Dan Walsh – Fixity
3.23.17 by Kat Harding
Out on Ireland’s KantCope comes Dan Walsh’s “Fixity.” Dan’s the drummer of Great Balloon Race and the tape is his latest foray into production and composition. Released in summer 2016, the jazzy improvised and experimental tape is perfect for these flashes of winter we’re experiencing now in March. Sit by a fire, gaze out of the window, and let Dan’s controlled chaos warm you up and take you away.
With five songs on side A, there is a lot going on. The tape breaks open with “Hungry Clouds,” which gives the feeling of the calm before the storm. A mysterious bass line and rolling drums drive the song along, picking up low murmurings of lyrics and a plucked guitar along the way. We get to relax a bit with the following track “stigmatostigmata,” a meandering and calming track, breathing softly through improvisations and jazzy tones. Every track shows the pure artistry of the instrumentalists, crashing together and pulling apart, feeling highly improvised but at the same time, like the musicians have played together for years. Dan on the drums is the backbone of each track, with bass, guitar, and saxophone building up and around the sound, pushing each song further into contained pandemonium. The last track on the side, “Blue Paint,” is a more than eight minute jam, sure to raise your heart rate and pull your attention from anything else in the room. An ethereal chorus hums life into the song, sounding like angels from on high while the drums quicken. The song breaks down into the pops and crackles of electrical feedback before buzzing out completely. Were we just in heaven or hell?
Side B is just two songs, opening with “damagedgood.” A sweetly strum guitar holds the tune while fuzzy droning swarms behind it. Dan has brought us to the bottom of the ocean and we’re staring up through the clear water to the sunshine above. We’re floating and drifting along, aware of the inherent danger of the open ocean, an anxiety communicated in the background of the song. It comes to the forefront with buzzing growing increasingly louder and more prominent, competing with our trusty guitar, soon overtaking it, the screeching alone closing out the song. “Song for Tree” brings us back to land, grounding us in bass and enveloping us in reverberation. The track is warm and comforting and ends with sparkling tones that fade to silence.
This tape is for fans of experimental music, sure, but also for fans of jazz. It’s chaos coming together in a beautiful way. Pick up the tape now.
Look At These Tapes #9
3.17.17 by Tabs Out Crew
Look At These Tapes is a monthly roundup of our favorites in recent cassette artwork and packaging, along with short, stream-of-thought blurbs. Whatever pops into our heads when we look at/hold them. Selections by Jesse DeRosa, Mike Haley, and Scott Scholz.
Sarin – Just Beat The Devil Out Of It
3.13.17 by Kat Harding
Peering out at you from the front of the cassette is a mysterious grey alien, barely decipherable on the green and black cover, guarding the bright green tape inside. Released on Des Moines’ experimental tape label 5CM Recordings, Sarin’s “Just Beat The Devil Out Of It” is almost 40 minutes of droney, psychedelic improvisation by Matt, Kyle, Kaylee, and Mathias. Recorded in early 2016 and released in August, the tape is nearly 40 minutes of tight listening.
Both sides named after vibrant pigments: Pthalo Green I and II, matching the vibrant green of the cover and the tape. Each side is almost twenty minutes of improvisation ranging from psychedelic to drone to sludge metal. The side starts off with rolling drums, creating a noisy, echoing, drone-filled space. Continuing with anxiety-inducing guitar wails, feedback weaves through the song as it meanders along. A mysterious feeling overtakes around the 8 minute mark, reminiscent of the part of the horror movie where the character doesn’t realize they’re being followed by a monster, but we know. Will they figure it out in time? Probably not. But the song and improvisation continues, even coming together for a brief foray into a jazzy section, with lots of cymbals and a low bass beat. The song picks up speed, screeching around, for one last bit before coming to a halt with one last cymbal crash.
The second begins with industrial reverberation over clanging, moving into a toe-tapping section, that while dark, is more upbeat. The drums are out of control on this song, with heavy-handed smashing and constant cymbals. Continuing into a section of alarm-style tones, the cymbals then throw the song into a section of heavy sludge metal. With seven minutes left, the psychedelic influences reappear, begging to be paired with a projected, swirling light show over a blank wall. The alien repetition evokes outer space and all it’s vast chaos: I’ve never felt like the dense universe would be a peaceful and calming place. The song unravelings into twinkling chimes over pulsating drums and fading to reverb, closing out the song in more of a whimper than a bang — just like the world will end.
Pick up the tape for yourself on 5CM’s bandcamp.
New Batch – Midnight Circles
3.5.17 by Mike Haley
I’m gonna be up front and admit that I have never heard of Midnight Circles, the self described “Xerox-label” from Germany who have been dealing out slimy sounds for several years now, until this latest batch of three arrived at my door. I could ask myself if I’ve been living in a cave, but that wouldn’t account for the oversight, considering most of their offerings sound like they originated in a cave.
C. Reider’s “Chew Cinders” C26 plays like a dusty reel-to-reel found at an estate sale. Ideas of the original content remain intact, but just barely. As bits of strained words warp into swine-like snorts you can only imagine what was initially recorded on the magnetic tape before time and the elements ate away at them. Those antique distortions, with their airy, chalky bias, are met with the occasional synthy snaps, but this tape feels most at home trapped in mold.
Die Neuen IBM is the cassette/synth duo of Chemiefaserwerk and Aaron Yabrov. The series of eight live improvisations on “Berliner Klassik” were recorded in Berlin last year and mingle the very familiar sound of tape hiss and scramble with a music box like delicacy from their Korg MS-20 and Yamaha SY77. The results are a C40 of no coffee / all tea plunges into deep chillness with moderately scratchy interference.
