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

Free-wheeling guitar and viola jams, fantastically glitched hip hop, doomy field recordings, epic synths and miraculous electronic music. Daryl Worthington digs into the tapes of summer


For those who missed it when I neglected to announce it back in May, Spool’s Out is going bi-monthly. All this means a bigger gap between tape dives than usual. What’s happened to the cassette scene since I was last here? Well, it seems Kate Bush has become the saviour of the Walkman and reality as we know it. In case you haven’t seen it, let’s just say a cassette of ‘Running Up That Hill’ is pivotal to the fourth series of Stranger Things.

So far I’ve only seen one article linking it to a cassette revival, which is something of a surprise. But even more surprising is that I haven’t seen an announcement of a cassette reissue of ‘Running Up That Hill’. Maybe everyone has finally caught up to the fact cassette tapes never really went away, they’ve been a constant vehicle for underground sounds?

But then, just as real as the threat of getting sucked into the revivalist Upside Down, is the news that Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan will be reissuing ‘Especially For You’ on vinyl and cassette to commemorate the end of Neighbours after more than 30 years.

Needless to say, the stakes of the cassette scene have been raised in the last bi-month. If you’re an artist releasing sounds on tape and those sounds aren’t saving kids in a mid-West US town in the 80s from violent death, or deemed worthy to single-handedly deliver a musical eulogy to one of the most popular soap operas of all time, you really need to think about what the hell you’ve been doing. Fortunately, all the releases this month are up to the challenge.

But, regular readers of this column will know that tapes aren’t at their best when they’re being used as another vehicle for sounds already available on every other physical format. They can also provide a means for artists to create work outside the flow of the typical album cycle. I picked up Model Home’s A Saturn Companion at their brilliant residency at Café Oto in June. An accompaniment to the duo’s (Pat Cain on production, MC NappyNappa on vocals) Saturn In The Basement LP, it’s perhaps better described as advancing the Model Home expanded universe.

Released by London’s Disciples label, it collects tracks recorded around the same time as the LP, including an extra collaboration with Japanese artist Phew. It also comes with a zine which includes interviews with the band, pictures and musings from friends and acquaintances. Model Home’s spewed, mulched and battered experimental hip hop is well suited to this treatment. Seeing them in the flesh brought home that they thrive on instinctive response to the moment. Not so much balancing on a tight rope as gleefully falling off it in pursuit of ever greater sonic eccentricity. Like the album, this tape captures a further snapshot of the endless mutation that makes their gigs so precarious, and so exciting.

In the zine Cain likens Model Home to a jazz band and one way that resonates is that the split between ‘official’ albums and outtakes/other stuff is as meaningless with Model Home as it is with Sun Ra. Their practice is an open-ended process as much as it’s enclosed by individual albums. A collection like this helps build their ongoing story.

Otomoni – Super U


Guides is a parallel label to Pawel "Paide" Dunajko’s Outlines. Where the latter focuses heavily on footwork, the former searches for “the most interesting and innovative music at 160 bpm”. They absolutely hit that nail on its head with Super U, the new album from Tokyo-based producer Otomoni. His music treats beats as prisms to bend sound through. Everything from flutes to glassy percussion and voices are sliced, diced and reassembled at the micro level to create rhythms that hit on the macro; which is to say, this is both head and body music. I’ve always felt footwork hits me hardest when I stop noticing how pacy it is, and then it starts to feel both fast and slow at the simultaneously, ss though it’s morphed into pure kinetic energy to dislodge your mind and body from this earthly plane. Otomoni excels at conjuring exactly that in the multicoloured world he’s assembled here.

Aonghus McEvoy – Under & Cracked

(Astral Spirits)

The six string laments on Aonghus McEvoy‘s Responses, released last year on Fort Evil Fruit, were chilling in their sparsity, coming across like shudders in the night. New tape Under & Cracked sees McEvoy join up with a full band, featuring George Brennan on electronics, David Lacey on drums, Sean Maynard Smith on upright bass and Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh on viola to create something more rocking but just as vivid. The opener and title track sees McEvoy’s acoustic guitar act as port in the viola’s raging storm, flicking out jovial plucks and strums, before the two resolve the tension to unite in a ragged swagger. McEvoy switches to electric for the other two tracks. The first is a free-wheeling, folk meets drone rock jam which hits some truly ecstatic interplay between violin and guitar. The finale is a burning surge of electronics and frantic picking which seems to spiral endlessly upwards. The role of bandleader reiterates rather than dilutes McEvoy’s uniquely evocative guitar playing. Uniting with the ensemble to hit incredible bursts of free-rock intensity without losing control of mood or space for an instant.

