Spool’s Out: Cassette Reviews For April By Daryl Worthington

Among drone-folk trips and joyously messed up noise jazz, Daryl Worthington finds the cassette scene has taken a political turn, whether immersive electronics fighting for free time, nostalgia-busting collages, or colonialism attacking text-sound compositions


The narrative of Alan Moore’s short story ‘Illuminations’ steps out of calendrical time. Consumed with a bout of nostalgia, as the story heads to its horror denouement the protagonist becomes incapable of sticking to the present and moving forward in a straight line. He sits in an unhooked time which Moore portrays as corrosive. Two recently released tapes see a similarly sideways space as one filled with potential.

Leisure Forever, the debut album from Ramsgate-based duo PAL, aka Cherelle Sappleton and Tom Morris, is a woozy shimmer of a cassette. Bridging the shoegaze-chorales of Chorus era Lovesliescrushing and the early Pop Ambient series on Kompakt, the pair stir up a fog of electrified dew that douses your psyche in its warm glow. Their music is beautiful, but it’s not apathetic. As they explain in the release notes: “the ideas behind the creation of Leisure Forever reflect the desire for genuine free time beyond the all-consuming reach of precarious work.”

While the last 150 years have broadly seen our working hours reduce in the global north, that’s also coincided with an increasing ambiguity on what free time is, whether it’s the perpetually on-call nature of zero-hours contracts or technology extending the workplace’s spatial and temporal reach. Lisa Adkins’ book The Time Of Money makes the case that even those who are unemployed find increasing demands placed on their time to be productive.

This is the situation which PAL’s music acts upon. Through its indulgence with time, it stands as a reminder of how difficult genuine free time is to find. Beyond that, its form resonates with the unhooked moments Moore portrays in Illuminations. PAL’s music is deeply immersive and ungrided, but it’s not a one-dimensional drift. Vocals tentatively leak out their slow churning wash. Bass lines and pulses bleed into the shimmering zone Sappleton and Morris sculpt. It’s dynamic, there are potent crescendos and diminuendos, but they ebb and smear rather than drop. Where Moore detects cause for alarm, PAL detect hopeful possibilities when a doesn’t follow b in equally measured, efficient and predictable intervals.

Misinput Tycoon, the new tape by Fausto Mercier, aka Roland Nagy, on Genot Centre, sees the Hungarian producer create digital symphonies that bristle with activity. They’re also melancholic, a wistful undercurrent acutely poignant in the splayed vocal loops and wistful synthesis on ‘cinege’. Like Leisure Forever’s, Misinput Tycoon’s liner notes ruminate on lost and found time. Nagy writes: “I’m constantly watching pixels since I was five. This album reflects wasted time and digital traumas.”

In these pines for lost time, you also get the sense that Nagy is trying to reclaim something from those machines that monetise and extract our free time. He assembles pristine glitches into elaborate mazes to get lost in, creating a playful space that’s constructive and productive on its own terms.

Gender Warfare – Bridging Prescription

Live, Gender Warfare’s triumphant mix of crust punk noise and drum & bass infused-pop seizes the future of both hardcore continuums. Debut EP Bridging Prescription leans into the trio’s electro side. ‘Commodity’ has Jungle pace and immense bass propulsion. ‘Fawn’s glitching hyperpop meets a chorus of pure agitation. They’re a band whose rage spawns invention and eloquence, in some ways paralleling Donna Candy’s reclaiming of nu-metal pomp as something DIY and radical. Gender Warfare crack stadium pop music into a vehicle to broadcast as loudly and clearly as possible the trauma and oppression their community faces. As they sing on the unflinchingly direct ‘Swollen/Martyr’: “Everyday for us is trans day of remembrance, for every day we live through violent non-acceptance.” It’s a line of immense sadness. Gender Warfare are fun, and they use that energy to create solidarity in confronting painful truths.

