Spool’s Out: Tape Reviews For March By Tristan Bath

Noisy sound art, zen future grime, Brightonian free improv, and tinny ZZ Top motorik dominate this month’s choice tape picks, reviewed by Tristan Bath

A recent highlight from the weekly Spool’s Out radio show on London’s Resonance FM focused on artists utilising tape manipulations to make the music itself. This included tape loops, grainy magnetic tape decay sounds, tape montage, time-stretching, physical interjections, and some live cassette sampling. Head over to spools-out.com, or the Resonance FM website to find out more about the show. Along with all the others, this episode can still be streamed in full via the above, as well as via downloaded as a podcast

Dale Cornish – Cut Sleeve

(Halcyon Veil)

To a certain degree, Cut Sleeve picks up where Dale Cornish’s Clap 12" from the tail end of last year left off. This tape sees Croydon artist Dale Cornish adding a few dabs of colour to that record’s slight, skeletal grooves of mechanically allotted synthetic handclaps. This new take on eerily vacant grooves is the latest in a series of distinctly different sounds Cornish has experimented with, having already completed a series of spatial electronic minimalist rhythm experiments for Antwerp’s Entr’acte label, not to mention a host of truly brutalist noise pop releases with partner in crime Phil Julian. The latter also seemed to bleed over into Cornish’s stellar contribution of his South London tones to rugged banger ‘Do You Rotate?’ on Powell’s Sport album which came out last October.

Cut Sleeve is actually pretty structurally sound by Cornish’s standard – an intro track plus five pop-length productions with enough semblance of groove to make this more user friendly than his intensely minimal sound experiments (e.g. the utterly brilliant, if user unfriendly likes of Ulex). Around the thud of kicks and snap of handclaps, the tunes on Cut Sleeve come in several unexpected textures, from the swaggering looped metallic melody on ‘Infix’, to Cornish’s own pitched down monstrous voice on closer ‘Emperor Ai’. On the intro track ‘Status 2016’ Cornish also makes a Babyfather-like looped statement, that "in 2016 it is illegal to be gay in approximately 75 nations and regions around the world."

The key element though, not only here in fact but perhaps in all of Cornish’s work, is the importance of those empty spaces. Cut Sleeve is a skeletal work of zen future grime, unhurried and dedicated to tackling its themes with the minimum number of tools.

Alix Hyde – Wanderings

(Elestial Sound)

Out via Gainesville, Florida based ‘art collective’ Elestial Sound, Wanderings is the debut release by English musician Alix Hyde. It’s well described as a "spacious textural lo-fi electronic music journey", never nailing itself down to a particular style. Opener ‘Unfolding Flower Of Love’ lives up to the new age-y promise of its title creating a glistening synth-heavy retro dreamscape, while ‘Myriad Tears’ follows with uneasily busy beats punctured through a fuzzed out ceiling. More than just various well realised atmospheres, there are lush melodies littered throughout, such as the addictively sunny arpeggios of ‘Sparklepony’, or ‘All I Want Is You’ which jumps and dives around the sample of a voice and sax, like a Caribou track that never quite reaches the drop. Wanderings is full of beautiful water droplet synth tones and a handful of more unusual roughed up textures which yank the proceedings closer to the poppiest outings of Boards Of Canada. A great introduction to a producer with a healthy helping of multiple personality disorder, and an above average ear for penning tunes. Also is that her Trish Keenan-esque, understated singing appearing suddenly out of the blue on trancey dream sequence ‘Heaven’? Definitely more of that please.

Angel Dust – Excavatum


Billy Gomberg – Transition


Me, Claudius – Reasons For Balloons

(Dinzu Artefacts)

Frankly, I could have picked any of this Los Angeles label’s releases to date to include. It is an offshoot from similarly brilliant drone addicted label Spring Break Tapes but Dinzu Artefact’s purpose however, is to veer off into even less ‘musical’, more noisy, more weird territory. The focus is on artists making music without notes, not quite noisy enough to be noise and not necessarily lush enough to be ambient. To boot the design is luxurious and hygienic, as spaced out, white, and pure as your local contemporary art gallery. Incidentally this also contrasts to the music itself pretty damn sharply.

