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

Daryl Worthington dives into the glorious mess of the tape scene, finding mucky ambient, finding kosmiche architecture, aquarium jazz, and room bending dance music

Rose Bolton by Marc de Guerre

Looking for trends in the cassette underground feels apophenic, so diverse and dispersed the format that ultimately, everything seems to be happening, all the time. But patterns do sometimes crop up, a kind of cassette zeitgeist which seeps through and joins things together.

Recently, there’s been a glut of artists working in familiar spaces of field recording, electronics and sparse minimalism, but sticking them together with uniquely messy ends. They don’t strive to create virtual environments, refine or deconstruct sound, or field record for high-definition authenticity. Instead, these composers sit in an earthy middle ground among human made and non- human made noise pollution. A kind of mucky ambient revelling in interference and detritus.

Slovakia’s Mappa label is a key pivot in this messy corner of the tape universe. Their latest, Cheryl E. Leonard’s Schism, cracks the boundary between natural and artificial. The title track has her place microphones on her computer to record its inner workings. The sounds are meshed with recordings of local wildlife, a true picture of our sonic world created as the gap between electronic and organic gets increasingly thin, the chirps and calls of microchips rising into an uneasy harmony with the birds. Second track Eremozoic sees Leonard place microphones into 100 year old bottles pulled from the San Francisco dirt. The cloudy glass acts as filter, a piece of litter transforming the external world into eerie resonances and strange echoes.

The sonic image created brings to mind Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s book The Mushroom At The End Of The World. Tsing traces the commodity chain of Matsutake mushrooms to highlight the complex connections shaping the planet. Put simply, humans, our technologies and institutions aren’t above nature, we’re thoroughly embedded in it. Tsing explains this assemblage through a music metaphor. It’s a polyphony of intertwined autonomous melodies, rather than dominated by a unified melody and rhythm, as tends to be the case in, for instance, rock.

The connection to Tsing’s writing is made explicit in a Mappa release from earlier this year, Infant’sFace First In The Entangled. Infant forges a sonic reflection of the networks between mushrooms and other living things Tsing describes. The music has a striking lack of separation between synthetic and natural sound. Vocals are cut up and processed to the point they sound like seeds travelling on the wind, while the electronic textures diffuse like someone sifting through the dirt. Digital and earthy are intertwined, and nothing comes close to the role of lead instrument, your ears instead needing to track the overlap of different sounds to make any kind of sense of this strange sonic network.

These messy cartographies of organic and inorganic sounds aren’t just coming from Mappa. Londoner Amy Cutler’s recent tape on Crow Versus Crow, The Ends (Also End) Of (The) Earth And Variants, enters a similarly mucky zone. Inspired by a medieval English riddle which uses the word earth (erthe) twelve times over its three lines, Cutler weaves and tangles field recordings, surface noise and spooky electronics around lamenting folk songs and lulling loops. Both electrical interference and field recordings of what sounds like feet on stones frequently crop up, but as the tape goes on the line between them gets tougher to grasp. The singing frequently gets effected, whether by the resonance of the cavernous space where they were recorded, or on ‘the earth-worn face of the living’ by digital degradation. Like the Cheryl E. Leonard and Infant releases, Cutler’s work splatters the organic into the inorganic, the soft whirs of electronics into geology, dissolving the boundary between music and non-music, composer and environment. The key thing seems to be the way these elements connect, overlap and tangle into each other. In that collision, they don’t strive to seek some ideal natural purity, but instead map the messy polyphonic assemblage we’re all part of.

Middex – Let The Engine-Loud Apocalypse Play Havoc With Your Soul


Let The Engine-Loud Apocalypse Play Havoc With Your Soul reads like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor title gone haywire, but Londoner Middex, aka Kevin Hendrick grapples with inertia rather than apocalypse here. Arrangements of bare drum machines, battered synths and muffled vocals hint at the DIY electro-oddness of John Bender, or perhaps the Space Lady if all her routes of psychic escape were blocked. His lyrics fire mundane language into cuttingly beautiful phrases, “acute aloofness of power, a lonely blue flower, dies in a third home,” on opener ‘Panic Architecture’, or “our souls like larks in mud” on ‘Spanner’, a track which sounds suspiciously like self-care advice wrestling with a panic attack. Vague word associations start to plot the outline of concrete frustrations, whether it’s with those in power, landlords, or the tedium of it all. Through sheer elegance these lines of poetic clarity prevent complete surrender to despair. Going forward may have got cancelled, as Hendrick says on ‘Rest Up The Gesture’, but by hijacking the banal language of the present he makes the wrecked machine a little less oppressive.

