GOLDEN HALLWAY MUSIC “Rules & Chance” C51 (Self-Released)

With so much reverb and wah/warble bouncing off the walls, this nearly hour-long electric organ journey jauntily paces the shiny golden halls of echo and grandeur like a danger-free victory-lap in an 8bit RPG. Perfect for long, mid-fast paced, headphone-strapped walks along paths favored and mysterious!


https://goldenhallwaymusic.bandcamp.com/album/rules-chance


—Jacob An Kittenplan

JEF MERTENS New Music for Mouth Harmonica” C30 (Dadaist Tapes)

NM4MH is one of two things; it’s either:

A) Somebody unapologetically huffing around with a harmonica and some extended effects pedals…

or…

B) an admittedly aleatory but nonetheless strongly-intentioned simultaneous mixing of the most venerable tones concerning long-range sonic communications devices between mountainsides AND the dying breath of the steam engine.


Think: Spaghetti Western.

Think: Deep valleys and soaring vistas echoing the tremble of exhaled exasperations.

Think: Chirps, coos, roostering, high-tide’s arrival.


This is either a deep listener’s delight, a semi-antagonistic exercise in controlled room feedback (a la CAVITY*)/ambiance, or…just annoying. Or all three, at varying intervals.


Be adventurous & play loud in an unpadded chamber!


https://jefmertens.bandcamp.com/album/new-music-for-mouth-harmonica

and/or

https://dadaisttapes.com/


—Jacob An Kittenplan


*perhaps FL’s best buried secret

KRĀLLĀR “big sad” C54 (Amek Collective)

 


A tape is always a winner when it starts out recalling the incidental music playing over the bottom-of-the-wishing-well scene in Goonies (is that rich stuff?), that sparkling melody of wonder and awe, the minor key suggesting something’s just off enough to set that fascinating discovery on edge. I guess if you’re a bunch of kids dodging the booby traps of a long-dead pirate while being chased through hidden tunnels by wanted felons, then any such moment will be a little more stressful than it needs to be. But that’s what growing up is all about, isn’t it? Being able to handle the massive amounts of disappointment in between fleeting instants of satisfaction.

These kids have grown up and are krāllār, at least the ones who get it, you know? (Not the actual Goonies – they grew up to be adult actors, except for Chunk, who’s a lawyer!) The human entity behind krāllār is actually called Ivan Shentov, and Ivan premiered the material that would become big sad at Amek Bummer Nights 2019, a live event hosted by Sofia-based tape label Amek Collective (Sofia’s in Bulgaria, and Amek must be gotten hip to by you if you have not been hipped yet). Shentov makes huge sounds, which might seem odd considering Shentov works his magic in drone (and, sure, noise I guess), but if you haven’t figured it out before now, Shentov’s “drones” can work incredibly as soundtrack material. It’s amazing what you can do with a mastery of tape collage!

Because that’s what big sad is: a massive slab of collaged tape loops and feedback and effects. After the Bummer Nights performance, Amek’s Angel Simitchiev begged Shentov to record what he’d just done, just so Amek could properly introduce krāllār to their exponentially expanding (I can only imagine) audience. In a studio setting, the material was brought to insane life, as if it was conjured via black magic and properly mixed and mastered. So what you hold in your hands (I imagine you’re holding it in your hands, and if not, please rectify that) is an incredible document of the overwhelmingness of life crushing down on you, but it’s only overwhelming because you started out with so much hope anyway. That hope’s not all gone, but it’s sure running out. It seems like krāllār’s just as confused and bitter as you are. You guys would make a good team.

But all that hope ends the minute you ride up Troy’s bucket.

https://krallar.bandcamp.com/

https://amekcollective.bandcamp.com/

--Ryan

UNDERWORLD ORCHARD “Underworld Orchard” C37 (20/20 Records and Tapes)

Baltimore trio composition: Two witchy vocalists, one banjo, one heavily-pedal’d electric guitar. Perhaps a cavernous recording room? A slew of towering, immaculately rusty candelabras? Three or more wax-splattered skulls* of varying charismatic megafauna?


Underworld Orchard sets up a serious M-O-O-D with their MountainMan-meets-IndiraValey mix of dark, harmonic vocal blends, story-telling asides, buried, atmospheric string-amblings, and str8 up spiritual lamentations. 


