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

Achingly raw spoken word, achingly raw vocal contortions, dungeon synth from an abandoned church, and a whole load of duos in this month’s Spool’s Out

Randal Fisher & Dexter Story

This month’s column, which also includes a few things from the tail end of last year, is duo heavy. There’s something especially captivating in music made by two people. You can hear the interpersonal dynamics at play, the meeting of minds, the conflicts and synchronicity. Whether it’s face to face interactions, or file shared jams such as Yolkek (more on that below).

Two cassettes from Notice Recordings capture it all. Hailstone Temple is a live set of dazzling interplay between Camilo Ángeles (flute) and Joanna Mattrey (viola), performed in a 17th century church and monastery turned arts space in Mexico City. Ángeles and Mattrey’s responses to each other feel specular, but the reflections in their playing are drastically refracted, propelling unpredictable forms from their dialogue. Although the instruments are different, how they interact reminds me of Derek Bailey and Cyro Baptista’s Cyro. Mattrey’s viola becomes percussive, or gets strummed like a zither. Ángeles’ flute stutters, chirrups and yelps. Like Bailey and Baptista, they’re entangled as they drag each other into unfamiliar places. Ángeles and Mattery never completely jettison the baroque histories of their tools. Flickers of ornate harmony and melody soar out from time to time, giving their music tension and contrast. Like ornaments shattering before your eyes.

Wind Tide, Texas-based Gretchen Korsmo and Andrew Weathers, have a slower, but no less instinctive dialogue on Blue Breaking Down, one which interacts with the resonances of the room they’re playing in as much as each other. Where Ángeles and Mattery respond in the moment, Korsmo and Weather stretch each second out. On the first side, coarse sheets of droning distortions splinter and contort through the air while Korsmo’s voice lulls over the top. Burbling echoes of her vocal start to creep in, followed by restless rattles and shakes. An effect akin to flipping over a slab of rock and finding a community of creepy crawlies on the underside. On the second track jingling bells enter the fray, Korsmo’s voice gets more angelic. All this provokes the distortion into harrowing mid-range catharsis intense enough to warp everything around it.

There’s a different kind of sharing on both tapes. Where Ángeles and Mattrey dance over the precipice together, revelling in the possibility of the moment, Wind Tide is a joint slip out of step. A moment of sinking into sound and surround together. Both dynamics are equally captivating to hear.

Yolkek – Big Pylon
(Cardboard Club)

When I hear Hull-based Yol contorting, wrestling, yanking at words as though trying to express something with language that language can’t convey, I feel his extended rant technique is channelling our imploding isle in a form both abstract and utterly visceral. For Big Pylon he teams up with Yeovil-based Kek-w to form Yolkek. Kek-w brings a twitching rogue sci-fi soundscape around Yol’s voice, a glitch and clang perfectly placed for maximum delirium. Over the top Yol growls from the vantage point of someone watching reality dissolve around them, a delivery not a million miles away from Gwilly Edmondez or Phil Minton, but with a greater appreciation for the power of absurd exposition. “That isn’t a busker, it’s 100 tired bees singing what might be a country and western song” strains atop a sheet of grating electricity. “Economically shorter children, a business heatwave, yaargh, it’s a summer of savings if you know where to look” over broken glass percussion. “Sure the news is bad, but there’s still time to have the perfect set of taps…” Yolkek craft ugly surrealism completely at one with the shitstorm of the 2020s. Bizarre yet relatable. Relatable because it’s so bizarre. Their music is permanently at the end of its tether. Thrilling, disturbing, playfully bamboozling, and at one with these feral days.

Sun Yizhou & Yan Jun – The First Day Of The History
(Infant Tree)

“Sounds are experienced internally, as the translation of acoustic waves into nerve signals… they do not leave any trace in the world” writes Manon Burz-Labrande in her introduction to ‘Spectral Sounds’, a collection of ghost stories where sound, or its absence, plays a prominent role. “There is no proof that one heard a strange noise. It is quite literally, all in our heads.” On the first day of the history, Sun Yizhou and Yan Jun toy with sound’s separation from trace. Scraping metal, buzzing groans, and distant knocks. Disorientingly proximate rustles and incessant typing. Some sounds in the pair’s palette seem familiar, perhaps from things we’d find in our own home, but ripped out of context they’re allowed to become something else. The Beijing-based duo’s compositions aren’t especially spooky, but they invite us to hear differently. Not to hear unexplained sounds, but to listen to sound without needing an explanation of the source. It’s adjacent to foley that’s escaped the work of having to give voice to visuals. But that’s just bolting on a familiar name to try and place the duo’s unique practice. An auditory world where the incidental can be vibrant.