Last in line is “Birch”, a C30 effort from Danny Clay & Greg Gorlan that follows their “Brittle” tape released by Canti Magnetici in 2016 and several other get together’s prior. Gorlan, who has been known to mangle a tape or two (see: Vibrating Garbage, Black Thread, etc) and Clay churn piano melodies into a thick static paste. Notes swirl, rerun, and often go adrift in a sea of hiss. Depending on how you approach it, “Birch” can be a depressant cruise or a momentary escape. It really depends on what elements you focus on. Either way, it is a solid tape.
Each cassette from this batch is rather limited, packaged with fancy silver or gold paper with top notch art, and either nearly or completely sold out from Midnight Circles. Do yourself a favor and try to track em down.
New Batches – MJMJ Records
3.2.17 by Scott Scholz
One of the biggest advantages of cassette labels is curatorial flexibility. Tapes are relatively inexpensive to produce, so you can take chances on highlighting different scenes, and listeners can similarly afford to speculate on batches of unfamiliar artists. While a lot of labels follow their interests in national and international artists, there’s a unique opportunity to turn folks on to local scenes, too. Some of my favorites strike a balance between international and local sounds: Eiderdown Records is always good for a balance of fried psych and drone from the Pacific Northwest and far beyond, for example, and Iowa stalwarts like Centipede Farm and Personal Archives keep folks hipped to sonic adventures from both far-flung lands and the Hawkeye state underground.
Minneapolis-based MJMJ Records is another label you can count on for great music from both local and remote areas, and their last couple of batches have focused on some Twin Cities-based artists that definitely deserve some wider love. Here’s a little overview of some wild and wonderful sounds from the Mini Apple, all still available from MJMJ with rad risograph-print artwork lovingly designed by regular MJMJ art collaborator NIco Stephou.
Fall batch: live jams
The MJMJ fall batch focused on live recordings from a trio of fascinating MN artists. Experimental collective American Cream Band starts us off with a mesmerizing set of material culled from live recordings made in 2015 and 2016. Largely percussion-driven pieces, American Cream shifts between krautrock and dancey beats with a hint of free jazz, like Shit & Shine colliding with Sand. Based on these recordings, these live sets must drop some serious ritual vibes.
This is followed by two slices of reverb-drenched goodness from ZOZO Tek, excerpted from their portion of a 28-hour drone marathon last February at the Cedar Cultural Center. The harmonizer-fueled sax lines in these pieces are especially affecting, and the group manages to stay faithful to the drone concept while still creating lots of dynamic variety and interest. Recorded in the wee hours of the morning, you’re not likely to find jams that manage to be this psychedelic while incorporating the classic Seinfeld-slap-bass synth tone:
My favorite of this live triptych may be a potent C20 from relative newcomers IE. The first release by this quartet, IE brings old-school synth zoneouts that unfold with careful restraint. At first this feels like a relatively straightforward drone recording, but as a groove patiently emerges in the final quarter of the tape, the subtle beauty of this music proves to be quite addictive on repeated listening.
Winter batch: boreal beats
MJMJ’s latest winter batch transitions from local psych/drone to (mostly) local beat-oriented electronica, perfect for cold Northern winters. The only exception to the Twin Cities orientation of these tapes is a grimy set of beats from Gaffe of a Lifetime, the solo project of east-coast producer Alexandre Louis Petion. While much of his “Mansa, and the Far End of the Death Spectrum” would work comfortably on a dance floor, the music pushes into the kinds of introspective early-industrial soundscapes that provide lots of sedentary listening interest, too. Crossing into the forward-thinking electronics vibes that labels like Orange Milk have focused on recently, some tracks like “Justify the Inane” embody glitched-out dramas that could bring fans of EDM and German Army together:
Heading back to Minneapolis, Nathan Brende drops a tightly-constructed longform jam with his latest as God’s Drugs. Slowly unfolding through a series of house-centered workouts, “Loaded” could keep any party moving with a series of beats that are mostly convivial but subtly evocative of those dark, mysterious spaces your parents warned you about:
Last but not least, MJMJ brings us a heady tape from recent MN transplant Lonefront. According to the label, this solo project of Ross Lafayette Hutchens has been making major waves on the local rave scene, but “Cimilada Qaxootiga” offers a unique modular-based experience that retains some beat orientation within a more delicate tapestry of subdued pads and dismal atmospheres. The A-side especially focuses on beats, gradually ramping up its rhythmic propulsion until it comes to rest just shy of a techno workout, while the B-side remains more rhythmically static, concentrating instead on successions of short textural loops, rising and falling in density:
Traveling to the snowy climes of Minneapolis can be a real drag this time of year, but head over to the MJMJ Bandcamp, crack open a sixer of Grain Belt, and bring the MN underground to your own deck instead.
Crown of Eternity – Dream Architecture
2.28.17 by Scott Scholz
If you’re already familiar with Inner Islands, you’re probably well aware that the label is a sure bet for aural excursions into tranquility and redemption. With a serene discography including Ki Oni, Stag Hare, and Kyle Landstra, I get a tinge of joyous calm just hearing about any new arrivals on the Island. While it’s hard to pick favorites in this lush catalog, it may be fair to say that their latest, Crown of Eternity’s “Dream Architecture,” is an archetypally perfect album for the label. The perfect sonic respite for whatever might be ailing you, or an excellent sonic meditation session to focus your energy if you’re already feeling fly, this tape is a next-level deep listening experience.
Crown of Eternity is the long-running duo project of Gallina and Mike Tamburo, multi-instrumentalists whose work and training unites musical pursuits with the healing arts. Mike has been featured on Inner Islands before, dropping the heavy-meditation double cassette “Presence” back in 2013. You might also recognize his wild jams under the Brother Ong moniker –I’d highly recommend his “Deep Water Creation” on Deep Water Acres, full of ripping shahi baaja loops through guitar effects. The Tamburos have a gift for coaxing warm, inviting music out of any instrument, and while much of their work has focused on strings, “Dream Architecture” is an impassioned exploration of metal percussion. Gongs, chimes, bells and bowls come together here toward the creation of a listening experience that soothes both body and mind.