Liis Ring – Homing
(Canigou Records/Breton Cassette)

Homing, the new album from Liis Ring, begins with a conversation and ends with a sound somewhere between a snore and a revving engine. The Estonian-born, Gothenburg-based artist’s songs reside in a similar zone to that explored by Adela Mede and Martyna Basta, one where the diaristic weaves into the ineffable imprint of folklore and mundane surroundings alike. Ring’s compositions are more rooted in urban places, and the way she incorporates far off singalongs and up-close conversations into her songs echoes the vibrant field recording narratives of Pierre Mariétan. Whether it’s the bird song dancing through gloaming synths on ‘after-image I: nothing stands still’, or the splashing percussion on ‘after-image IV’, every sound feels symbiotically connected to every other. In other words, their diegetic wholes rather than songs over backgrounds. As the title alludes, the album is propelled by ruminations on what home is. Ring finds it’s transitory and mutable, existing in feelings and events beyond those contained by four walls.

Andy Loebs – Hyperlink Anamorphosis
(Jolt Music)

Over the space of a minute on ‘Chordophone & Cor Anglais’, the sixth track on Andy Loebs new album Hyperlink Anamorphosis, a world unfurls. A mutant choir breaks away into clanging noise, jagged time signatures, smooth jazz toots and bacterium-scaled glitches. Describing it can’t help but dilute the album’s scale and pace. Loebs’ palette of warped samples and unashamedly synthetic instruments switches between improbable grooves and microscopic detail. Their music creates alien situations, plotting out webs of complex interactions and causalities with their own rules and spectacular physics. The sheer volume of textures and events has a discombobulating effect. Whizzing by at hyperspeed, after a few listens these multicoloured entities slow down as your brain soaks in the minutiae, catching up and reconstructing the playful complexity of what’s unfolding.

Abadir – Melting
(Drowned By Locals)

Melting sees Egyptian producer Abadir dive into the archives, fusing together 500ish snippets from video and radio. The piece is based on his master’s thesis, in which he strove to “synthesize music and sounds works and a vision engaged with the past without being nostalgic or succumbing to the capitalist nostalgia industry.” The result is genuinely psychedelic, in that it acts on the working of the mind, these blasts of pop hits, critical theory lectures and media detritus blending together and knocking our brains into plotting new relationships. In the thesis, Abadir mentions William S. Burroughs’ cut-ups and John Oswald’s plunderphonics as influences. I’d venture there’s also heavy resonance with Walter Benjamin’s use of historic fragments. Abadir’s montages and collages create constellations for the listener to explore. The politically charged connects to the superficially pragmatic and exposes overlaps between the two. Generating an essay-like montage somewhere between Negativland and The Arcades Project, Abadir delivers a radically askance glance on past and present alike.

Sheng Jie, aka gogoj 盛洁 – Review
(Dusty Ballz)

While the first five tracks of splintered guitar, cello and electronics are accompanied by field recordings on Sheng Jie’s Review, it’s hard to tell if she’s trying to keep the external world at a distance or beckon it in. Either way, sixth track ‘Nucleic Acid Test’ begins with a deluge of outside, an announcement to scan Covid test QR codes. Arriving like a wash of cold water to the intimate setting Sheng Jie’s constructed so far, she quickly retreats back to the comfort of agitated guitar strings and prickly glissandos. She recorded Review at home in Winter 2022, shortly before China’s zero-Covid policies came to an end. Plucks trickle and congeal, cello is bowed in rasping zig-zag patterns, synthetic pulses carry queasy unease. On ‘D A G Resonance’, drones teeter between serenity and anxiety. The liner notes refer to Review as coming from a sense of “stone cold-apathy” towards the time it was recorded. Though that sentiment imbues her songs, they’re gorgeous in a deeply unsettling way. She captures psychic motion in defiance of physical isolation, herding nervous energy into volatilely poised nests of sounds. The sonic equivalent of searching out new patterns in the wallpaper, perhaps.