The label’s latest release is an exemplary noise trip by Pittsburgh artist Angel Dust (aka Kenny Rakentine). Excavatum sees Angel Dust collate ‘natural’ recordings and dronescapes with a relatively old school concrète methodology – old school in that İlhan Mimaroğlu / Iannis Xenakis sense where clusters of noise can align to form truly engulfing soundscapes. The mixing and effects deployed by Rakentine highlight and craft shadowy elements inside the tape’s two rough suites, reforming a dissipated bassline, or applying echo to grainy analogue hiss until the crackles turn into rhythms or wavelike washes of noise.

In comparison, Brooklynite sound artist Billy Gomberg’s offering on Transition is a relatively peaceful affair. Deeper listening reveals layers of hidden meaning, and in my own case, no small amount of terror. This is incredibly abstract music though, and one wonders how much the translucent, vaporous meaning is in the ear of the beholder. The single piece on side A seems at first to blend together various field recordings to create a strange new, third location. Distant industrial clatter or public transport noises soon turn out to be Gomberg’s own tones summoned from goodness knows where, and the collage then segues from place to place as it travels onwards. The two shorter pieces on side B are no less mysterious. Whether the overall effect is peaceful of terrifying is perhaps up to you to decide – either way it’s an absorbing trip to take.

Anonymous Hampshire-based sound artist Me, Claudius is both the jewel in the crown and the black sheep in the family thus far for Dinzu Artefacts. It sounds like a sort of abstract hip hop on side A’s ‘Heartbreaking Shuffle And Statuesque’, as wobbly looped flute groove cut-ups go up against a guest vocalist rapping out Me, Claudius’ Joycian abstract poetry ("2 o’clock at the eternity pig / You with the disaster pig"). It’s in fact a blend of various recordings made on a journey, including a CD-skipping, and car noises plus wind and rain. The result is rhythmic, oddly melodic (there’s a constant bassline throughout), and kind of like some epic concrète jam session in its own way. Above all, it’s pretty funny. Check out side two, where clowny honking noises go up against chin scratching free jazz drums (presumably another skipping CD) and maddening water drips. Even in the manic lunatic fringe hinterland of Dinzu, she sticks out as a particularly wonderful weirdo.

Ondrej Zajac – ICU


This tape by Prague-based Slovak artist (and architecture student) Ondrej Zajac is out on intriguing new London-based tape label ACR. Last April saw Zajac release a CD of beautifully strange and unusual guitar instrumentals, but ICU doesn’t seek to melt your heart as that release did. Fuck knows what’s happened to Zajac in the intervening period, but this music is brutal. "It’s trying to capture the state before the operation," explains Zajac. "The post-anaesthetic hazy condition, and the painful recovery." Well… it figures. ‘Crucified Serpent’ opens with shredding that is pitch shifted and fuzzed out til it resembles Merzbow remixing Zappa. Elsewhere there’s lumbering patterns of fuzz (‘Withering), piercing screeches of fuzz (‘Limbo Mansion’), even eulogies of fuzz (‘Home Treatment’). At the end of one track, ‘Caramel’, an acoustic slide guitar recording emerges from the mix when Zajac removes all effects, gain, fuzz – perhaps that’s what sits inside all of this? However it was made, ICU may at first seem off-puttingly noisy, but sticking around reveals a record which continues to explore the guitar as noise making device, and manages to crossover from punishing to blissful like a death by a thousand cuts.