“Dream Architecture” aspires to a transcendence that’s better felt than described musically. Centered around 11 gongs and over 60 supplementary instruments, these pieces occasionally get really dense to powerful effect, such as the middle sections of the title track. However, most of the album works with open spaces and subdued volumes, allowing the listener an intimate window into the rich harmonic potential of these ancient instruments. The recording itself is beautifully produced, too: cassettes aren’t always about low-fi, friends. If you fire up your best deck through your biggest speakers, you can lay down and really feel like you’re in the middle of this recording in progress, and I think you’ll find that it’s an empowering place to be.
Crown of Eternity is the real deal–with training in yoga, body harmonics, and sound massage, this tape may prove to be just as useful in your medicine cabinet as your cassette shelving. These likely won’t last long, so be sure to grip one from Inner Islands while you can. And perhaps even better, folks all over America have a chance to experience some Dream Architecture in person: check out these tour dates, and show the Tamburo family some love as they bring their beautiful ceremonies-in-metal on the road.
Paralycyst / Sun Rad – split
2.23.17 by Bobby Power
Property Materials is a Boston-based label that releases split tapes by Sun Rad, which is also manned by a co-founder of the label itself. Since debuting November 2015, the imprint has released four splits, each featuring Sun Rad to foil both local and long-distance counterparts (from Salem, MA to Oakland, CA). But Sun Rad’s take on enthusiastic and neon yet experimental dance music proves to be more dynamic than one might expect.
The label’s album description suggests that the tape is: “dance music for those who stayed up late and partied in the basement.” Luckily, both sides bring a genuine sense of makeshift but efficient DIY show at any house, gallery, or backroom.
Paralycyst doesn’t appear to have much of a public presence. Researching the project only shows that it’s run by “a musician from Oakland, CA.” Here, the four Paralycyst tracks would strike a deep chord with any fan of Container, Cube, or any other modern techno-industrialist. But rather than just another in the crowded techno(ise), the sounds maintain their own sense of frayed rigidity. “Altercation” starts off a rote and unassuming drum beat clicking its way through some blown out speaker. Soon enough, waves tighten and loosen in bizarre patterns. The mechanized beat slurs in and out of focus while utilitarian melodies play themselves out. “No Rave” is a blast of 8-bit precision and acid-like pulses. “Peripheral” and “Filth” to the opening track’s bleak, pummeling monotony, cycling through an endless loop of noise. It’s a shame to see Paralycyst hasn’t released anything since this tape last summer.
Where Paralycyst goes deep into the darkest corners of a basement noise show, Sun Rad brings the modest crowd in together to close the night out moving around a bit. “Endless Midnight” makes no bones about it, launching into a jarring and hypnotic run of stabbing 90s acid. It’s similar to LFO but modernized in the vein of Kanding Ray or Andy Stott. “Heaven Knows” plays a bit more with negative space, following a bare beat in oddly vacant space. As the track builds up, a fluorescent shape appears and takes over. “Content Mirage” is the happy medium between the two, mixing unabashed hallmarks of dance music (synthetic hand claps, percussion, and sighs) and perfectly closing things out.
Sadly, the tape edition of 50 copies is sold out at the source, but you can grab a digital copy via Bandcamp.
New Batch – Spring Break Tapes!
2.22.17 by Scott Scholz
Spring Break Tapes! proprietor Joe McKay had a busy 2016 that included the launch of the incredible Dinzu Artefacts label, an experimental/sound-art focused imprint with a thoughtful, unified art/layout design scheme. But fear not, Spring Break fans: SBT shows no signs of slowing down, either, with a recent pair of jams that may be the best yet on the label.
Hainbach – The Evening Hopefuls
Berlin-based composer Stefan Paul Goetsch’s electronics side project Hainbach takes a fascinating turn with “Evening Hopefuls.” Previous Hainbach jams have mostly incorporated beats, though 2015’s “Ashes” heads into more ambient pastures. While these pieces still ebb and flow between layers of loops, the source material is generated from rehearsal recordings of Goetsch’s debut orchestral composition, a long piece intended to be performed in sync with a showing of Wiene’s silent film classic, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” Many composers record ongoing orchestral rehearsals if possible, as they’re invaluable for helping to improve scores during the rehearsal process, but Goetsch took his rehearsal tapes to a whole new level, using his downtime between rehearsals to create Hainbach-styled arrangements of the material.
The result is an incomparable ambient album, with mesmerizing, gentle layers of sound. While very small fragments of sound are deployed to create these soundscapes, the timbral richness of its orchestral origins comes through with a variety of sounds one doesn’t hear in albums made of modular sounds and field recordings. Worlds collide, and charmingly so.
Bus Gas – Live On Leave Us
Nebraska ensemble Bus Gas returns for their second tape on Spring Break, and fourth overall. Past recordings have found these gentlemen processing their drone-oriented improvisations into complex tapestries that sound highly composed, but this outing finds them tackling a pair of composed pieces instead. Recorded live at O’Leavers Pub in Omaha, Nebraska, richly orchestrated layers of sound turn this trio lineup into a massive force of drone, and for guitar tone aficionados, you’ll find some of the most satisfying tube-fueled melodic lines of the Obama-era outlining the mysterious architecture of these pieces.
2014’s “Snake Hymns” highlighted shorter pieces that often took on a more Faust-ian sound-collage delirium, but the alternating delicacy and weight of these new jams takes a classical kind of solemnity, like Sclesi’s harmonic-based minimalism hefted into Ligeti-esque sound masses. There is a deep current of melancholy woven into this music, but to make sure you don’t turn into a ball of ennui sobbing in a corner, Bus Gas helpfully provides a little brevity in the form of the album title itself, a play on “Live at O’Leavers.” This performance marked a sort of geographical split-up of the project, but considering how each of their tapes has reached new heights of beauty and darkness, let’s hope they find a way to continue working together regardless of distance.
