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

A haunting folk relic from Japan, a mafia themed concept album, drum virtuoso hyper pop, and an occult radio play. Daryl Worthington finds there’s a host of fascinating stories in the tape world this month


Reissued on tape by Eye Vybe Records last month, Shin Otowa (real name Elia Taniguchi)’s わすれがたみ was recorded in 1974, with Les Rallizes Dénudés bassist Makoto Kubota credited on “guitar, arrangement, and big help”. The album is a collection of shimmering, hazy folk ballads. Beginning with Shin Otowa’s voice unaccompanied, subsequent tracks fill out into richer arrangements, adding ocarina, banjo and mandolin to the acoustic guitar led songs. I can’t speak Japanese, but the tone of these recordings doesn’t need translating, doused in an endlessly captivating, haunting intimacy. Something of a polymath, after recording わすれがたみ Taniguchi moved to Ibiza, Spain. He became an architect, designing buildings and plazas which can still be seen in Tokyo alongside writing books of poetry, art theory and more.

For Eye Vybe founder Karissa Talanian, the Shin Otowa reissue is just the latest step in an ongoing quest to expand what’s documented of the Japanese underground. The label started twelve years ago as a way to release her own bands, before expanding to cover the Chicago DIY community. A devoted Acid Mothers Temple fan, telling me she hasn’t missed a Chicago show by them since 2010, in 2016 she ended up releasing an album by the group’s bandleader Kawabata Makoto. From there she became further immersed in the AMT universe, visiting Japan and connecting with members of the collective such as Suzuki Junzo, Tabata Mitsuru and Jyonson Tsu, as well as Doronco, a former member and manager for Les Rallizes Dénudés.

“Shortly after coming back from this trip, the pandemic started,” Talanian explains. “As my entire life basically ended indefinitely (outside of sitting in my backyard, staring at the sun every day), the way I was able to cope was just further diving into working with these musicians I’ve loved for half my life and had just built super special connections with. When the Les Rallizes Dénudés reissues were announced, I reached out to Makoto Kubota. He started sending me music to work with, and the one that clicked right away was the Shin Otowa album.”

Eye Vybe’s most recent step into the AMT world is a live album recorded in Osaka in 2021, Never Ending Psychedelic Deathmatch. Joined by Bo Ningen’s Taigen Kawabe on bass and voice, it has the ensemble in phenomenal form. The A-side switches constantly between high-density, trippy riffs and electrified folk songs, while the B-side is dominated by an epic rendition of group staple ‘Disco Pink Lady Lemonade’.

Talanian’s digging and documenting goes beyond AMT themselves to shine a light on the work of members past and present. Osaka based Jyonson Tsu is a guitarist in AMT, and his 2020 album Inumelik Dondo with Igaki Akiko and Kanno Toshiko is a joyous prog folk masterpiece. Its most full-on moments sound something like Albert Marcœur jamming with Magma, the occasional fiery jig and folk chorus thrown in, but that description is really only hinting at how utterly unique it is. The sheer range of phenomenal sound in this recording pointing towards the vibrant musical world Eye Vibe are helping document.

Petbrick — Ayan
(Rocket Recordings)

It’s the year 2030. Business techno plays out in the planet-spanning smart city reminding the wealthy and the downtrodden alike to, whatever happens, not doubt their vibe. Inner and outer space is so thoroughly privatised that metal heads, punks and techno folk alike are forced together in illicit mosh-raves in a few dark, sweaty basements. On new single ‘Ayan’, Petbrick sound like they’re pre-emptively soundtracking the slam dances in the dank speakeasies of this dystopian future. The duo of Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura/Soulwax) and Wayne Adams (Big Lad) latest track is presented here along with remixes by Surgeon, Cardopusher, and Bubblelogue. The original is a blast of not quite human, not quite machine marching rhythms fired through a whirl of ragged electronics, ominous voices and chest crushing bass. The remixes latch onto this apocalyptic rave intensity and flip it structurally or texturally so the raw material gets increasingly effaced. The result is four wallops of rave energy without an ounce of nostalgia or melancholy.

