Spool’s Out: Cassette Reviews For May With Tristan Bath

A mix of muscular techno from Iceland, live modular takes from Salford, Latvian noise, and swampy indie are amongst May’s tape roundup from Tristan Bath. Live photograph of Delphine Dora & Sophie Cooper, taken by Jessica Coogan

The latest Spool’s Out radio show on London’s Resonance FM focused on Iceland-based promoter and label, FALK (aka Fuck Art Let’s Kill). Releasing music from the fringes of the Icelandic music scene and beyond, the Reykjavik based outfit puts on experimental shows in the country, including the likes of Pye Corner Audio, Damien Dubrovnik, and Grumbling Fur. This week’s show is an introduction to the label by co-runner (and tQ contributor) Bob Cluness, with a taster mix of music from their roster (plus mates) from the dirtier side of Iceland’s underground…

Head over to spools-out.com, or the Resonance FM website to find out more about the show. This episode and others can still be streamed in full via the above, as well as via podcast.

Slim Fortune / Colorshifter – Split

(Field Hymns)

Field Hymns is pretty damn unmatched when compared to fellow US tape labels. It’s been around for years, the chunky colours of the designs and drawings on its artwork are uniformly stellar, the musical catalogue is an open ended gumbo of underground tropes, and their twitter profile is currently nothing more than the words, "Fuck Republicans". Following a stint of putting out largely synth-based goods, this split tape collects five more rockin’ tracks apiece from Portland, Oregon supergroup Slim Fortune (including members of Modest Mouse, Mattress, and Chromatics) and Indiana, Pennsylvania outfit Sciencevision. Now many British readers probably just skipped to the next review, yawning at the thought of another group of trim bearded yanks from who-knows-where USA, armed with guitars, churning out indie for bros. Well woe be unto them! This is one of the most gloriously joyous listening experiences I’ve had in months.

Slim Fortune are downright swampy at times, although they manage to pull it off without sounding like some painfully self-aware gang of baristas doing a Dr. John impression. Rather than the Trump cabinet member his name makes him sound like, lead singer Rex Marshall is a veritably Nick Cave-ian front man wielding a devilish howl (‘In the Ground’ is almost dangerously reminiscent of Firstborn Is Dead era Bad Seeds), but the rhythm-heavy tunes mostly grab liberally from American rock history, the tom tom groove of ‘Wreck My Life’ being a pure and unadulterated outing into Bo Diddley territory. Their live energy is brilliantly captured to tape too – I practically wanted to applaud when side A came to an end.

Pennsylvanian outfit Sciencevision start off side B sounding like they’re going to be another group of shoegazey psych revivalists, but opening tune ‘Temper/Control’ quickly upsets expectations, flitting between the extremes suggested in its title. A lo-fi 90s-ish set of guitar riffs underpin a delayed dreamy vocal, and all seems to be going to plan until the track departs for a noodly wig out in its second half, joining the dots between Slowdive and Bardo Pond. Two brief interludes change mood again, shifting into wonky sounding studio experiments and dreamy soundscapes. Psychedelic lo-fi trip ‘Colorshifter’ then emerges from the swamp, full of distant drum rhythms and guitar trips sparring against submerged singing and some droning keys. An unexpected gem of a tape, this whole split feels like stumbling across a perfectly curated gig in a ‘dive bar’ (I think that’s just what Americans call a pub with a dartboard).

Howes – Untitled

(Share XL)

Recording straight to tape from his modular synth setup on this untitled offering for Berlin-based ShareXL, Salford producer John Howes demonstrates his innate ability to conjure up interesting futurism on the spot. Howes is a producer who keeps his bleeps and bloops light on their feet, rarely relying on heavy beat drops or big dollops of bass to get his point across. Resultantly, these skeletal techno tracks creep their way bit by bit under the skin, only very rarely breaching the surface, like the chiming tones that eventually clamber their way out of an envelope on track three. For the most part, Howes keeps things deeply quiet, and the final track is barely more than a distant toad croak of a rhythm swaying in the breeze for four minutes, gradually paired with a softly shuddering tremolo pattern. This music inhabits the lightly sketched middle ground between the two Selected Ambient Works, balancing its myriad pulses and drifts.