It should be mentioned that Spring Break has really stepped up their already killer j-card game on this new batch as well: both tapes feature intricate zillion-panel artwork, printed on both sides, that provide a lot of visual interest while listening. The metallic inks on the Hainbach tape really pop, and the enigmatic artwork for Bus Gas fits perfectly with the music. With only 100 copies of each in the wild, you’d best step up to Spring Break Tapes in a jiffy.
MichealCushion – Life Escaper Trial Edition
2.21.17 by Mike Haley
Ever wonder what the hell is going on? I’m not talking about a deep, late into the night conversation about life and it’s meanings or lack of, but more along the lines of a situation where you discover cheese in the battery holder of your TV’s remote control. A shake-your-head/shrug-your-shoulders flash of befuddlement. “Life Escaper Trial Edition” is a series of those sort of circumstances. It would appear that MichealCushion removed your triple A’s and put that cheese in your remote. Maybe they read on a body building message board that gouda could power electronics better than Duracells? Perhaps it was just a bozo goof with some left over mascarpone? You’ll have to get in touch with MichealCushion on your own time and find out. I’m past the point of curiosity, content with swimming in the whiz of this killer tape.
Nothing here makes much sense. It’s awkward, nomadic, and ambiguous of it’s intent. In calm moments “Life Escaper Trial Edition” flirts with moody, inner-directed dexterity, but is quickly pummeled with charged up distractions and false starts that rupture into squelch. Recycled sounds and puddle-minded shake ups are gnarled into a dopey coitus of audio blllleeeaaaauurgh, with volume levels and motivations whirling rapidly out of control. Basically a Supermarket Sweep of noise, dashing from isle to isle throwing everything into the cart without any meals in mind. I bet plenty of time was spent in the cheese section though. Those remotes aren’t gonna fill themselves.
Only 20 copies of “Life Escaper Trial Edition” were made, all with white shells and equally fanatic artwork. Go buy one from Melty Tapes now, okay!?
New Batch – Constellation Tatsu
2.15.17 by Bobby Power
Oakland imprint Constellation Tatsu has been a reliable source of drifting experimentation sourced from all over the globe. Often dropping in batches of three, each set of new sounds uncovers a dizzying array of epiphanies. The label’s latest batch doesn’t mess with the tried and true formula, bringing new sounds from Forest Walker, Ana & Ina, and SODA lite.
First up, Forest Christenson is perhaps best known as one half of Seabat, a duo with composer/synthesist John Also Bennet (Forma). But Christenson has also been involved with a number of sporadic experimental projects, such as Harsh Yoga and Arid Hunter, among others. Now, Christenson steps into his own solo light as Forest Walker with UV Sea, which also turns out to be one of the more confounding and promising debuts out there.
Throughout the tape’s four tracks–two short, two long– the LA-based producer effortlessly culls serene washes of sound that speak not only to Constellation Tatsu’s aesthetic but also Walker’s unique sense of ambient music. With photography and design by John Also Bennett, the final physical product is an elegant blur of imagery and sound.
Opener “Desert Lighthouse” opens with a vaguely Steve Reich-ian cycle of pulsing sounds, perfectly setting the stage for the ensuing aural bliss. Over time, the track shifts in and out of focus, dialing in a beautifully distant piano melody and sifting sheets of static and texture. It almost resembles Tim Hecker without the flurry of frayed noise and overpowering tones. “Amendment of Fundamental Axioms” retreats into negative space, examining modest suggestions of chordal color and intermittent feedback. “Saved Video of a Postcard” veers deeper into more symphonic realms, establishing the low-key dread and peripheral grace of Johann Johannson. Closer “Realtime Lapse” offers the most patient and truly immersive piece here. The 12+ minutes of slowed and slurred drones are pure emotional melancholy, meditating on a theme of sullen hopefulness.
On Dockweiler Beach marks the return of Ana & Ina, the obscured ambient project helmed by writer Ashley Hoffman and visual artist Ian James. Here again, as with the duo’s fantastic Analogue cassette on Complicated Dance Steps from 2011, Hoffman is credited with “thoughts” while James provided “emotions.” The unassuming mystique and loosely explained process leaves quite a bit up to interpretation, making repeat listens all the more addicting.
The A-side “Come In” is a half-hour drift of inviting electronics that slowly morph into various smooth shapes of sound. There’s no narrative whatsoever, leaving all reference points, timestamps, or cues obsolete and amping up the riveting display. B-side “Come Around” floats in a celestial murk of weightless tones and shimmering textures, similar to Pulse Emitter or Windy & Carl. The track’s second half evolves into a disembodied careen of meandering glee.
Finally, Alex Last returns after SODA lite’s exquisite Liquid Earth tape on Illuminated Paths with In Eco, an imagined travelogue to pseudo-sythetic lands. Field recordings seemingly captured from dreams or other fabricated sources intersect with naturalistic backdrops to create seven humid scenes of vaguely picturesque and wholly captivating allure. On tracks “Habitat,” “In Eco,” and “Galatea Point,” reality becomes subjective, perfectly cleansing the palette for the ambiguous ambiance of “Senses,” “Aurai,” and “Lagoon.” The brief but potent closer “Oceania” wraps things up in an air of stranded ambivalence. You might be marooned, but you wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world.
Look At These Tapes #8
2.8.17 by Tabs Out Crew
Look At These Tapes is a monthly roundup of our favorites in recent cassette artwork and packaging, along with short, stream-of-thought blurbs. Whatever pops into our heads when we look at/hold them. Selections by Jesse DeRosa, Mike Haley, and Scott Scholz.
