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

Solo trumpet doom, flamenco free jazz, and new ways of playing the room. Daryl Worthington finds thrilling experiments going down in the tape world this month

Neo Geodesia by Emmanuel Ojomo

This month starts on the sad news that the man who made this all possible, Lou Ottens, has died. The Dutch engineer is credited with inventing the cassette tape, presenting the first version at a Berlin electronics fair in 1963. He passed away 6 March at his home in the Netherlands.

Marketed with the tagline “smaller than a pack of cigarettes,” portability and convenience were Ottens’ goal from the start. But it’s curious to think if he ever imagined just how far his invention would go as a cultural object. We’ve all heard stories from those who grew up listening to John Peel about how they’d tape the show, while for others relatively cheap recorders turned the cassette into a personal archive. Most of those practices have started to dwindle as new technology takes over, but one which persists is musicians using cassette tapes to document and spread their sounds.

Ottens’ invention has taken on a varied role in underground scenes, for artists it’s a way to spread music quickly and easily, for listeners it’s an object they can hold. More than that, it builds connections and blurs boundaries, lumps of plastic containing sound that are traded and shared as well as bought and sold.

Those last two perhaps show why the cassette has persisted. Smartphones or personal computers with recording software should have made cassettes redundant as gateways to record and distribute music, yet they haven’t. The reason may be that while the Smartphone comes networked, the cassette tape makes you build your own.

As we’re increasingly aware of the baggage that comes with anything connected to the Cloud, the cassette tape’s simplicity remains its strength. Though many of the communities and cultures built up around the tape scene are now connected, at least to some extent, online, the humble cassette remains an interface to an offline universe of wild sounds and different values. A discrete, clearly delimited object which paradoxically opens gateways rather than closes them. And, whether he planned it or not, for that we have to thank Lou Ottens.

An Embrace, a new collaboration between the Bulgarian Amek Collective and Germany’s Vaagner label, reveals some of why the cassette remains so vital. The labels were commissioned by the Easterndaze festival to invite artists from East and West Europe to form the new duos documented here. The result is four beautiful compositions that exist as self-contained moments, each exploring warm, drifting textures with exceptional concision and focus. The whole project could have remained archived in the digital ether, but Amek and Vaagner have instead rendered it to tape with an accompanying zine containing interviews with the artists involved. I imagine this collaboration started over the internet, but the tape gives it a life offline as well, temporarily severing the cyberspace connection to allow a different interaction.

Tasting Menu – Stand Closer When You Have Something To Say


Taking the idea of musicians reacting to the room to whole new levels, Stand Closer When You Have Something To Say sees LA based Tasting Menu set up in a large studio with concrete floors and wooden doors. These properties of the space carry more significance than usual, as for much of this album those surfaces are instruments, the trio of Tim Feeney, Cody Putman and Cassia Streb are captured rubbing, smacking and slamming out a remarkably diverse cacophony. It seems like a weird inversion of a foley track, instead of objects being used to add audio effects to a film, they are allowed to take on a life of their own. At points there are sounds like bottles rolling on floors, at others rain pouring. While the first side of the tape is largely percussive, the flip introduces more pitches and tones. It becomes hard to know for sure what’s an instrument and what’s not, but that distinction also seems arbitrary. The most miraculous thing about this release though, is just how dynamic it is as a wonderfully off-kilter symphony.

Neo Geodesia – 2562 Neon Flames


The debut album from Neo Geodesia, aka Saphy Vong, is dedicated to his mother, Chun Leng. In 2019 Vong was travelling to Phnom Penh to see her in hospital, but she died before he arrived. It happened at the start of Khmer New Year celebrations, a coinciding of tragedy and celebration the weight of which is difficult to imagine. 2562 Neon Flames is far from sombre however, taking samples of everything from traditional Smot and Kantoam funeral music to Cambodian TV show jingles and smashing them together with hyperactive electronics to create 13 high energy collages. Second track ‘Fanta Rouge’, with its pounding drums and ridiculously addictive melody, is the most ecstatic thing I’ve heard in ages, all the more remarkable considering the sadness which surrounds it. Sometimes falling into more abstract vibes, there’s a punk efficiency throughout this tape which means no sound is allowed to outstay its welcome. There’s no right way to mourn or process death, and on 2562 Neon Flames, Neo Geodesia shows that sometimes the greatest tribute is to capture the vibrancy of life.