While there’s a poise and calm to every note Howes lays down, he keeps himself clear of sounding dry and smart like Moritz Von Oswald’s slick IKEA flatpack techno. Modular improvisers have on occasion failed miserably at minimalism, leaving loops running too long, or stacking musical elements far too slowly – at times it can feel like they’re composing visually rather than aurally. Howes is a keen listener though, and guides these subtle live takes with a sixth sense that makes them peaceful and engaging despite often being barely even there at all.

Jelena Glazova / Marta SmiLga – Split

(Liminal Noise Tapes)

This split features two female sound artists from Riga demonstrating some uniquely rugged electronic textures over two sides of challenging noise. First up is the more experienced Jelena Glazova, whose three pieces on Side A stay defiantly strange from start to finish. Opener ‘Lord Of Flies Returns’ is the most difficult, opening the release with five minutes of piercing high end tones and pixelated hiss; the sonic equivalent of sticking your head in a CGI fireplace. Not quite in line with its title, ‘Sisyphus Progression’ is a satisfying uphill trip through glitchy tones and radioactive fuzz, peaking and troughing a few times as the name-checked myth would insist upon.

This is in fact the debut release of newcomer Marta SmiLga (the nom de plume of Līga Smirnova), and she nosedives straight into cosmic soundscaping across 22 minute sidelong epic, ‘Venus Zooming In’. Modular arpeggios cycle onward and upward and round and round, initially giving off a mood akin to a particularly macabre night aboard the Nostromo. However, Smirnova soon tilts the mix in favour of gong-like washes of metallic noise, which slowly encircle the listener throughout the second half of the piece, scooping out brains and pressing the reset button on frontal lobes. The effect is an expressionistic tone poem more similar to Eraserhead’s legendary abandoned factory floor of a soundtrack than any space music. On occasion, noise music can paint in broad brushstrokes and gentle nudges rather than harsh stabs and hellfire, the results can – as they are here – be all the more transportative for it too.

Yves Malone – Boneblack

(Tymbal Tapes)

I’ve tried to make a point of avoiding the John Carpenter references in this column. His name was starting to appear in Spool’s Out more often than a UKIP member on Question Time. But with this latest release by the somewhat mysterious and prolific US-artist Yves Malone however, I find myself at an impasse. Though a mere four tracks long, Boneblack could well comprise four lost mini suites of themes from Carpenter movies. Malone’s palette of synths is stubbornly old school, and the way these unfold (particularly with some nimbly erupting drum programming) is potentially aiming more for the kosmische Schulze end of the synth epic spectrum. Either way, there’s pretty much non-stop action on each of the ten-minute plus tracks. ‘Apollo Before The Storm’ perhaps stands out as having the least normal timbral set for the genre, full of long whooshes and bendy tones, but mostly Yves Malone’s inventions are compositional rather than textural. Rather than relying on the safety of arpeggiation, or on lazily chucking together pads and improvised lead lines, Malone’s got the meticulous vision of a symphonic composer, heaps of thought lying behind each note. Even closing track, the Super Mario funk out ‘Kill Kirk’ is so conscientiously put together – a strange about turn into darkness in the final minutes – that it manages to scale odd emotional heights when it could have been merely funny.

Delphine Dora & Sophie Cooper – Think Away

(Was ist Das?)

Having relocated from Yorkshire to Arizona, the magnificent Was Ist Das? label finally presents the follow up to Distance Future, the debut recording by Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper. As the label notes, despite being recorded in church, this outing has more of a "cellar feel", eschewing the choral rituals of the first in favour of even floatier mood pieces, such as the sparsely lush piano-and-harmonium opener, ‘Stillness and Movement’.