WHEREAS – CMMZOZMM – Electronic Quartet
2.3.17 by Mike Haley
Cameron MacNair, Mike Meanstreetz, Omar Zubair, and Maneesh Madahar decided to burn all maps, pack a lunch (and some rando “instruments”), and just go explore their surroundings. For forty minutes they wandered about, stopping here and there, eventually returning with this stupid good tape on Tingo Tongo.
The cassette is one long track split up into two equal parts. While there’s totally a ton of room carved out for sticky, meditative improv, WHEREAS‘ no-edit circus “CMMZOZMM // Electronic Quartet” is highlighted by it’s wonderful micro agitations. Rogue chunks of detached, frustrated, and otherwise deviated sounds that band together to form freaked out, and rather unpredictable networks. It starts off with a low key vibration; a cool tremor that plods up your leg every so chill like. Then the itsy bitsies begin to skitter out. A miscellanea of buttoned down electronics, slightly out of place samples, and grisly guitar echo flashbomb the avocado-like rumble that is still working things out in the background. Created is a sonic jittering that can be unnerving, even when the quartet dips into their more casual jam territories. Don’t be surprised if your hand is shaking like you consumed one too many cups of coffee, even when virtually nothing is happening. That is the hectic residue of WHEREAS’ slimey patchwork still in your system. They serve it up thick, and aren’t afraid to bust out a run of pitched vocals over metallic clamor or some other weird mishmash.
An edition of 100 copies is available here. Go get one.
Colin Andrew Sheffield & James Eck Rippie – Essential Anatomies
1.27.17 by Mike Haley
Call me a old fashioned, but I think the use of full names should be reserved for people who have assassinated a public figure (or at least attempted to), shot up a shopping mall, or some other batty shit like that. But I’m willing to give Colin Andrew Sheffield & James Eck Rippie a pass. After listening to “Essential Anatomies” I think we will all agree that they deserve it. Not because they create frantic, unhinged environments. They do just the opposite. And they do it very, very well.
Colin and James are far from strangers when it comes to collaboration. The two have been working together for over a decade, with output that includes a tape with the same title as this 48-minute gem, also released on Elevator Bath in back in 2016. This edition, recorded in Austin, Texas last year, appears to be sides 3 and 4 of what may be an ongoing series? I guess we will have to sit back and see how far they go. Processing digital and analog samples the duo lurches forward, crystallizing lucid impressions with distended, vexing ambiance. Like running your fingers through the shag carpet in Grandma’s bedroom, James Eck Rippie’s turntable sampling is chalky and thick. As snippets of sound pass, they leave behind dust and tiny strands of hair under your nails. You can almost smell the mothballs. The digital samples, which both members provide, are a fierce juxtaposition. An analogue for the digital would be more like the original appliances Grandma still has in her kitchen; Brightly colored, all orange and yellow, with indiscriminate hiss and clicks scattered about. The 1950’s GE fridge runs loud, but sometimes slams off without notice, leaving a void that you didn’t even notice was being filled until it passes. The second hand on the oven’s clock still rotates, but it’s warped metal rubs as it rounds the 12, flinging free into a vibrating, cosmic spring-out. All of this agitation melts together into an awesome sci-noir scene.
Colin Andrew Sheffield, who runs the Elevator Bath label (what exactly is an “elevator bath” by the way??) knows James Eck Rippie well. And James Eck Rippie knows Colin Andrew Sheffield well. And it shows. They play off each other’s gnarly sample-contortions perfectly on volume 2 of “Essential Anatomies.” My advice: Take one of those pastel mints out of Grandma’s candy dish, place it on your tongue, push the button that reclines the old person chair, and enjoy the ride. Both sides stretch on for just under 25 minutes with no red lights or closed roads.
Pal+ – Pictorial
1.24.17 by Kat Harding
Released in September 2016 on Os Tres Amigos (“The Three Friends”) label out of Portugal, Pal+’s “Pictorial” tape features melodic beats and vivid synth sounds for an upbeat and energizing listen. The cover art is a smattering of paint and crayon in vibrant blue, purple, pink, yellow, and black over the familiar blue lines of notebook paper, enclosing an off-white tape full of Fernando Silva’s recordings made between 2012 and 2016.
The hypnotizing “Aural Canvas” opens side A, a bright humming track that clocks in at just over two minutes. “Africa Eyes” picks up after a beat of silence with buoyant drum beats and simple, repetitive chanting over circuitous synth work. I really like “Morpheus,” which sounds like it could be found in a tiny club with strobe lights and everyone dancing and drinking colorful cocktails. Mysterious airy tones add lightness to the gripping track, which fades to a peaceful end. The industrial clanking and sinister synth at the start of “The Ice Palace” create an unsettling world building to a swell and ending with a heavy crash that reverberates through your skull. The silence ends and “Grand Canyon” begins, a Middle Eastern-esque track with soft wailing over a constant shaker and fast-moving percussion.
The first track on side B, “Mantra,” starts off with frantic, breathy sounds building over beats reminiscent of the opening of Netflix’s Stranger Things, evoking a sense of uneasiness that nearly tips over into full-blown fear. The longest song on the side, and the whole tape, the track often slows, pulling the tones down to a much deeper register before speeding back up again. “Motor City” is much less threatening than “Mantra,” and feels like a light relief after the panic of the former track. “The Emerald Hill” closes the tape, a roaming animated tune with alien synth sounds and a beat to move to.
Get your own copy of the tape on the OTA Bandcamp.
German Army – Mountain City
1.17.17 by Paul Banks
Shockingly, there are still a few copies of “Mountain City” left on Phinery’s Bandcamp page. I say this in part because German Army’s name seems to lead to countless “Sold Out” red stamps on the site, and partly because I sat on this album for so many months. The truth was, I checked out this album out of curiosity more than anything. I walked the fine line between being fairly accused of pretending to like the mysterious group, and admiring what they do without getting much out of it.
