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Spool's Out: Cassette Reviews For April By Tristan Bath
Tristan Bath , April 14th, 2020 08:03

Tristan Bath brings you his monthly roundup of cassette tapes, finding domestic bliss (and terror), purpose-built for self-isolation with a disinfected walkman

Like some of the other tapes in this month’s column, the music of Home Baker finds itself appropriately inspired by the domestic world – a limbo we’re all stuck in for the meantime, it would seem. But while it gets grey and weird for Hannya White, impressionistic for M-G Dysfunction and outright psychedelic for Morast and his machines, Austin-based artist Home Baker builds a comforting soundtrack for – and from – home.

Walter Nichols (half of Emme, a delightful pop duo well worth checking out while we’re at it) seems to have created his solo project during those in-between moments of the baking process (look, he’s from Austin, so of course he’s making bread, get over it).

The music here is a cuddly and cosy scrapbook of matter, lovingly pasted together. The plinky tones of an ageing piano are sampled into a pulse on the eponymous opening track, while myriad synth voicings throw bubbly melodies in from all sides, slowly. Sampled voices feature too, of the sort that could come from a YouTube clip, looping idly away from a laptop somewhere in the kitchen.

The music’s simply overflowing with good vibes, usually only found in such a copious offering in the waiting room of a Nintendo console. The longer-form ‘Liquid Levain’ sprinkles creeping saxophone mumblings below its psychedelic flower petals that blossom around the track. ‘I Will’ keeps the chorus of sax in hand, but adds more cutting and pasting to fit in a bunch of beats, vocal snippets, and a (synthetic?) bagpipe, resembling East Coast foundational folktronica outfit The Books.

Stages feels irrevocably linked to the process that produced it – with bread slowly proving in the corner of a sunlit kitchen, Nichols clasps his saxophone in front of his laptop on the counter. Patience, comfort, and a sense of domestic bliss seep out of these tracks. Definitely a good soundtrack for self-isolation.

This trio of improvisers from Dublin invoke a kind of mystical horror normally only dripped into my skull by the grain, paint-red blood, and dodgy dubbing of 70s horror flicks. Zeropunkt fit in well with the often creepy, sometimes noisy, always intriguing world of Dublin imprint Fort Evil Fruit.

Throughout the opening track, ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, a distorted organ crawls ahead like a growing patch of damp, while wandering bass and drums eerily fail to fall into step. The organ gets swapped for sax on track two, this house-of-horrors tour building in energy. Things get more abstract on ‘Luxury Junk’, with the random wobble of bass replaced by stream-of-consciousness strands of synth noise. The trio move in thoroughly mysterious ways – sax encased in a lick of echo, drums skittering away in the corner, bass or synths mumbling along incoherently.

The likes of Sun Ra’s Strange Strings, or Sun City Girls’ 330,003 Crossdressers From Beyond The Rig Veda have touched upon similar fertile ground. Located between mystical horror, soundtrack aping, free jazz and no wave fumbling, such experiments in letting go and embracing one’s inner demon seem always to yield intensely psychedelic results, just like Zeropunkt on Future Perfect Continuous. This apocalypse we’re in sure is weird, so this makes an apt backing for watching it all unfold.

The quivering and gutted techno of Morast feels more like a cyborg mashup or human-computer collaboration than the work of a “producer”. The absorbing results of Morast’s process have their roots in the Austrian artist’s jams with his own Pure Data patch, aiming – at first – to build techno. The flaws in the programme wound up sapping up his attention though, with Morast ultimately branching out with his setup and software, diverting down noisy passages which have lead him away from the main dancefloor and into that odd space at the back of the proverbial club, where they never bother even listing who’s playing. Check out the endearingly titled ‘Drink From Your Own Liquids Until You Suffocate’, where a booming kick tries to pummel its way through a feedback lattice of static humming, never managing to loop but remaining thoroughly loopy. This is an exchange between a machine (dance music) and its demonic master (Morast), like a Boston Dynamics automaton dog being prodded by a broom.

