lodges alike, and disintegrates it into a woozy dreamlike ambient plod through a variety of altered states. Snippets of tracks are processed into distant memories. German voices get squashed and stretched and skewed into Godzilla roars and chipmunk squeals and spread around an echoey stereo field. Reverb soaks everything and chaos reigns, even in the sections you could actually dance to. Drop a tab, head down into a partykeller, turn the lights off, and by about the second evening – whatever you’re listening to – this is what it will start to sound like in your head. It’s perhaps an oblique take on the visceral sights, sounds, and smells of the partykeller – but I’d definitely go there.