More Eaze – Yearn

(Lillerne Tapes)

Austin based More Eaze, aka Mari Maurice, takes a mellow turn with new album Yearn compared to 2020’s hyperactive, gleefully synthetic Mari. The four tracks here have a delicate patience in the way they fill up time, and that extra space makes even clearer the vast array of sounds she wields. Housey synths morph into arpeggios on ‘galv’, snippets of cut up voice and recordings of local wildlife fluttering around in the background. ‘Priority’, featuring vocals from Ben Bondy, forges treated voices into an acoustic guitar led robo-ballad. This isn’t music that chases mindlessly to a techno future though. The field recordings that populate it, which Maurice captured walking the dog in the local neighbourhood, or from quiet moments in her home, seem to strive to amplify the magic in the everyday. No doubt More Eaze’s compositions are coloured with a vibrant palette of weird sonics, but sneaking into these are stealthy, lovely melodies’. This is music that takes risks, but I feel the real secret to her craft is that underneath it all are beautiful pop songs.

Ayami Suzuki & Leo Okagawa – Undercurrent/Wanderlust


There’s a well-worn cliché of live albums capturing the room itself, but with Undercurrent/Wanderlust, it feels like the reverse, as though Ayami Suzuki & Leo Okagawa are performing these two side long improvisations inside your speakers. Suzuki’s short, wordless melodies feel like accidentally tuning into someone privately singing to themselves. Okagawa adds electronics, taking the word literally with a palette of buzzes, whines and static that sounds like it’s pushing up against the speaker cone. At points Suzuki’s voice sinks into long reverbs and stretches out into shivering drones, while Okagawa’s sparse tones morph into gentle pulses. The word hum takes on different meaning when you describe it as something a person does, versus the sound made by an appliance, one is intimate action, the other the background noise of a machine. With Undercurrent/Wanderlust Suzuki and Okagawa bridge that gap. Creating music so delicate you want to protect it as much as listen to it.

Sharkula x Mukqs – Take Caution On The Beach

(Hausu Mountain)

“I try and keep it classy, but I keep it nasty” raps Chicago’s Sharkula on ‘Do You Like Country Music?’ It’s a line that captures everything that’s so glorious about Take Caution On The Beach, his second collaboration with Mukqs, aka Max Allison. A telepathic synchronisation between the pair allowing unpredictable, improbable jumps in the flow of rhymes and beats. As Mukqs, Allison has produced a distinct catalogue of solo multicoloured electronic weirdness over the years. Sharkula, meanwhile, has released over 40 EPs and albums across a twenty-year career. Though COVID-19’s heavy toll looms large, his verses here cover a lot of ground, with dazzling jumps in association plotting out vivid portraits and creating strange connections. His imagery can be gross, but that occasional vulgarity and the jarring jumps in the beats aren’t just to shock, they give the album it’s precious humanity. “The world is not ending, your heart is beeping, like a pager,” raps Sharkula on ‘I Paint Like A Painter’. We might all be gross humans, but for me, Sharkula and Mukqs show remembering that could be where salvation lies.

Marco Serrato/Raúl Cantizano – Tiento madera

(Tsss Tapes)

Marco Serrato & Raúl Cantizano summon a headspinning squall from Spanish guitar and double bass for the ten improvisations of Tiento medera, the Spanish pair carrying a frantic, unsettled energy as they tease every possibility from their instruments. Cantizano’s guitar jumps from Derek Bailey-esque half muted runs into flamenco strums, while Serrato’s bass switches from bowed tones into bouncing whacks and meandering walks. The two never stray too far away from each other though, keeping the sense of a heated conversation that’s so pivotal to making improvised music work. There’s a spectacular dexterity in the duo’s playing, high speed staccato plucks making it feel like a pointillist painting repeatedly creased up then straightened out. Despite the sparse instrumentation, the tracks ebb and flow in intensity, a strange, unstable, free form swarm that doesn’t feel like it could have been made by just four human hands.