Hi! Capybaras – A/M/Y/G/D/A/L/A
(Self release)

Nothing is hidden on Hi! Capybaras, aka Kyle Acab’s A/M/Y/G/D/A/L/A, these haunted synth and spoken word tracks are a portal into private space. Setting reinforces the effect, luminous synths crumpled by tape, sonic comfort food while Leonard Susskind lectures reel off in the background. Through memories of pet snails and youthful misdemeanors, Hi! Capybaras holds a mirror up to past and present in search of a thread. Loss and discovery roll into tender honesty. “Have you ever felt truly, truly, truly alone? I mean like really, truly alone?” They ask on ‘Things That I Wld Tell My Younger Self. Addressing the listener, the question halts time, fully embroils us with Hi Capybaras!’s perspective. Though stark and ruminating, this is generous music. Its vulnerability lifts facades, shatters the pressure to keep up appearances. Putting it all out there and perhaps offering a glimmer of comfort in the act of sharing.

Randal Fisher & Dexter Story – Wenge
(Constellation Tatsu)

For Wenge, Randal Fisher and Dexter Story were inspired by 10 Days In Watts, a docuseries about people working to build a better life in one of Los Angeles’ poorest areas, including a community initiative to build a farm in the middle of the urban neighbourhood, one of the US’ biggest food deserts. The tape’s title, meanwhile, comes from a hardy tree found in Cameroon, Congo and Gabon whose wood is used to build instruments, including some of the flutes, balaphones and guitars that appear here. Fisher and Story’s tracks journey between fervent and contemplative, glowing synths climbing through intricate percussion patterns and roaming wind instruments. On ‘Zephyr’ and ‘Aureate (Golden)’ high-life grooves appear, while the more exploratory pieces capture the feeling of soulful peregrination found in Karma-era Pharoah Sanders. Depth in rhythm and harmony gives their music a sense of resilience. Wenge is uplifting, but not effortlessly so. It bristles with energy and aspiration. An aural building project that reflects the spirit needed to make a fertile space in a concrete sprawl.

Agathe Max – Shadoww

Shadoww, is the first solo release in a few years from France-born, London-based Agathe Max, violin and viola player for Abstract Concrete, UKAEA and Ondata Rossa. It journeys from blissful voice and yearning bow work on ‘Ylang Ylang On Heart’ through to intricate synthesis and pounding beats. It’s widescreen, panoramic music propelled by fervid energy, but never at the expense of detail and nuance. Partly inspired by shadow work exercises from her friend Louise Bolla – that is, a practice of psychological therapy which aims to connect with what’s hidden in the unconscious – Max’s music traces a parallel possibility in sound. Music’s ability, whether in a church or a club, to give a brief glimpse of being plugged into something beyond your own ego. Each of these songs traps that energy, sharing flickers of possibility to light up the miserable night.

Új Bála – Idegen Tartalom

Hungary-born, currently Belgium-based Gábor Kovács is a prolific cassette voyager as Új Bála. The project has moved from wonkily angled grooves into squidgy noise and melted minimalism, Kovács persistently sideways to whatever’s in vogue in the venn-diagram between beats and experimental music. Nevertheless, Idegen Tartalom is an unexpected pivot. Featuring his vocals prominently for the first time over mangled minimal wave, there’s hints of The Rebel mixed with NSRD’s Hardijs Lediņš in his delivery. The music is full of crumpled drums and raked synth textures – the queasy tone that opens first track ‘19000 Kep’ is expertly crafted abrasion, captivating for its jarring quality. The album rolls from that overture into knotted acid basslines and clanging electronics. A tape of twisted beats and peculiar tones optimised to share maximum crankiness.