Rhucle – Tint

(Lillerne Tapes)

Chicago based Lillerne Tapes isn’t so much a label as it is a retreat, a blissful escape from the nasty likes of Ondrej Zajac’s tape (above), envisioning a world where bliss exhale is the norm. Tokyo based artist Rhucle is thus, a perfect match for Lillerne. The Japanese musician’s been churning out the ambient goods-on-tape incessantly since 2015. The relative simplicity (or perhaps formulaicity) of this music neither (a) detracts from its sheer and utter beauty nor (b) seems to be of much concern to Rhucle himself. The artist’s twitter account is a blend of Japanese and English, one recent tweet declaring "I’m feeling ambient music’s effectiveness. It’s too simple. It makes me calm down." Like many of Rhucle’s release thus far Tint is a blend of simple, lush, slow-moving keyboard melodies alongside babbling streams and bird song recordings. Not much more to it than that, but it’s certainly enough – especially if you’re having trouble sleeping/meditating.

Home Entertainment. – Home Entertainment.

(Home Entertainment.)

This guitar-guitar-drums trio from London are way better than they should be. They’re ostensibly – brace yourself – a blues band. They preface this nicely by describing themselves as playing "‘garage drone blues", and adding this further caveat: "more DIY than Homebase". The latter certainly winds up a massive strength, rendering the ZZ Top groove of ‘The Gift I Am’ in bleak tin can sonics. Lead vocalist Simon Williams yelps and singspeaks his way through each song, while second guitarist John WN seems to fumble about like he’s still not actually done working out how his instrument works. The combination is a weird mix of Sebadoh’s crumbling lo-fi charm, Les Rallizes Dénudés’ noisy squall, and the aforementioned blues pop grooves of ZZ Top. If you like that early Black Keys swagger you might even find some joy in this, although it’s definitely way too haggard and nowhere near slick enough for fans of their popular gear. Closing 12-minute jam ‘Sing Goddess’ sprawls into an outright noise jam, riding out a tinny motorik groove until the whole thing damn well croaks. While the brave still fight on and bands like this emerge, there’s hope you for yet dear London.

Jake Marshall. – Fresh Water

(Proto Sites)

The debut by visual artist/musician Jake Marshall on Bratislava/London imprint Proto Sites is a bit of a mission statement and features him marking out his territory amid distressed MIDI notes and sirenesque melodies. His digital toolkit purifies some of the process to rely mainly on melody from a single voice on tracks like ‘Grid’. Elsewhere abstract workouts like ‘Jan1’ or ‘Like A Mothers Love’ resemble chamber world for machinery. Unavoidably the 9-minute title track is the high point – a pulsating epic of MIDI trigger arpeggio presets, leapt between with enough speed and imagination to create a near-symphonic sense of scope from a single voice. The second half, awash with lightning fast clusters of melody, actually transforms notes into rippling textures. Like much of the album, it’s a relatively simple trick – but then again so are Steve Reich’s phase pieces – and in Marshall’s hands the balance between chaos and order is never left to whirl out of control.

somesurprises – serious dreams

(Eiderdown Records)

More than just an enemy to fans of title case everywhere, somesurprises is chiefly the project of Seattle-based singer/guitarist Natsha El-Sergany. Over time it’s expanded beyond a solo project to involve on/off additional members, and this particularly wonderful outing recorded in 2015-2016 includes additional guitar and key textures from the adept fingers of fellow Seattleite folk explorer Josh Medina. El-Sergany’s psychedelic songwriting is certainly a cut above average, as is her longing vocalisation which evokes the mood more potently than an army of fog machines. The duo sit on a chamber bathed in reverb, and while El-Sergany plucks and sings inviting siren-like tunes, Medina fleshes out the cave walls with abstract splashes of impressionist guitar pedal colour. Dabs of wispy Americana do accent the odd pocket of sound on the record – ‘all my failures’ features both a distant harmonica and some forlorn slide guitar – but it’s a thoroughly cosmic outing. Everything is lush and smooth enough to describe as ambient music as much as folk, almost seeming too dreamy to have ever been real. ‘serious dreams’ is just one of those truly alluring doses of music, dripping with colour and emanating life. It’s like stumbling across one of those explosive pink sunsets while driving – just unreal, magical.

