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.