Rose Bolton – The Lost Clock

(Cassauna/Important Records)

There’s something transfixing in the way tones, drones and chimes move through Rose Bolton’s four compositions on The Lost Clock. Gentle nudges and fluctuations on the surfaces of sound like some benevolent poltergeist making itself felt. On ‘Unsettled Souls’ a veil of what sounds like bowed instruments but might be synths curls into barely struck percussion. ‘The Lost Clock’ has the faint residue of something metronomic pulsing through, and when the actual drum beat emerges it flows into the mix like a gentle current rather than tethering anchor. Beautifully titled ‘The Heaven Mirror’ slides into shadows of haggard strings, as though what little tension there was keeping these composition taught finally slackened. The whole tape is softly addictive, suspending time like staring out over the flickering city lights at night.

Prolaps – Ultra Cycle Pt. 2: Estival Growth

(Hausu Mountain)

The gargantuan, swarming beats of Prolaps rip dance music down to its rawest energy and then explode the essence. Ultra Cycle Pt.2 is the second of four albums planned from the duo of Machine Girl (aka Matt Stephenson) and Bonne Baxter (vocalist producer in Kill Alters) this year – one coming out on each solstice and equinox. Their tracks boldly mangle together bpms into a maximalist whole. Footwork hyperactivity battles tectonic low end, frantic drum & bass accelerates into gabba euphoria, polyrhythms sprout more polyrhythms before detonating into twisted robot mulch. It variously sounds like multiple amen breaks colliding, an AI drum circle collapsing or, on ‘You Cant Ddddiiiieeee’, as if the duo somehow managed to sidechain an ecosystem. They sometimes hit a straight house or techno groove, but there’s always an absurd texture, or gloriously unpredictable beat switch to knock the whole thing on its head. For all these wild sonics though, it’s dance music at heart, and the near two hour running time of this tape provokes constant movement from mind, limbs, and anything in between.


(Grimalkin Records)

“Sex is good, but have you ever fucked the system?” sing Namoro, aka Parisian duo Bili Bellegarde and Masacre, on XTRA CAXXIA’s opener. This is music of proud lust, rallying against prudishness with every note, kick and groan of the EP’s eleven minutes. Recorded in their eighth-floor studio apartment, XTRA CAXXIA is charged with the nocturnal allure of underground spaces and hidden faces. The opener and ‘Your Eyes Betray (feat. Kelyboy), are hi-nrg noir, pulsating with enough ecstasy that the floor throbs if you close your eyes. ‘Moon’ and ‘Audre Burns Me’ slow things down, descending into tobacco smoke romanticism, sorrowful soundscapes and woozy slow dances – think the fuzzy stagger through the dawn blur as the city speeds up around you. The production throughout is exquisite in its swing between feral dance floor energy and intricate depth, making XTRA CAXXIA feel like reassurance that getting carried away is liberation rather than embarrassment. Four tracks of pure shame resistant joy and unquenchable freedom.

Charlatan – The Glass Borders

(Moon Glyph)

Charlatan is Brad Rose, and on The Glass Borders he assembles pristine architecture from kosmiche synths, trickling melodies and glowing field recordings. Opener ‘All Your Gifts Are Weightless’ wanders from burbling arpeggios into high-speed bell sounds before dripping into serene chords and soft shards. All four tracks seem delicately composed, patiently structured, yet yoked to the natural cycle of things so that listening feels like watching stalagmites and stalactites form around you. Closer ‘On The Cheek’ moves away from sequences and arpeggios, conjuring images of standing outside in the rain listening to someone play piano indoors, a warm glow seeping out into the cold. The liner notes say these tracks are rooted in Rose’s experience of fatherhood, and that’s most keenly felt in the way these compositions seem to erect a protective shelter. As though the electronics are working to build a place to dwell for posterity.