Cooper has been notably more in touch with her trombone playing during the intervening period (she’s even been periodically holed up in red phone boxes across the British Isles with her ‘bone, issuing the phone number online, and waiting for the public to phone in and get their own personalised ‘Dial-a-bone’ message), thus it plays a bigger role on this album. Second track ‘Des Roches Et De L’Eau’ summons a sort of Rotterdam port of trombone blasts echoing manically over each other. Later MIDI clarinet chirps leap off ear-scraping percussion scrapes on ‘Distinct Kinds’, Delphine Dora’s strangely alluring siren voice wordlessly searching beneath. Side B is entirely made up of 19 minute epic ‘Invisible String’, a zen trip into loop pedal deep space, the duo summoning some intensely pagan wordless chants alongside some analogue drones, ultimately ushering in Cooper’s mournful brass instrument for an utterly fragile finale.

Rer Repeter – In Fine Style

(Bokeh Versions)

Dub minus the reggae? Rhythms not riddims? Not quite, but nearly. This producer from Graz, Austria has potentially spent more time checking out Count Ossie’s cosmic tribalism than King Tubby’s studio haze, as his darkly dubby tunes focus deeply on jangled self-made hand percussion, tracks often winding up cavernously minimal (check out ‘Another Painful Version’ on side A). His dedication to tape-delay, not to mention some of his own melodica playing (inevitably indebted to Augustus Pablo) keeps things firmly rooted back in Jamaica. ‘Ghostly Regenerator’ bounces a handful of parped melodica chords into zig-zagged tape delay over little more than some homemade shakers and a beat tapped out on a table. Opener ‘Suddenly The Lights Went Out’ has a guest trumpet player pipe out some heavenly tones above the travel Scrabble percussion section, and later ‘Shanghai Dreaming’ introduces a lethargic alien sounding guest violin. Rer Repeter (like labelmate Jay Glass Dubs) has stripped away several key components of dub to create something starker and darker, nonetheless retaining the hazy functionality and head bobbing possibilities of the original artform.

Warren Schoenbright – Subtropical

(Hominid Sounds)

The music of London-based three piece band Warren Schoenbright feels like it gains plenty of its gnarled muscle and rugged strength from the hours spent on subterranean public transport and in dank rehearsal rooms, that have presumably made up its formulation. Bassist Alex Virji and drummer Daniel McClennan split their time between super heavy stoner riffs (opener, ‘Paradise’) and further-wandering wig outs (the aptly titled ‘Squall’), while third member Matthew Pasternakiewicz on ‘electronics’ adds dabs of colour ranging from high end squeaks at the end of stabbed drum phrases, to the hovering Hammer horror organs in the heart of ‘Mesa/Geophagy Variations’, and utter alien abstraction as on lengthy closer ‘Brocken Spectres’. Virji also adds sung and spoken vocals, deploying them with Peter Murphyian demonic command, periodically switching English for German. Despite being a pretty raw demo-like set of recordings, this trio have enough muscle to make it feel like a more polished effort. They’re presumably an utterly stellar live trip too. The dramatic ups-and-downs of ‘Mesa/Geophagy Variations’ can surely blow an audience to fucking shreds, every peak and trough held for note-perfect delayed gratification.

Omebi – Haunted Machine Exoticas

(Illuminated Paths)

Based in Florida, Omebi comes across as being influenced by the likes of The Space Lady, crafting lo-fi analogue synth backdrops for some off-kilter singing, not to mention donning her own masks and costumes, and designing her own cartoon-y artwork. In keeping with the stated theme of Haunted Machine Exoticas, the general atmosphere here is playful, with cheesy exotic keyboard presets making up much of the rhythms section. Melodically though, it gets pretty moody. It it weren’t for the analogue woodblocks keeping time on these bastardised Latin shuffles, Omebi’s music could come across as downright depressed dirges. It’s repetitive, and full of well-worn homespun weirdo pop sounds, but Omebi’s key asset is her decidedly odd persona. She’s got the edge of a madcap outsider songwriter, but the palette of a 70s synth technician. Closing instrumental ‘Cicada Tango’ seems to come from a different place to the rest of the record too, eschewing the cosmic lounge singer vibe for something altogether murkier. A solid effort, helped along in no small way by how likeably bizarre and earnest Omebi and her cottage industry synth pop come across.

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