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Spool's Out

Spool’s Out: Cassette Reviews For March By Daryl Worthington
Daryl Worthington , March 5th, 2024 09:59

Tradition defying bagpipes, failed field recordings of frogs, shimmering post punk and deep electronics from a hair salon in this month’s cassette reviews

Grimório De Abril

Carme López uses drones to disrupt rather than prolong on Quintela. A performer, teacher and researcher of Galician music, she turned to the region’s bagpipes with the goal of freeing them from a heritage which she suggests is typically male-dominated. Across these six tracks, theory matches practice, form matches concept. López is methodical as she makes audible a challenge not only to the history of Galician bagpipes, but perhaps the idea of tradition itself.

On the opening ‘Prologue’ we hear the bagpipes sound very bagpipey. It’s a provocation. López establishes what she’s working with, and perhaps highlights our own assumptions on what traditional music sounds like. From there she refines the instrument’s tones down to their base components. On ‘QU​É​? A Betty Chaos’, we initially hear nothing but air passing through a cavity. Rasps and whistling high frequencies eventually form, but they sound a million miles away from the jovial sentimentality of the opener. In later tracks, slowly undulating tones sprout mesmerising phantom frequencies, as though López is asking us to listen to what exists in music but evades transcription. For ‘CACHELOS. A César de Farbán’, a low, organ-like drone is accompanied by knocks and rattles on wood. It’s a poignant gesture. Is the instrument being reassembled before our ears, or is López smacking and hammering at it to try and break it apart? The message, perhaps, is one can’t come without the other. The album’s arc goes into the deep history of music to speculate on its future. The only way to evade tradition is perhaps by finding where its seeds were first planted.

On the closing ‘Epilogue’, we hear bagpipe melodies again, fired through a swell of drones. López reintroduces some of what we might expect from the instrument, but after the preceding tracks we can’t help but listen in a different way. It’s unusual for an artist to make the process of deconstruction so transparent, even rarer that it’s so moving. Quintela carries resonance beyond Galician music. It questions what we mean by traditional. The word itself implies a certain inertness, a sense of something time-locked and unchanging. A view from an outsider looking for esoteric sounds and missing the contexts and flux they live in. López’s music challenges us to think differently.

Grimório De Abril – Castelo d'Água
(Municipal K7)

Grimório De Abril, aka Veridiana Sanchez, writes songs unbound by horizons. On third album Castelo d'Água acoustic ballads melt into dungeon carnival music, electro lullabies, alien synthesis and bamboozling percussion. At points, there are hints of the bewitched states conjured by her fellow São Paulo residents Rakta and Deafkids, as well as the tradition-melting folk of Metá Metá and Juçara Marçal. Like Marçal, Sanchez’s songs are rooted in pop music that defies outside notions of past, future and present. Sanchez amplifies the sense of being interstitial, a grainy echo in the production giving her music a spectral shimmer. Imagine a radio stuck between two radically different stations yet somehow sounding completely in sync, and you’ll have some idea how this sounds, but the collisions on Castelo d'Água feel painstakingly composed rather than accidental. It’s a music of multitudes, defying limitations, escaping familiarity and gaining stunning coherence in the process.

Jad Atoui, Jawad Nawfal, Sharif Sehnaoui – Modern Individual
(Ruptured Records)

On Modern Individual, the Lebanese trio of Jad Atoui, Jawad Nawfal and Sharif Sehnaoui make the abrasive meditative. Their music evokes cold metallic spaces, it sounds like it’s perpetually reverberating through a derelict silo. Yet it brings unlikely serenity. On opener ‘Last Day At The Flea Market’, electricity crackles as bass and guitar start to pulse in each other’s echoes. In the background, low frequencies surge and throb to create a swaying motion. On ‘Shift The Basis Of Differentiation’ a sheet of coarse electricity yields to sonorous interplay between the stringed instruments. The trio have varied solo practices. Atoui has collaborated with Laurie Anderson and John Zorn, solo he explores the potential for plant behaviour to be used in composition. Sehnaoui is a thrilling solo guitar improviser and member of “A” Trio. Nawfal makes music solo as Munma, and has produced beats for Lebanese slam poet El Rass. Here they combine to create sounds equally resonant with AMM’s radical non-idiomatic strategies, the most greyscale ends of electronic music and the claustrophobic density of This Heat. In doing so, they extract vibrant hypnosis from bleak textures.