Though based in improvisations and brimming with rhythmic tension, the music leans, above all, on its vigorous and lo-fi sound. The title track yearns to live – like a lightless room opening up before one’s eyes as you get used to the dark. Dull kick-thuds underpin synthesized lines unfurling around their note, while dissonant pads amass like storm clouds and buzzes and beeps encircle the stereo space, as if Morast’s machines are trying to make direct contact with the listener. It’s a statement by an artist feeling their way around an odd little system of their own making, pushing away techno tropes and ushering in as many spontaneous and thought-provoking inquiries into rhythm and colour as possible. The result lingers far more than expected, and this feels like the beginning of an experiment far too compelling to give up on any time soon. (Nudge nudge, Morast.)

I feel like Fred M-G – here crediting himself as M-G Dysfunction – is a bit harsh on his own music. The musician from Leeds makes it clear how he looks back on this project and these recordings as remnants from his mid-20s, full of "pseudo-intellectual anti-music schtick" stemming from the more dysfunctional side of his personality. "I’d much rather I didn’t have to engage with these sides of myself," says Fred, "that I could just get on with living my life in a relatively uncomplicated way." I, however, find the results brutally honest and innocent. These experiments are often sonically extreme, but the experience remains warm and intimate, with Fred almost a timid toddler afraid to show us his painting. He need not worry.

Released on Leeds-based imprint Don’t Drone Alone, it’s unsurprising the extent to which the drone is a building block in these four compositions. This ain’t drone music though, it’s kosmische musik for the home; intimate personal cosmoses brought to life with bits of kit found around the modern music-maker’s flat. The songs’ beds consists of drum machines sped up and pushed to their limit, until flittering percussion hits turn into textures along with various instrumentation, echo effects and a vinyl player sped-up and slowed-down by hand. Opener ‘What’s Practical’ gathers dubby echoes and unnamable matter into a wobbly constellation of humming noise, until acoustic guitar plucks and Fred’s whispering voice usher in a sonic sunrise. ‘What The Hell’ sees distant snippets crisscross spoken words, while malfunctioning drum machine rhythms patter away inside a shuddering wall of drones. Fred’s too harsh on himself, man. This music is pure wide-eyed experimentation, capturing uncertainty, fear, and the warmth of home in four surprisingly listenable chunks of shimmering sounds.

The haunting anonymity and vaporous persona of Hannya White somehow extends to the music itself. Shards of bedroom pop songs and techno production are present, but allotted with an oblique strangeness that defies genrefication. Synth strings awkwardly loom throughout the title track, while a kick drum pulses out strings of morse code techno beneath it all. "Who put the flowers in the garden?" inquires a female voice (safe to assume it’s Hannya), in a tough-to-locate accent. "So beautiful." There’s not much to the song beyond these elements, plus a repeated keyboard arpeggio – but it’s almost like a cubist protrusion of an idea for a pop tune, presented as nothing more than a sparse nocturnal emission of haunted remembrances. So continues much of the tape, with rumblings of home-recorded chit-chat and keyboard pulsations occurring in indeterminate parallel.

The effect is pretty terrifying too, in a Dead Man’s Shoes kind of way. It readily embodies the "grey mornings over a desolate landscape once the drugs stopped working", as the artist's label puts it. This is pop- and techno-songwriting exploded and reassembled almost indiscriminately, but the outcome synthesizes something deeply compelling from its woozy, foggy thoughts. It’s a soundtrack for the quiet, post-industrial panic that simmers quietly behind all we do. File alongside the strangest wings of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s work as an odd tape well-suited to being pored over.

The sense of impending doom in this apocalyptic soundtrack to a multimedia performance/ballet by Colombian composer Julián Moreno can’t help but seem apt right now. Parts of the music – that yearning cello on ‘Primavera’ – could fit in alongside the Erased Tapes, neo-classical crowd, but Moreno is more often than not taking his orchestral ensemble into more eclectic and uncharted territory. That very same track, which starts off like a mournful Elgar concerto, closes with a spiritual jazz crawl with saxophone arpeggios and live electronics from the composer himself. ‘Ensordecer’ similarly uses heavy rock drumming alongside a gathering wall of drones and guitar/sax fuzz, like GY!BE at half volume. Colin Stetson-esque sax swirls are also to be found here. There’s a ritualistic element to the music, and one imagines it was extremely exciting with the visual element too. But it holds its own, for sure, and feels like an extension of the post rock universe to include fresh vibes and colours into a vision full of grandeur. It has a happy ending too – even though the piece largely "deals with death and human mortality in its entirety", it seems to find something beautiful in the process. Well worth consideration right now, eh?