Not exactly an upper, this is a great soundtrack for candle-lit watercoloring or just actively examining the backs of your eyelids amidst the flicker of a nearby red tea light.


https://2020records.bandcamp.com/merch

and/or

https://underworldorchard.bandcamp.com/album/underworld-orchard


—Jacob An Kittenplan


*legally and respectfully obtained, of course

SLEEVE “Sleeve & Mala” C28 (20/20 Records and Tapes)

Sharing some serious sonic DNA* with the likes of Grizzly Bear, early Clientele, and Bats & Mice, Baltimore’s Sleeve kicks out some seriously noisy/psychy indierawk that’s as catchy as it is quirky. Driving bass and busy drumming boosts jangly guitars and earnestly half-boasted vocals that never overpower the delicate, artful arrangements. Throw in some odd xylophone and room noise and you’ve got some great city-traversing that’s energizing enough to get you through the morning and then some.


Good headphones’ll help you find all that buried treasure so low in the mix.


https://2020records.bandcamp.com/merch

and/or

https://sleeve.bandcamp.com/album/sleeve-mala


—Jacob An Kittenplan


*AKA RIYL

UV RAPTURE “Cardea” C30 (Vernal Pool)

Gracefully fitting in* between indie-divas Björk and Julia Holter, Providence, RI’s Rachel Asher, under the nom de guerre “UV Rapture”, paints up half-trancy/half-dancy dreamy synth-pop with production precision. Her just-an-ounce-heavier-than-ethereal vocals float gently above warm and twinkling synthesizer ambiance and supporting drum machines, stalwart bass, and a caché of supporting/accenting guitar licks somewhat reminiscent of Mazzy Star, without being in any way a reboot. 


Great study music or for just sitting on the porch with iced tea, watching clouds drift along. 


https://uvrapture.bandcamp.com/releases

and/or

https://www.uvrapture.com/


—Jacob An Kittenplan


*and how!

ANDREW WEATHERS ENSEMBLE “The Thousand Birds in the Earth, the Thousand Birds in the Sky” C40 (Full Spectrum)



If you’re going to go out, why not go out on top? Andrew Weathers, Full Spectrum label head and mastering expert extraordinaire (honestly, how many of the tapes in your collection has he gotten his paws on?) has decided to retire the “Ensemble” moniker after this release, the fascinatingly titled The Thousand Birds in the Earth, the Thousand Birds in the Sky. Why? What could possibly prompt the dissolution of such a consistently excellent project?

 

Turns out a little wanderlust is all. Andrew Weathers just wants to do something new, and, as such, he actually is going out on top with the Ensemble.

 

Wanderlust, or something adjacent to it, inspired Thousand Birds anyway, as Weathers’s frequent jaunts across the West Texas desert kicked neurons into gear within his brain, often igniting the spark of inspiration on those lonely highway drives enough that he’d have to quick run to an instrument whenever he’d get home to get everything out of his head that cropped up along the way. The result is four sprawling, flowing tracks, each one a sun-damaged psychic trip to the edge of endurance.

 

So now that you’ve looked through all your tapes and realized Weathers has worked in some capacity on 85 percent of them (give or take), you won’t be surprised that there’s a long list of collaborators on board to help him realize the Ensemble’s vision. Everybody gets equal footing, and the result truly sounds like a collective effort. Still, it never feels overstuffed – in fact, it always feels airy and lightly melodic, never dense or constricted. Thousand Birds mimics the desert itself, spreading out, endlessly, in all directions, promising visions and truths to those willing to approach it on its terms.

 

There’s road-movie aspects to it, kosmische, 1970s fusion, drifting folk, and even Autotune! Basically, anything anyone with a predilection toward any of those things could want in their Ensemble releases. (Even though most of us don’t immediately think of Autotune as such a necessary ingredient – how wrong we were …) So if this is indeed the end of the line for the Andrew Weathers Ensemble, it couldn’t have closed out on a higher note. Can’t wait to hear what Weathers himself has up his sleeve next!

