Night Sky Body – Pain/Air
6.27.22 by Matty McPherson
Sound as Language has been slowly hashing out its aesthetic and general ethos for the last two years. Ki Oni (arguably the A-list bad boy of ambient), brin (the A-list bad boy graphic designer of ambient), euglossine (the library music enthusiast of ambient), and Matthew Ryals (the bad boy modular synth enthusiast) are on one end, exploring eye-wnking ambient zones where not all is as it seems. Flight Mode and Tar Of are on the other, obliterating everything in sight with fiery fury and noise pop explosions. Truly, we haven’t seen an “ambient label that rlly likes emo” like this in the history of tape labels. Also, their tapes have o-card outer sleeves. It’s quite nice.
The label also is anything but regionally focused. Will might be steering the ship somewhere out of LA, but his knack for curating a roster filled with the crevices of the continental United States is worthy of commendation. Recently, I’ve been chilling with the work of Murfreesboro, TN’s Night Sky Body (fka Sparkling Wide Pressure, AKA Frank Baugh). Baugh’s got a hefty CV with works extending from Hooker Vision to Lillerne and Never Anything. His new EP for Sound as Language, pain/air, is a continued meditation of his songwriting practice; ” Dream imagery, automatic writing, and psychological landscapes” are the guiding MO for pain/air’s six tracks.
For a C30, it’s considerately fluid and dense. This approach to songwriting is a mend of electronics (including sampling) with shimmering guitars and somber piano, sort of just seeing what might come of it. Sometimes it is real dream music. Other times, it’s gothic nightmares. Neither are handled without an acknowledgement of the other though, giving the tape a situated balance and the aura of a journey. In the tapes most wide-eyed moments, like opener Clouds Form, the sounds come in with a crystal clarity, automatically endearing and gracious. Side A’s other two tracks, Lawrence and Undo Fragments, let the automatic mumble writing seep in, casually becoming a meditation to one’s self; an exercise in the subconscious. Yet, Undo Fragments’ sampling of heavier bass textures doesn’t quite function in the constructivist manner it seems to be edging for.
Side B though, is able to better mend these textures together into a cohesive suite. Braugh’s automatic writing is more sinister on Picture a Garden There, itself benefitting from the brooding synths and shaken strings/percussive textures. Together, there’s a real sense of uncertainty and desperation; like you’ve just fallen into a gothic rabbit hole. Between’s unshaken piano and low end practically keep that journey on its toes. You’re not sure where you’ll end up but fortunately, it’ll be at Relief. Just like Clouds Form, Relief is a bright track on the tape. Morphing between precious piano and wicked feedback, it lands comfortably on an astral plane, slowly whisking away.
Edition of 100 carmine red ink on frosted ice cassette with Ocard outer sleeve, available at the Sound as Language Bandcamp.
Uli Federwisch & Chip Perkins – Visiting Places (Learning by Listening Vol. 5)
6.24.22 by Matty McPherson
They (aka PUBLIC LIBRARIES) like to advertise that you can go to a library and “jumpstart your future” by watching a bunch of Great Courses about pirates, facists, and uhhh… integrated calculus. I mean I guess that’s good enough to like get a GED or a diploma from Crazy Go Nuts University, but I just don’t feel like that truly does justice for what today’s feeble-eyed audiences are in need of. They should be learning with their ears, LISTENING to important lessons and concepts! Some people might just say “isn’t that a podcast?” But not Strategic Tape Reserve! Even if libraries think cassettes are outdated (or too scary to file under the Dewey Decimal System), the STR has been innovating in learning arenas where results had been practically stagnate. “Learning by Listening is an educational, instructive cassette series designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain,”. It’s a simple approach that has led to DOZENS of degrees (these tape runs are few, because the value of these degrees are akin to liquid gold), tens of armchair critical thoughts/forum posts, and at least 8 tape releases to date.
Now, I’ve been out the STR loop for a while (Eamon, you really outdid yourself with Bellectronic!). Yet, as a clerk with Dewey Decimal number knowledge, I felt that I could help analyze Vol. 5 Visiting Places and provide insights for future knowledge enthusiasts. A Dewey Decimal Classification of 910, for “geography and travel” is a sufficient starting place for this tape release. It’s the work of Uli Federwisch, the Secretary-General of the Prüm-Eupen Partnership For Success and has visited many places both inside of Germany and abroad.” Hmm, maybe its a 914.3 situation–ya know for the German/Belgium area? Wait a sec–it says here “Chip Perkins has submitted demo reels to several well-respected voice talent agencies and expects to hear back from them soon”. Last time I checked we were filing voice talent demo reals somewhere in the 790s. Goodness! Is this even catalogable?! Okay maybe we should focus on the listening at hand–Federwisch really likes to play with the synthesizer. And when I got those Autechre cds from the library, they were filed under 786.74 for “synthesizers, electronic music.” Technically, Visiting Places fits that description, but you and I both saw that bench on the cover, we know this is an experience of real human travels.