The issue with German Army is they do many things quite well. Unlike much of tape culture’s obsessive branding (same person, different project, different name is the normal procedure), German Army tapes don’t indicate any length or genre. You might have a guess as to what you’ll get based on the label, and I took a shot at finding my entry point into their work through this tape, an association with the beloved Phinery. Phinery churns out so much good music, it’s easy to take it for granted, and yet my expectations were that whatever German Army I found here, it would be good. That bet paid off.
“Mountain City,” in my first passive listen, was somewhat conventional for the label. There weren’t DIY-Autechre squeals, noise, electroacoustics, or progressive electronics. Instead, surprisingly, what unfurled was songs. I don’t think I was ready to reach a conceptual common ground with this album at first. However, as the months passed, this record became infectious. Think of this album as existing thematically on similar turf as a Sublime Frequencies collection, but in a very different geographic setting. Here we have work songs, blues, that fine line between a collection of traditional songs, and a conceptual shell of field recordings capturing these works. It could be the work song, hillbilly version of Ekkehard Ehlers’ “A Life Without Fear,” or recent work by the Caretaker, its scratchy voices as distant as any reclaimed jazz.
Indeed, I think time gave this album even more importance. Throughout the election, we heard pleas to remake these forgotten towns, perhaps the source material for some of what’s here. And yet, because of prices, because of aging, because of a changing world, those towns will never come back. Their echoes have found their way into this tape; perhaps this will one day be a cherished relic in some collector’s home, the last resting place of these voices of toil.
And, to the music specifically, perhaps you can imagine what you’ll find, though the impact only really occurs with regular, late night listening. Traditional instruments, ever so slightly pitch shifted now and then, sometimes seemingly looped, scratchy and distant with a healthy dose of echo and reverb. The source material itself seems familiar, but German Army have worked to alienate things – this touch of distance allows enough dissociation to hear this music as native American (not Native American).
This is a reverent, masterful set, one that transports you to different times and places, places that perhaps don’t quite exist in the ways we’re remembering them, places that might not be fully content in their absence. Hurry over and grab a copy.
Mary Lattimore – Returned To Earth
1.12.17 by Kat Harding
Harpist Mary Lattimore has teamed up with Soap Library to release her latest cassette, “Returned To Earth.” The New York-based holistic tape label is offering Mary’s tape with hand-embossed artwork and a packet of heirloom orange zinnia seeds, ensuring the beauty of the outside matches the inside of the latest tracks.
Side A, “For Scott Kelly, Returned to Earth,” is Mary’s welcome home message to American astronaut Scott Kelly after his year spent in the International Space Station. After a fall left Mary with a broken jaw, wired shut and unable to speak, she channeled her feelings of isolation and loneliness into song. Scott’s frequent updating of his social media feeds, including the progress of his “space flower,” an orange zinnia and the first zinnia to be grown in space, kept him connected to Earth and served as inspiration to Mary. His beautiful posts of Earth’s wonder from afar was a small reward for his solitude, and Mary’s incorporated all of these feelings into a six-minute track, full of wandering chords. Picked strings seem to dance over gentle strumming, calling to mind Scott’s view of swirling clouds over our lonely planet and his whirlwind of a journey home. The trailer for the cassette, hand-drawn by John Andrews of indie band Quilt, features hyper-color crayon drawings, inspired by Scott’s time in space.
Side B, also just over six minutes long, is an improvisation from Mary and musician and artist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, who met in the wonderland of Marfa, Texas, and recorded in New York City. Named after a tiny town in California, “Borrego Springs” features piano, guitar, and harp coming together to form peaceful melodies one might listen to while staring up at the stars in Borrego Springs, a town 55 miles away from any bright city lights, where astronomers flourish. The song quietly starts off, nearing a minute by the time the harp and piano have begun to fill the space of the silence. Gentle echoes and reverberation of guitar and piano alternate around the harp. It is not long enough, and the whole tape should immediately be played again.
Get a copy of the beautifully packaged cassette, or pick up the digital files, on her Bandcamp page. Every dollar of proceeds from Bandcamp will go to support the Sierra Club.
Starkey – Charting Stardust (Original Soundtrack)
1.11.17 by Mike Haley
I’ll start off by admitting what initially, however juvenile, attracted me to this tape. The title. I don’t know if we are all pretending that the word “charting” doesn’t immediately make us think of “sharting”, but come on… Yeah, it does. And if we are continuing this facade of sophistication, as if nobody knows what I’m talking about, I’ll just lay it out: A shart, as defined by PoopingProblems.com, is “an involuntary defecation which occurs when one try’s to pass gas.” So the title “Charting Stardust” instantly made me think about pooping glitter. There, it’s been said. But, after a looksie at the simple but lavish design work of the Jcard, and noticing the tried-and-true Sacred Phrases logo slapped on the back, it was obvious that Starkey’s “Charting Stardust (Original Soundtrack)” was going to be more than just another flashy flatulent.
And I was right. It is WAY more. In line with classic outsider pioneers, Starkey creates fantasies, and is extremely generous when it comes to details. He sends feelers out into the far reaches, returning with a cache of polished sonic runs and ambient arrays that are eager to vibe out. Ideas are heavily layered and whirlpooled together, as if they are being finger-painted on an endless canvas. A magical swirl of hypnotism spills for days, but with individual parts that still fit together like puzzle pieces. As the pieces connect, a full image is formed. Like a magic eye painting coming into focus, you start to hear these micro worlds of side-scrolling future music. Tone follicles burrow into your skin as epic sound monuments erect and crumble. It’s all a very huge event. Tracks like Ecliptic stir senses with a more intrusive focus, relying on the repetition of throaty thuds to distract while gigantic schemes expand in the distance, eventually landing right on your face. Opposing views like Ticks and Seas, both second-to-last tracks on their side of the cassette, opt for a cerebral approach to life.
