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

Daryl Worthington speaks to Constellation Tatsu about a decade of releasing music on tape, and looks at some of the most exciting music on cassette this month, from Paraguayan harp to paranormal cut-ups, four track riots to glistening synths and brutal electronics

Lynn & Cole by Lynn Avery

Constellation Tatsu are celebrating ten years in the tape game by re-printing ten of their favourite releases. Occupying a uniquely blissful space in the tape universe, they’ve put out albums from Sarah Davachi, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Kara-Lis Coverdale and MJ Guider among a globally dispersed deluge of musicians, bedroom producers and sound artists. The reissues cover the breadth of the last decade, and include work from label mainstays such as Celer and Hakobune.

Oakland, California based label founder Steven Ramsey explains some of what drives Constellation Tatsu’s diverse curation. “Adventurous with spiritual artistic sensibilities,” he offers as an explanation for what connects the releases. “Music that flows between tracks, fairly melodic at times, but experimental. Music that’s good to have in the background while making art. Music with healing and therapeutic properties, which is something experimental music tends to do.”

Along with a list of possible genre descriptors, ranging from Balearic to drone, he also says “fun”. That linking of experimentation with playfulness is strong in Constellation Tatsu’s tapeography, not least on Loris S. Sarid’s href="https://ctatsu.bandcamp.com/album/music-for-tomato-plants" target="out">Music for Tomato Plants from 2020. Although not included in the represses, its palette of reverberant twinkling sonics and playful concept feels like an archetype of Constellation Tatsu’s aesthetic.

Ramsey, who tells me his interests outside tapes include aggressive inline skating, bike touring, and “a super cool black cat named Mogg,” started the label back in 2012, originally under the name ‘Tatsu’s Basement Tapes’. He was working as general manager and DJ at KCPR at the time. “I was inspired by Stunned Records, Digitalis, Tranquiility Tapes, Cosmic Winetou, Aguirre Records, Field Hymns,” he continues. “Krautrock and kosmische music was a gateway into ambient/ experimental music for me. Manuel Gottsching/ Ashra, AR & Machines, Harmonia. Growing up in the 90s, I mainly used cassettes to record my favourite songs off the radio and would go running at night with a mixtape my father had made with his favourite Michael Jackson tracks transferred from vinyl. It sounded great on a Sony Sports Walkman and didn’t skip.”

He’s clear why the label has stuck with cassettes for the last decade. “It’s a great way to find out about music in the digital age. Releasing in batches introduces listeners to new artists that they may not have heard of, and labels can be an alternative to discovering music with an algorithm, say playlists on Spotify, Soundcloud, etc. Vinyl is unreasonably expensive to produce and unless you’re shelling out even more money, the audio fidelity is questionable vs. digital and a nice DAC or home setup. Cassettes sound great, cost about $3.00 per copy to produce and give the satisfaction of owning something physical. They really work for ambient/ experimental music because they tend to be long form and flow well between tracks. We put out music where the album is more important than a specific track. No need to jump around when the album listen is an experience.”

Werk – Angirú
(Bolinga Everest)

Werk are the trio of Mariano Sandoval, Iván Tovi and Alejandro Coll, and Angirú, a word which translates to ‘soul companion’ in the Guarani language, feels like the most important tape in the world right now. It’s centred around Sandoval’s arpa Paraguaya (Paraguayan harp) playing, which threads together nature recordings and speech from members of the indigenous Guarani, Pilagá, Qom and Wichí communities from Formosa, a region close to the Argentina/ Paraguay border. Those spoken sections come from Whatsapp audio chats Sandoval had with people from those communities, in particular answering questions around what music is and what it means to them. Flurries of speech, sometimes unfurling naturally, others hooked into loops, weave through the lamenting harp plucks and strums. Occasionally the three players lock into magical grooves under the words, Tovi adding subtle synths while Coll adds Charango, an Andean instrument from the lute family, to ‘Lunas De Monte’. There’s an aching longing to the whole thing, an immutable sadness coming from the harp and seeping into the whole entrancing collage, as though they are desperately aware what they’re capturing is fleeting. Angirú feels utterly vital, exuding an inquisitive spirit, an innocent, playful fascination with the world around and the people in it. Sitting in vibrant contrast to those who see nothing but territory and plunder.

