Spool’s Out: Cassette Reviews For August By Tristan Bath

Tristan Bath picks out the best music released on cassette this August, with five tapes pointing the way forward for lo-fi pop, experimental dancehall, psychedelic collage, electronic pulse, and Egyptian rock

The pulse as a musical force fits into the 21st century like little else. Its constant forward motion creates the illusion of progress and order; a cycle imitating movement visible everywhere, from the changing of the seasons, to the everlasting news cycle, to our always updating social feeds, to the very breathing that stops you from keeling over (most of the time anyway). As part of a series of works shifting direction from experimentalism, noise, and improv and back onto the dancefloor, Geneva-based Laurent Peter performs here as Tresque, stretching a pulse-centred composition over two sides of epically hypnotic tape.

Reportedly comprising the "last breaths of dying loudspeakers", this two-part 38-minute-long piece tilts the skeleton of minimal techno into a freshly urgent new form. Over a never-ending kick drum, Peter slots samples and dubby noises travelling on a network of parallel trips in and out of the mix, sometimes glitching into a rhythm, elsewhere phasing just slightly. There’s a distorted grit to many of the sounds here – presumably stemming from their origin on those purportedly ‘dying loudspeakers’ – but it means the whirrs and clicks and bass lunges growl and purr rather than rumble. Between the pulses, a series of microscopic grooves comes to life, and Peter conjures a surprising range of emotion from his groovy flea circus, at first tender, later menacing.

Take a few different MCs and producers (some operating ‘under cover’), have them fire out a wealth of material, stick them on a mixtape crediting one label but released by another, and we could all end up a bit confused. Just chill though, you’re hanging out with I Jahbar & Friends now. Created somewhere in the digital space in between a group of MCs working out of Spanish Town, Jamaica, plus producers on Bristol’s Bokeh Versions and Los Angeles’ Duppy Gun labels, the main thing you should know is that this bit of tape is Future Dancehall of the very highest order.

The production here is a trippy mix of MIDI bass, bitcrushed keyboards, and grinding G Funk timbres, sculpted into all kinds of illogical shapes you can dance to. Highlight tune ‘Weed Patrol’ is a spluttering digi-dancehall riddim with keyboard flutes improvised into chord stabs in one ear, while MIDI steel drums almost randomly jam along in the other. All the while I Jahbar, the de facto lead vocalist of Duppy Gun (a label started by Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras) spits and toasts rapid fire stream-of-consciousness regarding patrolling cops like a man possessed. It’s a trippy mix for sure beats resembling deconstructed Donkey Kong soundtracks slotted into dancehall shapes while I Jahbar reaches far and wide to spout speedy rhymes – but it’s goddamn irresistible.

Much of the same crew met up for 2018’s Miro Tape, but this snappily titled Inna Duppy SKRS Soundclash is an improvement and step forward for the idea to actively push modern experimentalism and dancehall closer together. (It’s not on tape-related, but Bristol’s LAVALAVA Records are doing some amazing stuff in this field too.) This mixtape is far more fun and as fiercely experimental as anything else this column’s covered this year – seek it out however you can.

Bunny Hoova definitely makes pop music for the restless generation. The debut album by the 26-year-old is a breezy half hour brimming with ideas and hooks, tough to locate on the increasingly meaningless genre spectrum, guiding potent melodies over muffled beats. Born in Rotterdam, Bunny Hoova nonetheless lives in Manchester (this cassette is out on the wonderful Preston-based Them There Records) and sings in English. A former student of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, the multi-instrumentalist is clearly musically learned, and it shows in the complexity of songs like ‘LAZY_EASY’, navigating syncopated melodies between multiple sections. Lyrically, the song itself is outwardly anti-industrialist, and pro-animal rights too if you listen closely. In any case, the beats bounce enough and hooks linger enough to make it a breezy listen and futuristic vision of woke lo-fi pop music leaning into nuance, complexity and confusion.

Most of the tracks on LONGING are short vignettes bathed in confusing post-production and purposefully muffled sonics. The title track has Bunny Hoova singing in a beautifully breathy voice overcome with titular depressed desire over a hushed sample wiped clean of much of its sonic signature to leave behind only the fog of a guiding chord movement. Tiny snippets of sampled guitar breach through, then Bunny Hoova hits a sudden lyrical denouement and the track is cut: "Life is always longing."

Despite the brilliantly murky production, the star of the record is definitely Bunny Hoova’s vocals. Her attitude, and anger, and sadness, and seductive whisper – it’s an impeccable document of the contorted mix of hope and despair that defines being young in Britain in 2019. These are late night headphone sing alongs that are as hard to hold on to as fog – which only makes them all the more tempting to stick on a loop.

This trio from Cairo seem to have spent a few years finding their way. Starting out as a solo project for vocalist/guitarist Youssef Abouzeid, singing in English amid dreamy settings, they’ve now reoriented themselves as a trio singing in Arabic. PanSTARRS are flitting between propulsive Feelies-esuqe post-punk bashings, retro guitar twang and swagger, plus the odd shoegazey crescendo. Abouzeid’s singing in echoing Arabic is now central to the group’s sound. Every word is soft around the edges, the language’s inherent breathiness giving off something potently ecstatic. Just check out the reverb-bathed singing on lush closer ‘Gesm Gedeed’, beautifully spiraling onward and upward. While the latter could almost be a Mazzy Star tune, the vocal hook and motorik beat on ‘Dor Elfo2’ rather recall the krautiest heights of Erkin Koray. It’s a short and snappy collection of rockers, and it’s pretty damn lo-fi and frills free – aside from reverb and some stompboxes – but the tunes and pieces are all there for something far more ambitious if PanSTARRS keep it up. Cairo’s music scene continues to fascinate.

Neil Campbell should need no introduction. Perhaps West Yorkshire’s most prolific psychedelic noise artist (though that’s in fact a pretty well-contested title all things considered) continues here with his never-ending release stream of sonic mishmashes and acid noises. His relationship with seriousness and the preternatural nature of psychedelic music has always been able to both draw listeners into altered states while revelling in an unashamedly childlike love of entropy. This tape joyously hits the sweet spot, making it one of his easiest-to-love and most transcendent solo trips.

This one’s a no nonsense home-made bricolage for all the heads, with both sides of psychedelic assemble droning and rocking out with the kind of effortless and blessed touch only a dab hand could deliver. Side one’s ‘filthy weather / let the masters burn’ takes us on something of an abstract, twenty-minute narrative trip atop whirring fuzzy drones, opening with a rush of noises, plucks, and synth sirens, segueing into plaintive piano chords and percussive rumbling, and slowly heading out over the horizon on a heavenly crescendo of organ light, tinkled glass, and bass squelch. The piece’s internal logic keeps everything well in tune and in balance, evolving organically. For a collage of all sorts of home recorded sounds, the experience is surprisingly symphonic in its emotional scope and scale, hitting truly transcendent heights in its closing moments.

The flipside’s ‘rainbow send / vespers’ feels far more conceptual, almost like an early Terry Riley tape experiment. A distorted rock chug loops for fourteen minutes, drum fills rolling constantly on both left and right, a single strummed guitar chord bashed out on several overlapping guitar tracks, one of the multi tracked Campbells breaking off periodically into a rich noisy solo feedback squall. At its tail end the distortion slowly fades away for a coda of warm acoustic plucks, replacing noise rock euphoria with a kind of rural dream sequence. Noise squall and psychedelic fuzz drone collage is rarely so life affirming.

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