Somaticae – Kleis

(Gin & Platonic)

Alongside their fellow Prague residents Genot Centre, the catalogue of (mostly) tape label Gin & Platonic is a reminder some of the most ambitious electronic music is to be found on cassette. Even by their standards though, Kleis, from St. Etienne-based Somaticae, aka Amédée De Murcia, hits new heights. This is imagination firing music, luring your mind into dreaming up parallel universes where the regular laws of physics hold no weight. Layers of synthetic timbre weave into hyper-speed rhythms. At some points it sounds like an Edgar Varese composition for a trance sample pack, or a computerised no wave band. At others it melds polyrhythms into utopian synths to create zero-gravity breakdancing music. If you’re looking for triumphant computer music to soundtrack your part in the relentless slog of the final boss battle that twenty-first century living equates to, then Kleis is the tape for you.

Manja Ristić – Him, Fast Sleeping, Soon He Found In Labyrinth Of Many A Round, Self​-​Rolled

(Mappa Editions)

What does a buzzing fly symbolise? Death? Desolation perhaps? More optimistically, the cycle of life? Manja Ristić, Belgrade-born, currently based on Korčula, an island in the Croatian part of the Adriatic, is a multimedia artist working with field recording. On ‘Muhe’, she captures the buzz of a fly to devasting effect. The way it whines through the sonic field asks questions and paints pictures, gnawing into your psyche and infecting every other sound. Although gently augmented, Ristić’s field recordings are the focal point on Him, Fast Sleeping, Soon He Found In Labyrinth Of Many A Round, Self​-​Rolled the title inspired by a Gustav Dore illustration for Milton’s Paradise Lost. Every sound she chooses has weight, it matters, and asks us to contemplate what it means to us. Rasping groans and whines, ominous feet in the gravel, on ‘Jarbol’ the clank of a cable hitting a flagpole alongside a seismograph troubling bass drone. Her assemblages of nature and electronics are doomy, they feel like they darken the room. A heaviness akin to staring into the night, triggering all the self- and world-reflection that comes with it.

DUCH – „Y”

(Pointless Geometry)

DUCH, aka Szczecin, Poland-based Łukasz Jastrubczak recorded this suite of synthesizer jams at home and direct to tape. While there’s undoubtedly echoes of John Bender and Pauline Anna Strom, there’s also a heavy dose of Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti and Fabio Frizzi. Built around looping sequences, there’s drama to the grandiose arpeggios and snaking melodies. Opening pair ‘Tales From The Woods’ and ‘Spitting, Climbing, Soaring, Falling’ have an almost dungeon synth undercurrent to them. The second half of the tape has less of a sense of fantastic doom, adding flourishes of esoteric rhythms and a more melodic edge. The album takes its track titles from Tim Ingold’s – Correspondences, a book which explores relations between art and nature through letter writing. Exactly what influence, if any, that book had on the recordings isn’t explained, but if DUCH is channelling something ecological it’s far from pristine or sublime. Though sprawling and vast, „Y” sounds riddled with strange creepy crawlies and bulbous growths.

Builenradar – There Is No Hunger In Your Shame

(School of the Arts)

There’s a perverse virtuosity in the guitar playing by Builenradar (aka Belgian musician Wouter Vanhaelemeesch) on There Is No Hunger In Your Shame. It grooves while remaining totally feral, riffs without seeming to repeat. The title track sounds like a blues boogie using a pneumatic drill for a metronome. On ‘Now The Chimney Hatched An Egg’ clangorous slide guitar seems like it’s fighting to evacuate any traces of civilisation out of the instrument. There’s a turbo-Jandek feel to the whole tape, while the Vanhaelemeesch’s vocalisations sit somewhere between Gwilly Edmondez and Atilla Csihar. Builenradar sounds like the folk troubadour you’d find playing in the dive bar on the outskirts of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. There’s immense skill in creating something that sounds this spectacularly unhinged. Shattering any notion of convention and existing within its own rules.