Lynn Avery & Cole Pulice – To Live & Die In Space & Time
(Moon Glyph)

Lynn Avery & Cole Pulice have exquisite control of tone, space and pace across the four tracks on To Live & Die In Space & Time. The duo, Avery on piano, synth and electronics and Pulice on tenor sax, electronics and wind synthesizer, developed these tracks from a series of live improvisations in 2020. The pieces unfurl in an elegant interplay, a duality of keyed instruments locked into meditative mantras while sax, electronics and occasional voices meander over the top. At its most unhooked, Pulice’s playing gets into Karma era Pharoah Sanders levels of psychic relief, while the duo’s ability to settle into a texture and explore every possible crevice of it seems to channel Green era Hiroshi Yoshimura. The results are memserising, the tracks trickling out in blissful, vivid, but never cloying flows that gently augment reality. The album slipping from watery serenity into a surprisingly overwhelming cosmic sorrow on closer ‘The Sunken Cabin (Night)’.

Adios Adios – El Milagro
(Drowned By Locals)

I’m not sure what’s going on in this tape from Valencia-based audio-visual artist Adios Adios (aka Fabio Garcia), but it’s unsettling as hell. Sonically El Milagro jumps through dark jazz, disturbed beats, and charcoal-smudged spectres of pop songs. It hits a delirious crescendo on ‘Strange Feeling In The Air’, unhinged, Auto-Tuned vocals sounding like Thomas Ligotti doing pseudo industrial hyperpop. Individually the production on each of these tracks expertly evokes the unsettled. But the accumulated dank atmosphere created by the album as a whole is where the full effect lies. An accompanying zine’s fragmented story of ‘THE INVASION OF ONE WORLD BY ANOTHER’ hints at what’s going on and echoes the strange cut-ups that seep through the music. Album and text combine into a singular paranormal object. As though the splintering of sounds and language is channelling the spookiness that creeps into overstimulated perception. The disconcertingly jumbled narrative on both spools and page feels like a nightmarish apparition manifesting in the flow of information. Whatever the contemporary, cyberspace equivalent of electronic voice phenomena is, El Milagro sounds like it.

Adela Mede – Szabadság

Recorded in her family home on the Slovakian-Hungarian border, Adela Mede‘s Szabadság (a Hungarian word translating to both freedom and holiday) is defiant, cocoon busting music. Mede’s songs are caught in delicate webs of field recordings and electronic textures, a number of the tracks co-produced with Andrew PM Hunt (aka Dialect) or Lung Dart, but they grasp boldly for the horizon. Opener ‘Háromszorra Jövök Össze’ (I come together in three parts) has Mede’s vocals erupt from a rustling soundscape in swaying triumph. ‘Spolu’ (together) rides a stuttering beat, a tangle of sped-up and slowed-down vocals eventually harnessed as it hits the soaring cresendo. ‘Sloboda’ (Slovakian for freedom) adds cello from Hoda Jahanpour, mutated vocals swirling through the strings in an endlessly upwards spinning chorus. These songs switch between three languages – English, Hungarian, Slovakian, they dance between acoustic-synthetic hybrids and what seem like traditional song forms handed through generations. Mede seems to boldly embrace a constant, liberating metamorphosis. Looking out, letting the world in, and becoming stronger for it.

GOATFACE! – Akhenaten Bazucas
(Astral Spirits)

GOATFACE! is a Brazilian collective led by Guilherme Granado and including Thomas Rohrer, Rogerio Martins, Leandro Archela and Ricardo Pereira, and Akhenaten Bazucas sounds like they’re trying to lift an ecosystem off the ground and translate it into sound. I can’t tell if the set’s scintillating hypnosis comes from editing, the feverish energy of the players in the studio, or both, but they reach a genuinely psychedelic zone. Squalls of clarinets and electronics slope into transfixing polyrhythms, looping bass and wild keyboard runs. Instruments collide in weird patterns, confusing your brain between what it’s hearing and what it’s imagining. At points they sound like they’re trying to channel the aura of the rainforest, at others like they’re locked between krautrock repetitiveness, free jazz transcendence and percussive ritual. Case in point, the opening track switches into an electro propelled samba rhythm about 12 minutes in which might be the most triumphant, unexpected transition I’ve heard on tape. For all their exploration GOATFACE! never fail to unearth entire, multicoloured worlds from their jams.

SuperCheri – Featurette
(Kitchen Leg Records)

How do you process the last two years? Italian artist SuperCheri‘s answer is an endlessly proactive one on Featurette – side stepping dwelling on the past and instead letting loose a torrent of joyous bedroom pop into her Tascam four-track. This whole tape is drenched in pure DIY, build the world you want to live in, seize the means of (music) production, energy, bounding between snags of gnarled riffs, surf rock twang and bleeping keyboards and percussion. At points it gets properly noisy, such as ‘Future Tense Bolero’s sludgy angst. Others it’s properly pogoable, the drum machine on ‘Solida’ cajoled into something verging on bedroom Afrobeat. In between come steps into dissonant pop, strange lo-fi beats and sparse bass guitar ballads. These songs are skeletal in their production, but endlessly colourful in what they make from limited means. Hurling in a smorgasbord of sonic references and scything something riotously distinct from the mess.