So it turns out that “charting” stardust (like mapping it out) is way more accurate than “sharting” stardust (like shitting your pants while trying to fart) when it comes to the zone of this here mind melter. That’s probably for the best. Pick it up from Sacred Phrases!
Wires Crossed – OTA vs OJC
1.6.17 by Mike Haley
There is a legion of labels and weirdo jammers releasing cassette, with new names popping up every single day. With those staggering numbers it can be easy to mix em up, get confused, or form loose associations. Wires Crossed will take those Corey Haim/Corey Feldman and Oprah/Uma situations and figure out just how similar they are.
Without checking, what do you think OJC / OTA stands for?
OTA: OJC must stand for Orphan Joy Company.
OJC: Odd Tony’s Animals.
What do your label’s initials stand for?
OTA: Os Três Amigos – The Three Friends.
OJC: On the record, nothing. Off the record, something dumb.
Where were you born and where do you live now?
OTA: We were both born in Santarém, Portugal, in the same hospital. Pedro still lives in Lagos, Portugal. Miguel lives in Helsinki.
OJC: There are two of us. We both live in LA, Augie was born here and Luke grew up in New York.
What tape labels, if any, inspire your label?
OTA: (Miguel) I was more inspired by a blog called Mutant Sounds which collected all kinds of tapes and underground releases mostly from the 80s. It made me take notice of the sheer amount of creativity that is out there once you let yourself explore less obvious sources. OTA tries to take part of a similar energy. (Pedro) It’s the whole swarm that is inspiring! There’s this absurd resilience from people doing their best in the vacant lands of sounds and crafts. I empathize particularly with all the small nonprofit efforts going on, documenting stuff no one else would bother with.
OJC: Labels like Night People whose releases span a lot of different styles, and labels that have a home done, thrown together kinda feel like Fag Tapes.
When did you start your label?
OTA: We are newborns, babbling and fooling around since the 1st of April, 2016.
OJC: Late 2013 / early 2014.
OJC has released tapes by the artists No Data. OTA has released a tape by the artist Tape000. Both names imply a very minimalistic feeling. How does minimalism fit into your releases?
OTA: Tape000 is a fascinating, well traveled guy that I met when teaching Portuguese to his girlfriend. He was an instant perfect fit. Funnily enough, we actually have a OTA000 release. More than being truly minimalistic, we don’t reject simplicity, smallness, or even bluntness just for the sake of it. Saying this, we appreciate maximalistic jugglery as well. For the cassettes, we want the collaborators to feel free to shape the object as far as possible. We just make sure the logo is in the leaf and cassette and that’s it. Every release until now has had a passionate history of failures and imperfections. It is okay though, you just have to keep it real.
OJC: We like things simple and sloppy usually, we’ll say that. That’s minimalistic in some kinda way, right?
If your label was a Ghostbuster, which one would it be and why?
OTA: (M) Egon, because he knows how to calculate stuff like psycho-kinetic substances and he made the ectoplasm gun. (P) Ray, because he summoned the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
OJC: Kirsten Wig.
What was the last tape you bought?
OTA: (M) Richard Wagner, Also Sprach Zarathustra + Don Juan, by The Scottish National Orchestra (1987). (P) F_nt_sm_ – u_u_u – If You Feel Like Going To Scuba In A Tar Pool. It’s from Urubu Tapes, a small label from Portugal also born recently.
OJC: Augie got Jahari – Situations, from Peoples Potential Unlimited and Luke got Warthog – Discography, from Voices from Inside.
What is the worst song you like?
OTA: (M) La Bamba Triste by Pierre Billon. (P) The 69 song in Tabs Out. I enjoy it sometimes, I confess!
OJC: Do Yo Shit by Pretty Taking All Fades.
What color socks are you wearing?
OTA: (M) Dark blue, light blue, beige line down the middle. (P) White socks from my neighbor.
If you could release a cassette tape by any cartoon character, who would it be and why?
OTA: Ren and Stimpy. And the log song wasn’t bad. It’s funny that the Ren and Stimpy’s Portuguese version had these incredibly expressive dubbed voices in portuguese. It was a disappointment when we stumbled over the original versions, later on. But yeah, this show was gory wicked. And it was for us, kids! It had a sinister pace, paranoid zooms and a great sound design. And just the most benign relationship between misfits.
OJC: Great question Mike, we’re a bit torn on this one. Augie says it would be that kid from Home Movies who loves to rock, because he has that Franz Kafka Song. Luke stands by Skeletor, in the hopes he would be into black metal. Either way it would be rocking.
How do you store your cassettes?
OTA: We try to keep them on the shelves but shoeboxes are useful.
OJC: OJC tapes? They live in dirty old boxes that get tucked out of the way.
Do you have any cassette pet peeves?
OTA: How easy it is to break cassette cases.
OJC: Short tapes and O cards. Cassingles are the worst.
Explain your logo.
OTA: Our logo writes our initials with the least amount of lines possible. Once it was done, we realized it also looked like a take on the anarchy logo, but with cuddly intentions!
OJC: Our pal Aarum’s friend drew it on a piece of college grade ruled paper one time. It’s really good, thanks Tania.
Do you home or pro dub your releases?
OTA: We have done both. It depends on how much time we have available for home dubbing.
OJC: Home dubbing, all the way.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
OTA: Star Wars!
OJC: Star Wars.
What is the closest tape to you at this very second?
OTA: (M) Borra-Botas. (P) An old mix tape recorded from a Portuguese radio – Ferro Extra I.
OJC: Son of Salami – Bacon Street.
What is your average edition size?
OTA: Between 20 and 50.
The Ropal Jagnu/Rigel Magellin split on OJC has a television on the cover. The Joe & Man tape on OTA has a kid’s cassette player on the cover. Which do you own more of? TVs or tape players?