Roslyn Steer – Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird
(Fort Evil Fruit)

A pump organ creeps as a double bass rustles and yawns. Electronic drums play out hesitantly, almost as hesitantly as the whispered voice chanting: “Keep keep keep, keep it all.” Then, the double bass returns with a lurk to ground prickling keys and pure pneuma. Cork-based Rosyln Steer’s Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird is littered with activity. Her songs move between verdant and gothic, between ghostly voices, luminescent woodwinds and glowing keyboards. Sometimes it’s doomy. Sometimes it’s folky. Usually it’s both with a hint of the wonkily celestial. But for all this colour and movement, it most concretely evokes crevices and soggy floors as it flurries and gently glides. Dew hovering in the air and leaves falling lopsidedly to the ground. Opening yourself to her music is like standing still in a forest at night, feet rooted to the earth, as sounds natural and supernatural dance around. The album is inspired by Wallace Stevens’ poem of the same name, each track named from a different stanza. Steer’s music imbues a specific way of experiencing the outdoors. The subtlest of events are laden with stories of entropy and vitality, torrents of energy propelling even the gentlest moments and movements.

Jonathan Deasy & Àlex Reviriego – Postcards
(Crystal Mine)

Postcards is the result of a long distance collaboration between Barcelona-based bassist Àlex Reviriego and Cork-based composer and guitarist Jonathan Deasy. The former sent recordings of extended techniques he’d been exploring on double bass to the latter, who sampled and manipulated them with software he was working on. Initially, the results sound nothing like it was made on either a double bass or a computer. The first track is a tranquil space doused in a strangely maritime atmosphere. A softly whistling, chiming zone evoking gulls frozen in the air while whale calls duet with fog cushioned ship horns. Later, Reviriego’s bass becomes more recognisable as things thaw. Thudding notes liquify into webs of harp like flurries. On ‘IV’, rotating high tones sound like weather vanes being agitated by a front of low organ-like drone. It’s exploratory in the tenderest, most collaborative sense of the word. The two players’ voices melting into each other to stretch beyond the limits of the tools they use.

Roel Meelkop – Muddy Ponds
(Aloe Records)

An attempt to record the local frogs started Roel Meelkop on the journey leading to Muddy Ponds. Initially frustrated by the background sounds that interrupted his recordings, he decided to embrace them for the three tracks here. The frogs only appear on the first track, along with some birds, a surprisingly soothing electrical throb and a motorbike flying by. Meelkop’s approach puts abstracted materials into messy conversation with more mundane things. Musique concrète tactility and precision corrupted by the messy quotidian. Before the opening track’s step outside we hear what sounds like Meelkop agitatedly looking for something indoors. By the end, a smudged gong bath has arrived. On ‘Medium Pleasure’, a voice lurks behind prickly, serrated nano-rhythms. ‘Minor Particles’ has acoustic drums melting into whisps of bowed metals and curved sine tones. Meelkop’s pacing and sense of transition mean segues never jolt, but he also never stays in one place for too long. His imperfect field recordings present an intriguing perspective, where muddiness is a message in itself.

Sanctuary Of Praise – Solace

There’s something Millenarian riding through the lyrics of Sanctuary Of Praise’s second album, Solace, as if the south of England three-piece are hearing the possibility of an alternative to grey days and malaise that can’t be fully articulated yet. Their music charts failed presents, and signs of an alternative. On opener ‘A Thousand Tears’ they dream of “Another place, another time,” over strident jangle and booming drums. “I know something now, that things they’ve got to change, they’ve got to change,” twists through shimmering synths and drum machines on ‘Worth’. “I hear a voice and it shouts like thunder” over gothic kosmiche on ‘Arcadia’. While it’s easy to find reference points for their post-punk meets tattered shoegaze textures and brittle soundscapes, Solace never feels like a backwards facing pastiche. They seem to have collected the clues of a better future hidden in the archives and strung them together to find a forward facing escape route. There’s melancholy underpinning their music, yet despite the gloom their tracks trigger a serotonin rush akin to the first day of spring. It chimes effortlessly into their lyrics, frustration and elation combining into a compelling sense of urgency.