Espen Lund – ÆTONAL


Espen Lund’s ÆTONAL is a solo trumpet album, but you have to listen closely in order to tell. For the duration of most of this tape it’s impossible to believe that these sounds were made by anything less than a rip in the universe. The Norwegian composer plays his electric trumpet in a ring of amplifiers, avowedly sticking to the motto “more is more”. Feedback inevitably ensues, but he takes that as a tool rather than a hinderance, taming and sculpting it to create five tracks of immense burn. It’s undoubtedly doomy and monolithic, but though comparisons with Sunn O))) or early Earth make sense, I feel describing it as drone doesn’t quite capture the full range of what’s happening here. There’s a surprising amount of movement in these walls of sound, flickering high frequencies, and charred blues-y melodies poking through, while cathartic slabs of bass and wail arrive with far too much intention to be accidental. It sounds remarkably gothic, sitting on the precarious border between overwhelming light and overwhelming dark.

Müriscia Divinorum/Pablo Picco/Aphra Cadabra – Electronic Neorruralism Music in Viarava & Charava


It’s hard to tell what’s environmental and what’s composed on Electronic Neorruralism Music In Viarava & Charava, so tangled up between person, machine and wildlife the whole thing sounds. The human component is Argentine trio Müriscia Divinorum, Aphra Schneal and Pablo Picco, and on ‘Ajna Meditation’ they embed a slowly intensifying drone in a blanket of bird calls. Stranger things get added, including what sounds like transmissions through a broken radio, the polyphony of textures eventually striking a crescendo as individual sounds blur into one shifting mass. ‘Popliteo y Toso & El Sol No Existe’ has more space, a simple, mournful melody emerging through clutter and spooky vocalisations, the whole thing strikingly gorgeous. An off-balanced mix of broken nature recordings and homemade musique concrete, this tape also seems to tap into something inexpressible that feels much older. It’s messy, but that messiness gives these jams a life of their own.

Whettman Chelmets – For…

(Drawing Room Records)

Missouri based Whettman Chelmets is no stranger to music that engages with heavy themes, 2019’s painfully open ‘Long Read Memories’ dealing with his brother’s arrest for murder through cathartic ambience and field recordings from the event. For…’s concept is more universal but no less visceral, the passing of seasons and the cycles shaping our lives. It’s a bold project to take on, a theme that could either be too broad to truly translate, or cynically dismissed as bolting any old narrative onto some instrumental jams. Yet Chelmets pulls it off by homing in on the atmospheres that shape the year but escape words. Lithe melodies on classical guitar contrasted with lethargic, Stars Of The Lid style electric murk, crackling field recordings and moments of post rock grandeur to capture the contrasting moods between seasons. The potency of those juxtapositions and Chelmets’ knack for translating a vibe into sound makes For… a tape that needs to be listened to as a whole if it’s to really make sense.

Brandstifter & Diurnal Burdens – Miraculous Seepage

(Crow Versus Crow)

Slow some audio down and it becomes sombre, speed it up and it becomes manic, that’s the rulebook for artists working with tape loops, but the duo of Brandstifter and Diurnal Burdens take a sideways glance to create something strangely tragicomic on Miraculous Seepage. Whether it’s the wonky pirouette of opener ‘The Crazy Sandman’s Covid Coughdrops Swallowed By A Flock Of Seagulls’ or the creaking ambiences of ‘Sigue Sigue Sea Lions Rolling Iced Dices In Polar Nights’, the whole thing teeters on a tight rope between the preposterous and the oddly affecting. The staggering gait of closer ‘Lament Of The Lame Desert Llamas’ pulls the album’s surreal contradictions together, simultaneously haunting and amusing, it sees the pair create their own absurd little universe through a palette of circus like loops, Dadaist sonics and cheap electronics, all united by a deft control of mood and medium.

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