 

https://andrewweathers.bandcamp.com/

 

https://fullspectrumrecords.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

DUSTIN LAURENZI’S SNAKETIME “Behold” C28 (Astral Spirits)

Dustin Laurenzi’s bafflingly great Snaketime: The Music of Moondog LP, a tribute to the late outsider artist (released on what would have been his 104th birthday), has been sold out for a minute. Can’t get it. Not unless you scour back-alley Discogs pages for shifty retailers with OOP Thelonious Monk and Sun Ra wax in their trenchcoats. And they might only upcharge you a little bit. You gotta check the seller ratings. At any rate … Behold! More music by Laurenzi’s Snaketime ensemble, culled from the same performance, is hereby released on cassette tape as … Behold. Four new tunes, now no longer lost to the clutter of the cutting room floor. That’s right, I said Behold! Because you’re not doing nothing if you’re not in on Behold.

 

Check it: Laurenzi and crew, comprising a who’s who of Chicago and/or Astral Spirits jazz talent, hit up the Windy City’s Hungry Brain with some Moondog interpretations in hand back in 2018. (Pre-COVID.) Why? Because it’s fascinating, that’s why! The collective wound the room into a groovy frenzy, clearly enjoying themselves as they performed Moondog’s tunes. The result is wickedly laid back and sharply loose, as if oxymorons are going to get you in the headspace you need to be in. What you really need to know is that this is a bunch of really friggin’ great jazz players having a great time with a musician’s work they clearly have a deep love and appreciation for. And just because this is an appendix to an earlier document doesn’t mean it’s not spectacular on it’s own. And, to be clear, it is. Spectacular. On its own.

 

https://dustinlaurenzi.bandcamp.com/

 

https://astralspirits.bandcamp.com/music

 

--Ryan

PETER C. BRUNO “Be Linear” C57 (Strategic Tape Reserve)

 


This is decoy from the start. A relic of the golden age of espionage. I mean, this isn’t even by “Peter C. Bruno” – if the Bandcamp page is to be believed, it’s by the Strategic Tape Reserve Staff, meaning Peter C. Bruno could be anybody. (Or he could actually be Peter C. Bruno! The mind boggles.) True to form, “False Floor” opens the tape with Cold War synthpop, suggesting layers that you shouldn’t see but could if you looked hard enough, or precisely. Spy games aren’t out of the reach of STR’s strengths, and the collective tries its hand at subtle messaging on Be Linear, which, after the “false floor” of “False Floor,” descends into deliberate code. “False Floor” is intended to shake us off the scent – well, at least to mislead anyone who has obtained the contents of this tape in a manner not befitting the intentions of the label. They even suggest you keep the tape rewound to the beginning of side A when it’s not in use to seem innocuous if the authorities ever get a hold of it.

 

But what’s actually recorded onto this tape is meant for certain ears only. Each track is a list of secret code words expressed over secret synthesizer tones, all of which form an elaborate codebook. When words and tones are transmitted to those in possession of Be Linear, they can use the tape as a cypher to interpret messages. These messages are likely of the life-and-death variety, alerting agents to enemy movements and actions. I can confirm this – since this tape has arrived in the mail, I’ve already received a voice message of synth pulses and carefully intoned nouns that, when compared to Be Linear, alerted me to the fact that I’d left the stove on after heating up some leftover pizza at lunch. This tape has already saved my life!

 

Or maybe I’ve said too much.

 

So whether you think this just a complex piece of performance art or an indispensable tool for the freedom fighters still at it behind enemy lines will likely determine whether or not you should even be in possession of this thing. If you fall into the former category, your instructions are to burn this tape as soon as you finish reading this “review” (bleep bloop).

 

https://strategictapereserve.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

YORISHIRO “II” C40 (Self-Released)


Spain’s Yorishiro's sure carved out a pretty rad niche for themself, pairing stoner rock guitar aesthetic with soft-yet-funky bass lines, almost non-existent percussive accent, and a looooong, sleepy organ drone that forces the question: “Are they lazily rocking out, or somewhat agitatedly relaxing into a dialied in mood?” There’s prolly a fine line, and “II" explores it further in depth than his last release on Constellation Tatsu, “I”.