Baby – Nomenclature

(Third Kind Records)

Curious, dark and yet utterly beautiful, this music by Brightonian outfit Baby was assembled from myriad improvisations recorded over a six month period. Here Baby are a quartet (though apparently that’s not always the case), and the Instrumentation includes bowed strings, jangled percussion, tinkling chimes, and some sort of synthetic keyboard – but it’s often tough to nail down exactly what sound is coming from where. It’s often miraculous to consider this music was improvised (save ‘one horn line’ apparently), not that it reaches many serendipitous conclusions or anything – in fact it all wanders as you might expect – but the cool atmosphere is so poised orderly it seems uncanny. ‘Minus Twelve’ is a bit of a highlight, rambling over nine minutes with jangly death jazz xylophone pings amid a rough dark acid trip recalling King Crimson’s mysterious lengthy conclusion to ‘Moonchild’. ‘Minus Eleven’ for comparison is a eulogy of a piano improvisation; it doesn’t know where it’s going but works with a bewitched power worthy of Jandek. ‘Minus Three’ has bleak strings plucked and interlocked in front of whistling wind sound effects which are almost comically close to a walk through a haunted house. Most of these tracks are snippets that come in under the two minute mark, and the instrumentation jumps about just as often, yet the black magic mood throughout is never so fractured.

Yearning Kru – Swumpengelf

(Mantile Records)

This sort of aleatoric music can often seem impersonal and cold, then when it tries to hook you, it goes and loses some of that precious abstraction. Nonetheless Croydon based artist Yearning Kru (also a Planet Mu signee and co-founder of the Quantum Natives web label) manages to keep it weird and keep us hooked all at once, hitting the golden ratio. There’s a consistent struggle in Yearning Kru’s acousmatic music, between the glistening cosmos of digital sound making and a rural analogue acid trip through dirt, earth, and mud. ‘Canisters In The Marsh’ is a prime example of Yearning Kru’s sound, all full of blaring snippets, manhandles samples, and low fidelity sonics meshed into a stodgy oozing sound pile. Little snapping twigs and clusters of warm keys occasionally emerge from the musical mash potato, (see ‘The Address’), and closing track ‘Nightbrightener’ allows digital pixelation and happenstance sample buggery to take over, summoning a choppy pond of short circuiting sampled voices, strings, and miscellany. Despite the various elements nabbed from glitch music, Swumpengelf never evades that imagery of clods of mud and earth. You can practically feel them in your hand during album highlight ‘Canisters In The Marsh’. Yearning Kru’s sound is uniquely coloured, and this is perhaps the closest music has got to a Pollock painting: certainly aleatory, but far from alienating.

Threes & Will – Purge Of Genden

(Nothing Out There)

Drawing inspiration from filmmakers Konstantin Lopushansky and Piotr Szulkin – both purveyors of post-apocalyptic futurescapes – Estonian noisemaker Threes & Will offers up six doses of psychedelic noise of varying degrees of brutality. Overall the focuses is not on fuzz or punishment, but rather on colourful texture and repetitive melodies. ‘Koniec Cywilizacji’ (Polish for ‘End of Civilization’) views the apocalypse with unnerving ease, seemingly happy with the chaos of fuzzed out guitar loops. ‘The Conquest Of Zhangzhung’ (Zhangzhung was an ancient Tibetan region predating Buddhism) is a similarly steady ritual of repeated guitars and ultimately some guttural vocalisations, again not so much brutal or dark as somewhat peaceful and pleasantly weird. ‘Bunkers’ is another dose of repetitive riffing too. It’s only on closing diptych ‘Erebus’ and ‘Sharpen The Knife, Go Uphill To Kill Jesus’ that Threes & Will starts to more thoroughly rock out, variably stoner riffing and attacking his guitar strings as if sharpening a particularly stubbornly blunt knife over a simple drum beat. Simply perfect for that hit of post-apocalyptic Estonian noise rock fumblings you’ve been looking for.

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