Visitng Places’ is the designated length of a super-sized Rick Steves Europe episode. Now, I watch a lot of Rick Steves on weekends. It used to be Bob Ross, but my folks saw the documentary on his life and are appalled by the cottage industry based on his likeness. Rick Steves is a pretty good compromise because it fulfills their dreams of going to Europe and my fascination with his “blunt as fuck” (bro loves his doobies!) nicecore aesthetic. A sizeable chunk of Perkins’ informative monologues struck me as warped inversions of Rick Steves’ charming historical tidbits of European history and culture. In the hands of Perkins, they become brilliant distillations of STR’s lore and fever-dream Europe that us Americans so rarely have any real understanding of. Also they are paired with Federwisch’s uncanny knack for pulling out synth textures and bonkers sounds that emphatically parallel the journey Perkins pulls us down. It can be funky or ethereal; blissful or deranged. It’s really all about how you learn by listening.
Visiting Places is undeniably an execution of the “weird and eerie” aesthetic, outside of our perceptions. Our journey will start at a bench on the Belgium/German border, playing a flute. No, we don’t know how we got here. We just must traverse and figure what is real and imagined. We’ll encounter adult-sized tricycles, with decorative cladding and displaying scenes from popular movies. To describe its limitations and otherworldly-ness (it sits on a track between the two countries’ borders) would fail you, dear reader. We’ll visit a model train museum where budget cuts have truly put things on the fritz. We’ll move like a tightrope walker. We’ll lay down and count back from 8 and come to a wind park, truly considering how wind turbines could become giant fans! We’ll ponder the results of referendums that destroyed all maps of the local village. The village residents though, they speak in a language that is “profoundly beautiful”. All the while, Federwisch will continue to take every quip or turn of phrase and turn it into an apt sound.
As I read of future civil wars and think of fractured borders, this tape produces its own solace. Federwisch & Perkins achieve a radiant energy that begets questions to answers that aren’t even acknowledged within this tape, allowing a listener to truly ponder the places they visit. But let’s not dwell on that. Just merely tap in for five minutes, and before you’ll realize it you’ve been been on a journey of your own for the past 40.
Professionally dubbed C40 audio cassette. Edition of fifty something from Strategic Tape Reserve’s Bandcamp Page.
Concrete Colored Paint – This Valley of Segmentation
6.20.22 by Matty McPherson
I regret that when I was in Knoxville, TN back in March for Big Ears, I did NOT stop at Park 70 HQ. Well maybe it was for the better, as I imagine I’d be showing up to someone’s house uninvited and without bearing any gifts. A couple years back, I did talk to Park 70, one of the first tape labels I was paying attention to and deeply jiving with (Park 70 if you are reading this, get in touch I still have that zine for you). Prazision-era Labradford held an iron grip in my mind and pitch black strolls just before COVID reflected those early Park 70 industrial dream ambient tapes.
Even as the label’s finally surmounted 25 releases, nothing much has changed in the grand scheme of evocative packaging, uniform quality, and spatial discombobulation. Although, dreams of spring poppies and gracious summer mornings are beginning to thaw out on the label’s more recent releases–natural landscapes are finally in! Case in point with Concrete Colored Paint’s This Valley of Segmentation, a 14 track tape recorded in Azusa Canyons before the September 2020 Bobcat fire; “currently all locations are now closed for restoration” the tape card tells me. It’s a situated dispatch, one of the only of its kind that allow us travel to the Canyons in this fraught moment. Take a gander at those track titles; there’s an undercurrent of boundary lines, fault lines, and general lines of spatial disconnect. It’s our only way there, quite frankly.
The Valley of Segmentation is a noticeable lucid C45, itself concocting a clarity reminiscent of vast desert rock formation and clear, boundless skies. The bulk of this tape is based around succinct synth pieces. They’ll go one of two ways, either unfurling over their few minutes (Border Spaces) or creating their own stasis (Gone Today, the title track) for a listener to meditate within. At its quietest, like on the title track, the feeling of a subterranean “is this the sound of my heart beating?” is wildly strong and alluring. Isolation of this kind has been trickling out on a the occasional German Army/Peter Kris releases here and there, but its Concrete Colored Paint’s nailing of this sublime vagueness that kept me on the edge of my seat during Side A.
Side B is more shrouded and barren, before giving way to an ominous presence over the course of the listen. Opening piece, Regulated Landscapes, mend wind recordings and sounds of “waves” into that of an abandoned desert oasis. You can’t quite tell if this is friendly, neutral, or sinister–at least not until South of the Freeway and Growth of the Fault Lines begin to introduce piano and more astral synthesizer loops. Ghostly, but in a friendly way, I’d denote. Enough so that a breathing exercise is welcome and in order. By the time of Transfiguration in Form & Visualize Formations, the tape has moved beyond the desert formations and jumped straight into the sky.