Asher.Zax – Cisterns
(Raash Records)

I’m not sure there’s a direct antonym for levitation, but that’s the feeling Israeli duo Meira Asher and Eran Sachs, aka Asher.Zax evoke on Cisterns. Joined by percussionist Raimund Engelhardt and ensemble Musica Nova, their lurking text and sound compositions erupt into fevered incantations, creating a sense of perpetual plunge through blasts of electrical hum and cello frenzies that move like an attacking crow. It rounds off ‘The Catastrophe’ trilogy, the title referring to the occupation of the Palestinian homeland by the Israeli state (Cisterns is released in a boxset with the first two tapes in the series). More broadly their music interrogates colonialism, borrowing from Antonin Artaud to frame it as a disease on reality. Where previous works have used texts from Frantz Fanon and Bobby Sands as starting points, Cisterns uses a poem by Tal Nitzán. The closest sonic references are Diamanda Galás for sheer intensity and the electrically charged protests of Harrga for ferocious clarity. Through sheer doomy density Asher.Zax demand pause. Slowing us down and demanding awareness of a troubled world.

( Coração de Boi)

There’s something abrasive, jazzy and utterly joyous happening across the Porto and Lisbon undergrounds. I wrote about guitarist José Vale last year, and on this tape he’s part of the ensemble GONZO, alongside João Almeida (founder of the Porto noise label Cara Podre) on no-input mixer), Miguel Fernandez on drums and sampling, and Daniel Sousa on alto-sax and live sampling. The quartet unleash a fireball of skronking-electro-acoustic free energy. Opener ‘Orgia’ snaps between radio chatter and the most gleefully fucked up groove since Sly And The Family Drone and Dead Neanderthals formed a supergroup. ‘Sex On The Beach’ sees Vale unleash a boogie so unkempt it could rewild a motorway, horns rolling in to create a blitzed big band. The acoustic instruments are thrilling enough, but the scorched interference from the electronics, such as the blasts of trippy bass frequencies from Almeida, add layers of ecstatic mess. It hits a soaring climax on ‘Fire’. Saltimbanco’s (Aleksandra Nygaard Djordjevic) vocals turn it into a soul-powered riot, the collective whigging out in a transcendent implosion.

Gubia – Cuna a nivel del Mar
(Bolinga Everest)

Ecuador-based Gubia’s music on Cuna a nivel del Mar is hermetically-hushed and partially effaced. With hints of the crackling fade that douses the earliest Grouper albums, there’s also a colour in her drone-folk arrangements that would sit in the overlap of a venn-diagram between Sylvia Hallet and Lau Nau. Her music inheres tender instability. Folky laments are sung out over tape noise or babbling water. Clanking interludes and disorientating loops interrupt the smooth flow. Violins creak and lament while her voice sounds constantly on the verge of slipping out of audibility. This music simultaneously evokes mundane intimacy and spooky disembodiment, a sense of being broadcast from the edge of perception, a glimpse into a world of spectral familiarity.

City Of Urbom/Yawning Gap – Split CS
(Hideous Replica)

This split sees the two members of South London-based Ashcircle performing under their solo guises. If you’re unfamiliar, Ashcircle deliver awkward electronic plonk outs, a kind of ragged yet hopeful perpetual glitch to “cope with the chaos of overwhelming information and Tory governments”. City of Urbom and Yawning Gap are described as the duo’s dungeon synth projects, but they place a markedly wabi-sabi spin on the genre. Small and off-kilter sonic gestures become transfixing. Stumbling back and forth with a clumsily hypnotic gait or entering repetitions bridging maddening and soothing. Rather than conjuring virtual-feudal realms or time locked video game environments, their take on dungeon synth collapses the immersive into something fidgety. Lopsided loops that latch onto moments of magic in incessant wonkiness.

NOT339093 – Malta Orlata

There’s a clear arc to Malta Orlata, the debut album from Italian producer NOT339093. Beginning in grainy echoes and smudged beats, it edges into laser precise hi-definition. But as his bass meets digital musique concrète digital gains lucidity and fidelity, it also becomes increasingly bizarre. He hits a unique balance, as the beats turn more propulsive, the layers of texture become denser and more nuanced. Glimmers and shards of vibrant synthesis roll out the dance-floor facing productions like a rainbow sprouting from a cracked polymer screen. It’s virtually eidetic in its ability to trigger the imagination. NOT339093’s productions have the unfamiliar clarity of a Yves Tanguy painting. A surrealism that gets delivered with such elegance and precision it lands as immersive rather than disruptive.

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