Turbo World — My Challenger
(Ramp Local)

Turbo World’s My Challenger is a concept album around the life of mafia hitman Max Kurschner, aka Joey. But they throw a curveball by turning his life story into something the polar opposite of the morbid fascination driving true crime documentaries. Caroline Bennett (also in Stice) and Stephe Cooper (Cloud Becomes Your Hand), who when playing live are joined by Calvin Grad, Jake Lichter and Ryan Power, built these songs from a TV interview David Susskind did with Joey in 1973. Watching footage of the interview is disturbing, just as troubling are the YouTube comments which seem to revere certain aspects of his life. It’s this context that makes Turbo World’s album of theatrical art-pop and noodly prog-funk so effective. They sketch biographical details of Joey’s life and sing it over everything from Nintendo toned disco freakouts to beat shifting prog miniatures. Sometimes they quote the interview pretty much verbatim, such as on ‘Shylocking’, turning into a bizarre operatic interlude. It’s an unexpected lens for this strange character study. More than an exercise in absurdity, by firing the boasts of a violent thug through proggy, theatrical whimsy, they shatter the hitman’s aura.

Klahrk & KAVARI — Wax
(Genot Centre)

Wax sees respectively London and Glasgow based Klahrk & KAVARI team up for a set of low bpm, landscape melting bangers. Both Klahrk and KAVARI work solo as DJs, producers and artists, and the six collaborative tracks on this tape are joined by a remix from Fausto Mercier and two remixes of each other’s solo works. Beyond their mutilated dance floor potential, the duo trigger a vivid sense of the digital uncanny. ‘Vapour’ feels like its luminous pads are dissolving before your ears. ‘Splinters’ finds dripping orchestrations punctured by sharp staccato beats, the deflated debris flying around the stereo field. ‘Acres’ has high velocity breaks dual with monolithic chunks of distorted bass in a feverish momentum. It’s an unnerving world where familiar club sounds are smudged out of shape, each track a surrealist sculpture as much as a cyber-jungle rhythm.

Pimpon — Pozdrawiam
(Pointless Geometry)

Pimpon, aka Poland born, Copenhagen based drummer and composer Szymon Gąsiorek defies easy categorisation, even by this column’s standards, on debut Pozdrawiam. Opener ‘I’ve Made It To Another Station’ sees his Auto-Tuned vocals repeating the titular phrase over a bed of field recordings and electronics, the repetition coming across like a musique concrete-tinged reimagining of Sparks’ ‘My Baby’s Taking Me Home’. The collision of avant-garde and pop continues throughout. ‘Balans’ propels a borderline euro-trance chorus with hyper precise drum dexterity. ‘I go’ jumps from glassy tones into a snaking synth, drums and vocoder banger. It’s a pop album, it’s a highly intricate sound art album and it’s a virtuoso psychedelic percussion album all in one. Flicking audaciously between incessant ear worms, massive beats and intricate scrapes and rustles, the antithetical components amplify rather than dilute each other’s impact. But Pimpon’s real triumph isn’t the sonic diversity, it’s how it congeals into a coherent and singular world.

Jablkagruszki — Sea Life
(Pointless Geometry)

Jablkagruszki is an alias of Łódź based composer Joanna Szczęsnowicz. New album Sea Life is inspired by water, but the widescreen churn and tumult in these compositions takes an impressionistic lens on the subject. Though trickles and splashes appear briefly, they’re quickly evaporated by burning swells of voice and monumental organ. Water’s presence is mostly implied rather than made explicit, the music drawing an outline of the ocean’s imprint on the artist’s reality as it veers through ghostly vocal layers, symphony-sized pads and momentary blasts of ferocious beats. Szczęsnowicz explores what makes up two thirds of the planet’s surface not by documenting and analysing how it sounds, but translating to audio the mark it leaves on soul and psyche. Her compositions have a rare scope and depth as they swerve gracefully between serenity and brutality. Yet despite its a wide-ranging sonic vista, Sea Life feels like a deeply personal record, a vivid insight into how someone else experiences the world.

Sophie Sleigh-Johnson — Nuncio Ref!
(Crow Versus Crow)

Southend-on-Sea based Sophie Sleigh-Johnson creates a static drenched portal between the netherworld and what sounds like decades of field recording British terrestrial TV and local pub conversations on Nuncio Ref!. Or, as someone says in this playfully confusing radio play: “That weird intersection of occult writing and J2O beverage.” The release notes describe it as a collage, but more than anything this tape sounds like it’s riding a wave of inter-century interference. Electronic detritus and glitches are cracked open by slabs of text, some sampled from Granada TV, others voices talking about dark forts and Dionysian apostates. It’s stuck together by a frantic, mystery solving restlessness. As if by documenting these magical and mundane, mythical and contemporary fragments of Essex folklore, Sleigh-Johnson is trying to decode the metanarrative which ties them all together. Wrestling something magical from the banal, and vice versa.