Reel World Radio – Reel World Radio
(Ono/Them There)

Reel World Radio is a mixtape of two side long collages of live turntable and effects improvisations. They furrow an intriguing middle ground between the vertiginous glitches played by Mariam Rezaei, and the more ambient leaning smudges and slowdowns of Philip Jeck. Warm drum breaks hiccup over glitched and pitch shifted keys. Snaps of vocals get gently spun forwards and back into staccato melodies. It cajoles you into listening through different perspectives, to think of sound in terms of proximity and framing. Listen closely and it’s full of acute angles and microscopic fragments tweezered into new constellations. Yet both sides of the tape flow together remarkably smoothly. It’s an odd effect, the audio equivalent of pixelation. Zoom in and you hear jagged overlaps. Zoom out and you get a blur of unlikely tones and textures.

Tombs Of Dagmar – Volume 1: URLF
(Vicious Mockery)

Volume 1: URLF is the debut release from Tombs Of Dagmar. It’s a dynamic take on dungeon synth tones and lore. The opener rides a solid bass drum, a move which in the wrong hands might seem an attempt to bring the dungeon to the dance floor but here gives the impression of ferrying you far deeper underground than a club basement. The second track’s pregnant pauses allow interlocking organ melodies to ring out with ominous clarity. On ‘The Ignorant Monks Of Molwyn’ vocals are sufficiently tarnished to sound genuinely disembodied. A richly detailed dance of subterranean atmospheres and melodies, Tombs Of Dagmar’s music finds something far more complex than fear and dread in its dark corners.

R De K – Kokiko
(Zona Watusa)

R De K’s Kokiko could be the sinister, beatier sibling to Rafael Toral’s recent Spectral Evolution. Where Toral folds jazz standards and bizarre synthesis into a gorgeous whole, R de K works with disturbed drum machines, seared electronics and spooked soundscapes. For all the portents in Kokiko’s three tracks, they carry the detail and vivid layers of Toral’s compositions. On side-long ‘I’, modular synths and drums fracture into robotic chirps and tapestries of pitched percussion. ‘II’ embarks on a dualism of twinkling arpeggios and claustrophobic distortion. ‘III’ is a possessed radio drama, human voices conversing under a charred click train. The high points undoubtedly come when everything collapses, the monolithic pulses give way and beams of sci-fi audio come tumbling out. Kokiko is a technicolour version of industrial music, where metallic surfaces sprout strange cybernetic lifeforms.

Yol & David Curington – A Typical Sunday
(Steep Gloss)

My second column of 2024, and my second time this year writing about the music of Hull-based Yol, who collaborates with Hadfield-based David Curington on A Typical Sunday. It’s a much harsher beast than Yol’s recent duo with Kek-w. Curington obliterates junk he’s pulled from the internet to create a razor-edged hall of mirrors which Yol’s rants alternately smash through and get consumed by. On ‘Winning At Life’ Yol asks: “Do you have what it takes to be winner?” He’s abruptly drowned by a wall of overlapping voices, as if a thousand targeted ads have opened at once to end his brief foray into life-coaching. On ‘People Watching’, we hear Yol wrestling with his inner consciousness as he recounts a jogger passing too close, bursts of distortion giving the impression he’s barely suppressing a flash of rage. Curington’s production is completely at one with Yol’s vocal performances, catapulting them into a more frenzied, harrowed place than I’ve heard them go before. The pair conjure absurdity and violence in equal measure. Channeling the ugly feelings of ugly times.

Nakayama Munetoshi – Compass For Nychlf
(Salmon Universe)

Nakayama Munetoshi recorded the music on Compass For Nychlf using five synthesizers set into the wall by the till in the hair salon he runs in Osaka. It’s a fact which seems to make tangible the connection between deep electronic music and free time. A practice for both listener and artist to stretch out in every direction the moments we have to ourselves. That’s only reinforced by these tracks being inspired by a dream Munetoshi had of a child exploring. There’s a sense in the arc of the album that he’s trying to hold onto the recollection, fleshing it out and inscribing it into his memory banks by sounding every hazy impression it left. Beginning with ‘Reflect’’s overture of glassy bleeps, the album swirls through watery dreamscapes, calligraphic strokes of synthesis, and beats and chimes which sound whittled rather than struck or programmed. The peak comes on ‘Insect Wings’, meandering keys trickling through bending guitar notes and cicada croaks to create a tender soundscape which never rests. I suppose you could call it ambient, if that means switching over to a new field of sensation rather than simply switching off.