Jo Montgomerie – Those Things Beyond & Within

(Brachliegen Tapes)

Jo Montgomerie’s Those Things Beyond & Within is an intense exploration of repetition, with the Manchester-based composer’s music seeming to interrogate the blurry line which separates reiteration as soothing ritual from repetition as anxious eruption of nervous energy. Opener ‘Focus On The Constant’s blast of piano sounds like the work of a gothic Julius Eastman. From there the tape spirals further into the murk, journeying through the charred embers of beats and electrical buzzes and hums to create a tension so visceral you could snap it. While every track is firmly hooked to a monotonous pulse, each one also spirals out into a flurry of spectral sounds and scorched atmospherics. It’s eerily transfixing, equal parts meditative and claustrophobic. Montgomerie’s music evokes both a strive for ballast in a world constantly speeding up, and scratching at the walls trying to break out of a tedious routine. It’s this ambiguity which makes it so compelling.

Fantasma do Cerrado – Mapeamento de Terras a Noroeste de São Paulo de Piratininga

(Municipal K7)

Fantasma do Cerrado is Sao Paulo-based artist Rafael Stan Molina, and while the oneiric songs of Mapeamento de Terras a Noroeste de São Paulo de Piratininga (Mapping of lands to the north-west of Sao Paulo de Piratininga) seem melancholy, it’s a tape driven by the conviction of an optimist. Sonically, its snatches of acoustic balladry, blurry electronics, and blasts of brass and piano sound like Phil Elverum at his most haunted channelling Gilberto Gill. Molina says in the release notes the album is a reaction against Brazil’s right-wing government, and the fact these crumpled collage-cum-songs are so lovely isn’t necessarily a discrepancy between intention and execution. As he explains about the title over email: “It hints to a kind of expedition into the unknown, into lands that are not in the maps yet. In reality the places are not THAT unknown nowadays, you can get a bus and go there, but I think they’re kinda still there ‘to be discovered’, there’s this idea all around.” In some ways it’s reminiscent of the strive in Iain Sinclair’s writing to map other realities buried under the neo-liberal monolith, but this album isn’t past facing, as Molina says, the people and places he sings about actually exist. In that sense it’s utopian rather than hauntological. Molina holding on tenaciously to the idea that if you join the dots, a peaceful, magical world might be hidden somewhere in the present.

Natalie Kynigopoulou – A Pause Box

(Calling Cards Publishing)

You don’t have to go too far back in the annals of this column to find artists combining field recordings and electronics, but Cypriot/ Swedish artist Natalie Kynigopoulou puts a new perspective on this hybrid on A Pause Box. She uses spoken word, environmental sounds and intricate synths to depict a city as a derelict theatre “re-enchanted by non-human terrestrial protagonists”. The field recordings are disruptive, as though a glitch has sent a wellness app malicious, giving them agency rather than them being just scenery for which her pristine electronics are set against. The effect is most potent when it’s absent, about twenty minutes in, as arpeggios break-free of any background sound to twist and flow of their own beautiful volition. The spoken sections are exploratory rather than expositional, weaving another layer into the world created on ‘a pause box’ rather than narrating its creation. R. Murray Schafer said organic sounds are hi-fi, they have clarity and encourage focus, whereas manmade sounds are lo-fi, they’re abrasive, hard to focus on, and harmful. Kynigopoulou’s music seems to subvert that thesis, creating an unfamiliar vantage point in the sonic ecosystem she knits together.

Wellness Regime – Down


Wellness Regime is the duo of Paul Margree (who works solo as Ivy Nostrum) and Michael Holland (Kinver Pond). Their mashing together of kitchen drawer musique concrete and toy-box electro-acoustics on Down makes something like diaristic ambient of a constantly distracted mind. Reflecting a domestic soundscape too over-laden with distractions to ever leave space for self-reflection. The whole tape is full of blunted epiphanies, fragments of lo-fi kosmiche synth and soothing drones interrupted by scraping cutlery or toy robots gone rogue. Elsewhere are snippets of what sounds like idle pub chatter, over the top blasts of stumbled-upon pop music, and some gnarly electronic mangling. This might all sound oppressive but it’s not, the pair hacking the noisy environment to expose its absurdity, and also, something oddly moving in our mess of excessive stimulation.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today