Frunk 29 – Sequentia
(Not Not Fun Records)

The dreamy guitar, synth and drum machine jams on Sequentia build on the lineage running from Manuel Göttsching to The Durutti Column, via a side-helping of lo-fi bedroom exotica. Frunk29, aka Moscow-based Marat Shainsky plays with remarkable restraint, his compositions accruing new layers through shimmers and glints rather than shoehorned crescendos. It’s an album that needs to be experienced whole for its accumulation of depth from light and jangly beginnings to have full effect. By eighth track ‘Photka’ you’re fully locked into the wavelength. As a twinkly synth sequence spools out in a fluctuating loop, drips of percussion, synthetic auras and electronic flashes start to spark. The surface hasn’t changed, but as you listen there’s life bristling in a different paradigm around the edges. It’s a mirage-like effect that happens too often to be by chance, from ‘Bubblegun’s space age swoon through to motorik closer ‘Koroleva Dancepola’. This is music that both encourages and rewards sticking around and waiting for things to get blurry.

King Vatra – Bog Procession
(Realm & Ritual)

Bog Procession is dungeon synth that’s jumped out of the virtual realm to haunt the real. King Vatra (aka Andy Aquarius) recorded these tracks in an abandoned church in Croatia. Sinister fugues and stern organ arpeggios create a mood spectral and epic. On closer ‘Moroz’ Cave’, a tableau of spooky high frequencies tangle over a held organ chord, a sonic shiver evoking Ligeti as much as a game soundtrack. My favourite dungeon synth tends to toy with schlocky regality to evoke something bigger through it. It’s there in Forgotten Ghost’s frost-bitten synthesis, the peculiar-melancholy that seeps through Chaucerian Myth’s parping medieval realms, and it’s in King Vatra’s ability to convey the mix of beauty and menace that creeps out of abandoned sacred buildings.

Acid Fuck – Lovemuscle Baby
(Industrial Coast)

Acidfuck, aka Teesside-based duo Dave Johnston and Conny Plankton, originally self-released Lovemuscle Baby in 1998, with Industrial Coast reissuing it for this new cassette edition. Opener ‘Organic Chemistry For Beginners’ is built on a loop that could be being broadcast directly into my head from my parents’ car radio on a late night drive, circa 1997. At least until the beat mangles and the wolf howls come in. Throughout this tape, nocturnal string pads get distilled through splayed drum loops and discombobulating interference. On ‘Death Becomes Her’ a slowed down growl acts as the vocal hook. ‘Foetal Stomp’ is baggy house meets deranged town centre. It’s club music warped through an outsider’s lens. A blast of industrial oddness hi-jacking the dance-pop airwaves. An unlikely bridge between Cabaret Voltaire and Burial. More than a brilliant artefact, it’s a premonition, of a lot of contemporary music, and an etiolated space doused with seething kinesis.

Kenn Hartwig – Gameboys & Pedals
(Anunaki Tabla)

The title of Kenn Hartwig’s Gameboy & Pedals reveals the tools used for these eight miniatures. The Berlin-based artist uses a range of software designed to hack the console into an instrument. While he’s not the first electronic producer to work with a Nintendo handheld, he finds unique depths of texture. Queasy churns of lo-bit bass, chiming gothic soundscapes, weird synthetic weather. On ‘I Can’t Cast That Here’ he creates a bleepy haunted house, while ‘Now Where Would I Put This’ rides razor edged sidechaining. There’s gallons of resourcefulness and detail in his delve into a restricted palette. Showing that retro technologies don’t have to produce retro sounding music.

Infant – Sigla, Sone
(Warm Winters Ltd.)

A peculiar motion arrives three minutes into ‘Part and Parcel’, the first track on Infant’s Sigla, Sone. Off-kilter yet regular, it’s a squeaky, yapping pattern. A series of overlapping, mismatched gears, perhaps, or a wobbly dawn chorus. It keeps returning with a different timbre, cropping up amongst the album’s bare songs, chiming zithers and weightless electronics. It’s there on ‘Micah’ and ‘Pebble’, but translated into synthetic voices. It’s a curious motif, a dose of odd gravity that bends the album’s collection of lush sounds into a fluctuating reverie. Athe album pivots between drift and wonky agitation, you feel directly exposed to the uneven flow of time. A bottling of a situation when the clocks full away and everything just is.

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