Catarrh Nisin vs. 6v9id/Swordman Kitala — Blue Forty-Four
(Blue Tapes)

Blue Tapes has a knack of making extreme jumps in genre without ever seeming contrived, the label’s tapeography a wayfinder through the extremes of the global underground. The first side of this split pairs Japanese MC Catarrh Nisin with producer 6v9id. Nisin is a Japanese grime artist, but there’s a metallic austerity to these tracks which has just as much in common with industrial. Hitting like a cold paving slab to the face, it finds the pair tracing a harsh reality which stretches beyond grime’s East London origin. The flip side comes from Ugandan MC Swordman Kitala, aka Frank Amanya. It’s the sunny reverse of Nisin’s cold minimalism, Kitala summoning a superhuman flow over radiant, endlessly inventive dancehall bangers.

Andrew Bernstein — A Presentation
(Hausu Mountain)

As saxophone player in Horse Lords, Andrew Bernstein works in elaborately tessellating patterns. His 2018 solo album, An Exploded View Of Time zoomed in on this approach, its flocks of arpeggios striving towards perpetual motion. New album a presentation shifts from this framework, moving Bernstein’s exploration of just intonation into three long form, meditative tracks. Bernstein says they explore the materiality of sound, but just as much they explore the materiality of time. Each piece begins innocuously, tones held in flight for as long as possible, luring your ears to notice how they waiver and react to each other. Like an Alvin Lucier or Charlemagne Palestine composition, duration is crucial. As each piece progresses tones bend and warp, buckle and twist in a bewitching dance, unearthing something texturally maximal from minimal materials. It tethers your brain to a flow which doesn’t feel segmented into equal, regular intervals. Unquantising sound and in doing so pushing us to unquantise our perception of a duration.

Patrick Shiroishi — Inoue
(Sleeping Giant Glossolalia)

Patrick Shiroishi uses saxophone to explore duration in a different way to Bernstein on Inoue. None of this tape’s 60 tracks goes above 30 seconds; most are significantly less. Each is a micro-composition of programmed beats and contorted sax, Shiroishi having written both parts simultaneously and then recording them. The result is grindcore brevity meeting free-jazz exploration in a series of manic yet triumphant miniatures. In her book Our Aesthetic Categories Sianne Ngai identifies a contemporary aesthetic of zaniness as expressing a feeling of non-stop action. She argues it’s a symptom of the contemporary condition of incessant doing. Although not-exactly zany sounding, something similar comes across in how Inoue constantly resets after bursts of exertion. It’s bizarre, it’s occasionally jarring, but there’s an eerie prescience in this tape’s frantically segmented, stop start nature.

Holy Tongue — Live At Servant Jazz Quarters
(Amidah Records)

Holy Tongue started as a collaboration between percussionist Valentina Magaletti and producer Al Wootton, and for this live album they’re joined by Susumu Mukai (aka Zongamin). They take dub reggae’s bass depth, mastery of space and exploration of effects as a map rather than a guidebook, opening up routes to explore rather than dictating a path. This live album captures the tightrope between messiness and precision that makes Holy Tongue so intriguing. Anchored in austere yet melodic bass, electronics, percussion and keys are allowed to swirl around in celebration of negative space. While dub’s origins are in post-production and remixing, Live At Servant Jazz Quarters captures Holy Tongue acting on the moment rather than the document. Exploring in tandem sound’s potential to enliven a room.

LDSN — Not-Knowing Feast
(Fort Evil Fruit)

“My own friends attempt to break into my house,” says Yorkshire based artist and writer Lauren de Sá Naylor, aka LDSN on Not-Knowing Feast’s final track. The line is repeated by a pitched down voice, like she’s being mocked by a demonic presence. Beneath, a loop of something medieval sounding unravels. This tape works in enigmatic riddles, dense flurries of speech coalescing into startling clarity. Her tracks excel at creating eerie backdrops. ‘Practicing Dreaming Again’ is built on what sounds like a church bell’s resonance locked in freezeframe. Elsewhere, sparse percussive loops fidget and tremble like nervous energy channelled through domestic objects. It feels intimate, like we’re being dropped off in the space between Naylor’s inner and outer world, the transition between daydreaming and sudden awareness of surroundings. And through that intimacy this tape conveys an unsettled ennui which feels startlingly honest.

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