Edition of 50 in letterpressed sleeve with heavy card stock insert sold out at the Park 70 Bandcamp page!
Leechwife – Nebulae And Debris
6.19.22 by Jacob DeRaadt
Leechwife is the project of one Lilith Grace of Columbus, Ohio. There’s a rapid combination of Amphetamine Reptile style noise rock a la Hammerhead or Cows with distorted organ, or chunks of the doom metal band Pentagram, into weird proggy breakdowns with a more-punk-than-metal attitude towards the vocals on some songs. A really singular idiosyncratic universe of a solo project that sounds like a full band on most songs. There’s some tracks that feel more like studio jams than others, like the wandering tone of the interlude “Gelatin Planets, Glass Moons.”
Maybe it’s all the Chrome I’ve been listening to at work this week, but the record feels very acid influenced at certain moments. In a real way. I’ve only done acid once but this reminds me of it; loops of Stooges and Chrome floating through raga string tones while art objects become pathways to dark dimensions. Weird fusions of doom and raga melodic structures actually grab my attention for once in a long time.
Then there’s the video game music meets meets King Crimson stylings of “Fractal Castles” to end it.
What a truly strange tape.
Tatu Metsätähti & Olli Hänninen – Repullinen Skittejä
6.17.22 by Matty McPherson
Okay let’s start at the end — well really side B of this tape. Okay, okay fine. First we can at least acknowledge these syllabic names. Tatu Metsätähti (Mesak) is a Finish producer that sometimes runs the “skweee” inflected Harmönia sub label — no, they don’t update their MySpace or Facebook anymore and both are down for good it seems. Metsätähti also (over the past twenty odd years) occasionally has pushed releases of all sorts of sizes out on Huge Bass, the parent label. And yes, they do have a functioning Bandcamp page. Through all of this, Olli Hänninen has been a reliable contributor within Metsätähti’s orbit. Hänninen himself has been in a variety of Finnish anachro-crust outfits–Church of Nihil, Confirmed Kill, Hate Unit. If like me, your answer to this news is “who are three bands that have never been in my kitchen,” well you’d probably be correct. They’re old school 90s and early 00s stuff; Hänninen’s more likely to be found making skweee or oddball electronics under the Claws Costeau moniker. Rare is the release under his actual name.
Look, you already made me drop an expository paragraph, I’d really like to talk about that side B! Oh yeah, the tape did get imported through Cudighi Records, the Los Angeles label that keeps sending us tapes and keeps making me go “damn! these guys are REALLY good at importing sounds that wouldn’t make it to America otherwise.” And because they don’t really play to one sound, just a conscious “anyone could be making noise anywhere” approach, we end up with a roster that tickles between easy listening and Repullinen Skittejä — the latter being top shelf Eastern-European black portal noise magic.
If you’d just let me talk about that side B, I can enlighten you abo-oh yeah they DID list all their gear — instruments, effects, customs, ephemera — on both the tape and Bandcamp. I was personally flabbergasted, because side A… well that’s more the R&D side of the tape. Realm brief vocal snippets, buggy lo-fi hip hop, vague ambient, and uhh that OPE track that sorta has a German Army thing going on; minimal synth funk always welcomed. Side A is for the grinders, the people who love deciphering gear lists, listening to a proof of concept, and trying to piece it all together in their brains. Mikä Sapiens…*, the side closer, may only be 2:18, but it does feel like a culmination of the side. It shifts on a dime towards austere zones without people after its skweee inflections drop halfway through. It’s a set-up for side B.
SPEAKING OF, Side B is totally consumed by the near-23 minutes of Deep Finlandia. And coming after Side A, THIS has the feeling of white hot UFOs and bombed out metro tunnels. For the duo, it’s a deeper plane of listening, often riding out the crevices of one bass-driven drone and ethereal feedback. It could be steamy or claustrophobic all based on the volume knob’s tuning. Around the fifteen minute mark, the digital feedback discombobulates, becoming crunchier and further untethered. Its unsettling patterns and feedback loops could be the soundscape for a free-jazz ensemble, but the duo are not privy to that bound. The atmosphere here is vacuum sealed. Anti-dance? Sorta. Smidgens of piston-esque percussion gnarls and lashes in the mix. Wicked fun? Enticingly so. It’s a journey worth going down with this duo and their endless array of gear. Seriously, look at these guys and their gear! I wanna have a demolition derby with ‘em or something.
Limited Edition Pro-dubbed cassette with 4-panel J-card available at the Cudighi Records and Huge Bass Bandcamps.