Gnäw – I

(Cruel Nature Records)

The next few years are likely to be dominated by collaborations recorded remotely during Covid, but Gnäw, Iranian born Arash Ghasem and Finland’s Simo Hakalisto managed to make these tracks face-to-face in Prague. Ghasem plays a selection of traditional instruments, setar, pump organ and percussion, processed through Hakalisto’s modular synths. The acoustic sounds dominate, whether it’s the brittle plucks of ‘Mirha’, the pulsing percussion driving ‘Waters Of Ether’, or the languid flurries of ‘Marras’. The meditations on eastern scales are effortlessly encased in electronic warmth and drenched vocals, synthetic and organic becoming completely symbiotic. Hakalisto says Ciat-Lonbarde Tocantes instruments – electronic devices where pitch is controlled by moving hands on a touch pad – were a big part of the compositions. That tactility is keenly felt, as though the pair hoisted a big block of esoteric sound in the air and moulded it into these blissfully scorched, psychedelic jams.

Phexioenesystems – Complicities And Entanglements

Kailin – Auteur Theory

Jordan Stanley – Empty For Hundred

(Salmon Universe)

The new batch from London’s Salmon Universe, curated by DEEP LEARNING (Richard Pike) and JQ sees them continue exploring the unique headspace they’ve opened up between plunderphonics, 80s Japanese Ambient and something almost vaporwavey. There’s a dewy quality to Phexioenesystems, aka Dominic Thurgood’s electronics on Complicities And Entanglements, the tracks playing out like a delicately poised water feature. Sparse synth figures reminiscent of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s pure textures feel engineered into a well-balanced machine rather than composed. Components placed together and allowed to interact and evolve. A system of expertly balanced push and pull forces striking serene inner and outer equilibrium. Kailin aka Colin Hallet’s Auteur Theory goes into a murkier zone, more focused on tension than balance. Faded day-glo synths are scratched with blasts of Ben Vince’s saxophone on opener ‘Visions’, creating something akin to Bohren & der Club of Gore making lo-fi house. The album is defined by dualities, degraded, frazzled sonics overlayed with high-definition instrumentation, like a fissure of colour opening up in a black and white film. Empty For Hundred is an act of self-remixing by Edinburgh based Jordan Stanley (real name Jordan Russell-Hall). Taking his previously recorded music, re-recording it at different speeds, then further chopping and recolouring the audio. This editing gives the gently glitched pads and soaring soundscapes a lush, wobbly quality, remixing as evolution rather than dilution. Trance-y stabs become flickering monuments, chord progressions slip into crumpled pulses. The added grain and flutter make the whole thing sound more storied, and more substantial.

Boom Edan – 2021


2021 is inspired by a dream Boom Edan, real name Tuukka Asplund, had about an open mic jam in an underwater jazz cellar, and his attempt to recreate it is gloriously bizarre. Melodramatic hits of piano, tin can percussion, and synthetic doos and dahs float around each other on ‘Sad Water Tiger’, gelling into an anti-groove of queasy serenity. ‘Spontaneous Incabuts’ squeezes an unplanned drum solo through bird song and other animal noises. Although there’s a playful quality to these nine tracks they feel positively Lynchian at times – equally kitsch and disturbing. The only comparison I can think of is Rashad Becker’s electro-acoustic anthropologies, but the connection is more in the weird form rather than content. 2021 sounds like a free jazz band bubbling through a fish tank filter, achieving Asplund’s aim as the music diffuses with its own perversely oneiric logic. A surreal, aquatic concoction rippling out of the speakers in an endlessly compelling way.

The Conduits – Slide Thrombosis

(Steep Gloss)

I always assumed a glitch depended on a line of normality, an end point where the sound was meant to end up to make the disruption apparent, but The ConduitsSlide Thrombosis is glitches on glitches all the way down. There’s not much information about this reclusive duo, aside from the fact they live in the southern US and they sent these recordings to Steep Gloss on cassettes wrapped in surgical stockings. A big chunk of the source material was captured surreptitiously on public transport, other passengers talking or blasting music from their phones. These microscopic snippets of audio play out in stuttering loops, although rather than concentric circles of sound they are more like wobbly Venn diagrams. It’s a hypnotic listen, never quite abrasive enough to be noise, never quite ethereal enough to be ambient. A soundtrack for a world where everyone’s plugged in and everything is knocked slightly off its axis.

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