OTA: Tape players.
OJC: Tape players. Just can’t resist buying decks when we see em at Goodwill or wherever.
Finish this sentence: I’ll never buy a cassette tape that _______________.
OTA: I own.
OJC: costs more than 8 dollars, you know, unless it’s really good.
Sonic or Mario?
OTA: (M) Sonic. (P) Mario.
First thing that comes to mind when you hear the following
Hiss: (M) Snake (P) Sound
Bandcamp: (M) Paypal (P) Digital
Comp: (M) Elation (P) All
OCard: (M) Is that for a spherical tape? (P) Undies
What was your favorite tape of 2016?
OTA: German Army – Mountain City.
OJC: There’s been so many good releases this year, but off the top our head it’d have to be “Router Space/Smashed Hits 100” by Hip Replacement on Unread and “Sorta Upset!” By Jake Tobin on Haord.
What do you have coming out in 2017?
OTA: We have a very exciting batch for the start of January. Most of the stuff brings good amounts of freshness from newcomers, but we will be blessed with a legend of old as well. We will try to have a new batch in April to celebrate OTA’s first birthday – some cassettes on the way for it too.
OJC: We have got a release from this project called Lärmschutz from the Netherlands. Real interesting stuff, kinda different from the typical OJC release. We make a Galaxie Deluxe tape once a year and put it out around March, so that’s comin up. We just recorded some stuff with Zach from Tingo Tongo Tapes, that’ll probably be coming out through us soon. Other than that we got some new Rigel Magellan stuff ready to roll, a new Shrink Ray tape, a new Ropal Jagnu tape, and lots of other stuff.
Pick a number between 0 and 100.
OTA: (M): Cause it’s you asking it has to be 69! But, true story, my shirt numbers for my volleyball and futsal teams are 96, only because I thought it would at least read 69 in the mirror. Turns out it doesn’t. Another true story… A few years ago there was a Christmas market in Helsinki, and there was only one church stand selling all kinds of paraphernalia, and guess which number stall they had. (P) 3.
If you could only use one color cassette shell for every release what would it be?
Describe the kind of sounds you release with a book title.
OTA: (M) The engineer of lost time. (P) The Three Friends.
OJC: Peaches a Plenty by Bobby S. Martin
Hantasi – SQUID
1.4.17 by Ryan Durfee
This was my first time listening to Hantasi. Much like bearded beat dudes, there are A LOT of vapo[u]r people out there, and it can be exhausting trying to keep up with every microniche that is happening on Twitter. While listening to this I’m reminded that the colossal squid is the largest invertebrate in the world, and it’s only only predator is the sperm whale [fun fact]. I’m pretty certain that the song SEA ♫࿏ CARNIVAL is about a big fin squid (which surprisingly have ten arms while all the others only have eight) [fun fact #2] robotriping it’s way through an underwater ball in the beautiful briny lagoon. A ball where a band of fish play to dapper chappies in bowler hats who dance upon the sun dappled sea floor, which turns into a nightmare when King Leonidas drags all of them out with a trawling net so he can sell some fishsticks to Iowa. The track ્ POISON ્ ્ WATER PARASOL sounds like swimming through a cloud of Heteroteuthis dispar’s cloud of inky light before being torn asunder by it’s beak, while ☭♣ CLUB HOUSE ☭♣ reminds me of listening to a skipping CD of Cameo blasting from my downstairs neighbors, who always play the same three things over & over again.
“SQUID” came out in a few different editions, all of which are sold out, but you can pick one up on Discogs
Rags – Cipher Of The Infinite Moment
1.3.17 by Kat Harding
The 37th release from San Mateo, California’s ((Cave)) Recordings, Rags’ “Cipher of the Infinite Moment”, is James Seevers’ experimental journey through time and space. With each side-long, 16-minute track, it’s easy to put this on and get enveloped in the otherworldly echoes and reverberation.
Aptly titled “A Long Corridor,” the track is a long journey to the deep unknown and back to the surface. The track hums open with a buzzing guitar and underwater sounds swishing around, then moves to feature what sounds like the voice of the devil himself. Slow, low, and barely decipherable, it’s joined by a chorus of cave dwellers in an unsettling concert. Rattling bells follow, with clacking drumsticks and rolling thunder building to a swell. Around 5:30 in, simple guitar-picking echoes to near-silence while clacking and clanging continue. A pleasant electric guitar tune picks up midway through the song, with the disembodied and distorted voice coming in to strike fear in the lone listener. One can faintly make out “what are you doing?” or at least that is what I personally heard while keeping a panic attack at bay. With six minutes left of the song, Rags relapses underwater and comes up for air again. Bursting forth at almost 12 minutes in, bright reverberation screams forward, ebbing and flowing over the silence. Hurried, frantic guitar strumming comes in and suddenly Rags has the listener in a punk song. A beat of silence gives way to a clear, melancholy tune that plays the song out, ending abruptly in peace.
Where side A featured the devil, side B, “A Flickering Light,” opens with a chorus of angels, a litany of light voices finding a harmony together, soon petering out to the ramblings of a madman about movement, connection and energy, a frantic TedTalk from underground. With a buzzing behind it, the one-sided conversation continues, mentioning cosmic waves, motion, and information. By three minutes in, the track reaches sci-fi synths that then dissolve into a flamenco-inspired guitar stream. Faint voices weave in and out of the music, with reverb competing with the mysterious lecturer, this time going on about imagination and black holes. With about five minutes to go, the song is a melodic and thoughtful guitar track, with the faint choir joining in one more time. The preacher joins again, urging belief, but in what? A deep cello sound eventually ends the song, leaving the listener buzzing with existential questions.
Pick up a copy of the cassette on ((Cave)) Recordings’ Bandcamp.