Spool’s Out: Cassette Reviews For August By Tristan Bath

Tristan Bath selects a month of subtle summery pleasures and melting sounds including activist drumming, decaying tape loops, and two squalling duos

Sara Lund of Secret Drum Band

Under normal circumstances, a Portlandian percussion and electronics ensemble might not carry such weight oozing from my walkman, yet the energy of Secret Drum Band’s second album feels very, very relevant while their hometown’s streets are flooded with full on upheaval.

Co-directed by Lisa Schonberg (Explode Into Color) and Allan Wilson (!!!), the outfit’s unabashedly political, recording opening track ‘Antifa Fuschia’ during an alt-right rally “in direct response and borne from anxiety, frustration and a sense of duty to resist the fascist creep”.

They bash drum kits rousingly, hammering away with far more urgency and anger than any drum circle or Boredoms record. Chants and sparse synth drones that sound like cicadas weave their way between the tape’s rolling drum skins, thudding kicks and handclaps.

Entomology and synaesthesia played a key role in the compositional process too, the pair composing rhythms while observing plant species, or basing the prickly hi-hats and inverted melodrama of ‘Ka‘ena Point’ on Hawaii’s endangered Hylaeus bees. This is somehow pounding and heart racing music and yet peaceful in its mood. Definitely a good soundtrack to all our revolutions right now.

Under the alias SIIHHI, Helsinki producer Samuli Tanner crafts a sugary psychedelic gloop of instrumentals. Located somewhere between the sonic mulch of Quantum Natives’ open-ended electronics, People Like Us and the shuffled swaying of the post-FlyLo beats landscape, SIIHHI’s music often sounds like it’s been left out in the sun too long, semi-molten. Woozy as it all is though, TOTALLO is still definitely a sun-bathed experience full of warmth and cheeky grins.

The beats are EQ’s and sludgily distorted into gentle toy keyboard presets, while the bottomless toy chest from which Tanner pulls his samples is always blurry as if viewed through a vaseline-smeared camera lens. Unidentifiable melodies and snippets of chimes constantly travel in unpredictable directions, giving way to random chunks of long-forgotten and hastily cut-up tracks. The experience could almost be infuriating if you took it too seriously (see the warbly vocal sampling on ‘TULEVAISUUDEN "HETKI LYÖ"’), but SIIHHI is way too much fun a project to find anything other than childlike joy in all these weird little chunks. This is actually a cassette re-release of an album from December 2017, but this mind-melting set of molten sounds most certainly belongs on quickly decaying magnetic tape.

While there’s no short supply of dudes fiddling with tape loops to make ambient soundscapes, you really only need one: Nate Scheible. A percussionist with a variety of band projects behind him, Scheible turned his hands in recent years to looping tape, growing increasingly emotional as he’s gone along. His methodology inherently carries a sense of longing and nostalgia between those decaying nuggets of tape, but Scheible manages to instil his synth- and tape-borne swells with additional piles of story and narrative along the way.

‘Proper Channels’ seemingly brings together various sonic detritus captured to dictaphone, including old voicemail messages (as featured on his 2017 opus Fairfax shopping sounds, radio static, piano, and all manner of analogue clicks, pops, and buzzes. One can simply absorb a story along the way – perhaps a pre-internet business-person away from home, his family life reduced to hissy long distance phone calls. Nate Scheible’s body of ambient solo work is gently staggering, turning a boundless analogue world of miscellany into moving sonic short stories from somewhere deep inside the modern domestic American psyche.

Berlin duo The Old Dream Of Symmetry make a grab bag of cuddly instrumental sounds, opening up this mini-album sized release with a drumless rocker, twin acoustic guitars strumming away like happy teenagers, ascending to rock & roll paradise with the help of some overdubbed electric guitars phasing away. ‘Three Moments Of Inertia’ later jump cuts from birdsong to drone doom squall with saxophone blaring overhead. ‘Cure Your Eastern Blues’ is a post-Fahey finger picker, while the synths of outgoing finale ‘Pacifica’ sound like diving for clams in Donkey Kong Country. As a pairing, German guitarist/synthesist Felix-Florian Tödtloff (also featured in last month’s column) and Kiwi musician Will Gresson seem to operate with a mutual sense of reassurance, augmenting each other’s warmest musical instincts with apt care. It’s a minor statement perhaps, but cruising through Mission Creep is a journey full of the friendliness and positivity this DIY column populated with oddballs so often lacks.

Nowadays, any month spent without having listened to some Poles improvising is a month wasted. This month, the debut recording by Spoons & Bones easily gave me my fill, bursting with the energy of discovery. The duo of Piotr Łyszkiewicz on saxes & contralto clarinet with guitarist Hubert Kostkiewicz purport to be breaking free from their previous work (neither seems to have hitherto recorded something quite this raw), and they certainly seem to be approaching their respective instruments with a refreshed sense of possibility. Kostkiewicz mangles and struggles with his strings like he’s trying to pry them right off the body of the guitar, fiddling and tapping the instrument like a manic percussionist. Łyszkiewicz’s saxophone bristles with fury and speed, readily leaping about in manic spirals that almost veer into ultra nimble Flight Of The Bumblebee territory at times. The duo are at their most clairvoyant on the fantastic 4-minute improvisation, ‘You Can’t Play Sax In Prison’, with brooding drones falling perfectly into step, the pair leering and leaping about in impossibly choreographed unison. This is truly raw and exciting improv from a single April day in Wrocław last year.

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