Syko Friend – Stars Fight Many

The medium is a big part of the message on Syko Friend, aka Sophie Weil’s Stars Fight Many. ‘Dream #2’ uses what sounds like a looping test tone and a recording of someone setting up the home studio as backing, before a deluge of cavernous distortion arrives as though bleeding through from another room. ‘Don’t You Mind’s’ guitar riff speeds up and slows down like someone is messing with the playback, while ‘Raf and Tupelo in the Yard’ keeps cutting out, as though the power supply is on the blink. Buried in ‘Stars Fight Many’ are gorgeous indie folk pop songs, bathed in crumbling distortion and warm hiss, while Weil’s meta-approach to production is vaguely reminiscent of Tommy EP era Klein. Grouper’s AIA era is perhaps another point of reference, but while Liz Harris’ compositions often seemed to surrender into the murk, Weil’s collages sound like she’s wrestling with the lo-fi atmospherics to extract every possibility she can from the decaying means.

Loveridge/Mawsom/Gordon/Miles – Quantum Foam
(Liquid Library)

A live set recorded in early February at Bristol’s Cube, and out on tape already, Quantum Foam captures experimental music in the sincerest sense of the word. The ensemble, Tony Gordon, Matt Loveridge (Fairhorns, MXLX, Team Brick etc.), Simon Mawsom and Charlie Miles (Zero Gravity Tea Ceremony), is an ad hoc one: Loveridge apparently attended as an audience member but ended up joining on piano and vocals. It’s experimentation captured in real time. Across these two free flowing improvisations you hear the process of the four-piece risking strange tangents as they suss out just what it is they’re making together. While the first side works in snarling stop-start shudders, the second hits a hobbling ragtime-grind-prog furore. Guitar and piano prang and flutter in call and response. Drums and bass provoke as much as lay down a groove. Screams sound like they’re about to jump out of the Walkman. The excitement of the four whenever they hit on a eureka moment is catching, making this tape as much fun to listen to as I imagine it was to create.

Halosar – New Forge
(Sound as Language)

Halosar is the duo of James Jano and Cullen Miller. And while New Forge‘s permeable membrane of synthetic and digital textures is reminiscent of Visible Cloaks, they get different results from that familiar palette. Like d’Eon’s Rhododendron tape from last year, the most vibrant moments of the album see Jano and Miller bend these textures into something which feels vaguely proggy, layers of interweaving glassy tones, arpeggios and shimmers stabilising into complicated, multi-layered patterns on ‘Brand Loyalty’ and ‘Rondaxe Prism’. Elsewhere come drastic shifts in atmosphere, such as ‘Mood Range’s jump from synthetic bamboo into bit-crushed miasma, or ‘Server Room Blues’ disarmingly sombre downtempo bleep lament. Rather than settle in a vibe they seek to constantly twist and expand, adding a narrative direction into their sonic environments. The whole album sits somewhere between virtual reality world and magic eye picture, endless layers of depth seeping through and details coming into focus the more time you spend immersed in it.

JAH GOMM – 211215
(Bloxham Tapes)

An unnerving swirl of electronic frequencies collapse into something akin to an orchestra of detuned police sirens. 211215 ends in intensity, in such borderline violence that you immediately want to restart the tape to retrace the steps leading up to the accident. JAH GOMM is the duo of James Alec Hardy and GOMM, aka Dan Allison, who’s also a member of Spool’s Out favourites BAG, and these tracks were recorded in a single day, locked in the same room together with four synths and nothing else. The first side, ‘Recto’, is a whirlpool of razor-edged drones, groans and growls, a torrent of doom-laden frequency which swirls angrily into the void. The b-side feels more cut and spliced from discrete events. An electronic pulse like a dripping tap jumping into an air sucking bass pulse. Just before the crescendo comes the tape’s most melodic moment, a simple key melody which would sound sweet anywhere else but here ends up perturbing. These juxtapositions are what make the final detonation so cathartically jarring. The duo bridge the gap between Wolf Eyes and Thomas Ankersmit, bringing the former’s DIY shock sonics into the latter’s high definition sound architecture and vice versa. Wielding frequencies to bend the mood of the space they’re in.

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