Think American Analog Set covering Acid King covering American Analog Set covering Acid King covering…


Pretty novel and definitely enjoyable and worthy of back to back repeat listens to get further in the zone(s). Crank up the volume to feel those keys!


https://yorishiro.bandcamp.com/


—Jacob An Kittenplan

ALEX MAERBACH “Will the Low E Still Be There Once You’ve Come Down?” C60 (Orb Tapes)



Alex Maerbach drafted the Low E Ensemble to help out with this thing, and it’s a doozy. As a “rumination on the IV humors, medieval pseudoscience, alchemy, and gnosticism,” Maerbach and Low E fully lean into the forms and functions inherent in medieval performance, all while injecting it with a healthy dose of twenty-first-century technology and rumbly noise. Ostensibly beginning as drone pieces, each of the three long-form compositions shortly incorporate all the players into a more traditional “band” performance. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of room for experimentation (because there is!). Acoustic passages appear, as do static and feedback clouds, all making for an exhilarating and astounding experience.

 

If we were going to dilute the utter complexities of this release into a hamfisted comparison, we’d probably come up with something like “Seaven Teares meets Do Make Say Think at a freak-folk convention (or maybe Voice of the Valley).” But that wouldn’t even scratch the surface of tape closer “Choleric + Phlegmatic,” thirty minutes of heaving exploration and interplay, the roiling tensions and seamless transitions from maddening buildups and oscillations to cathartic bursts of frantic playing. Of course it ends on acoustic guitar and lonely brass and reeds, all atop apocalyptic spoken samples and feedback. If the apocalypse was going to come, and, if my theology is up to par, those medieval folks sure probably thought it would, I’d want it to sound like this: utter uninhibited id ready to go down with the ship.

 

Plus that artwork … *chef’s kiss*

 

https://xiii13.bandcamp.com/

 

https://orbtapes.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

JOEL SHANAHAN “Frozen Clock Hovering” C84 (across 2xC60) (Ratskin Records)


Joel Shanahan has made quite the name for himself (Golden Donna, Auscultation, et al) peddling highly abstract and energetic electronica for a while now, but this project under his own Jah-given name is something else entirely and, if I may so myself, his best work to date!

Across 84 minutes, JS covers a TON of ground skirting the ambient electronica subgenres, with nervous drone-swells, competing/asynchronous synth hooks that fall in upon themselves into anti-pulse reverse-cascades, and a remarkably tasteful employment of Basinski/Cortini-an decay peppered throughout. 


While a few beats are scattered here & there, the overall feel of this beastly 2xCS is of a consensual haunting, a purposeful study of sci-fi horror in slow-motion, emotionally removed but for the viscous syrup between speakers and recipient earholes. Not party music. Not study music. Definitely melancholy art-makin’ jamz for days, though, & the whole thing sounds great both via headphones and mid-range stereo speakers, making it dynamic to the third power!


The art is also pretty fucking stellar here, with two purty yeller tapes snuggling up in the sleeping bag of a heat-resistant sparkly envelope that’s superglued to two esoteric b/w prints, each kissed with oil-spill-ish accent. Ratskin wasn’t fuckin’ around here ONE BIT!


https://ratskinrecords.bandcamp.com/album/frozen-clock-hovering

and/or

https://goldendonna.bandcamp.com/music


—Jacob An Kittenplan

SHAME “I Don’t Like You” (Orb Tapes)



“Shame is not here to make friends.” Well duh, not with a name like “Shame”! And, well, also not with a tape titled I Don’t Like You – I probably should have flagged that first. Indeed, Shame, the solo moniker of Abdul Hakim Bilal of Among the Rocks and Roots – whose Raga tape, also on Orb, floored the bejeezus out of me when I first heard it – is as antisocial* a project as it gets, opting for harsh, gristly noise at all costs in order to repel you from Bilal’s presence. And honestly, why would Bilal want any of you in their presence? You’re all a bunch of freeloading, whiny babies. Bilal is right to not want to have anything to do with you.

 

But then there are the select few who get what Bilal's got going on, who hear the outré sonic mayhem and are pulled in, gravitating toward the center of the hellish concoction. People like me. OK, listen up, gather round – you hear that oscillating static? You hear those sampled shrieks? You withstanding that piercing feedback? You resisting the demonic temptations of that buried whisper? You churning like that pulverized cement? You becoming one with that barely tolerable pitch? You frying on that flat-top stove?

 

GOOD!

 

I don’t like you either.

 

You can hang out though and listen to this. You’ve proven worthy of remaining in Bilal’s presence, and that’s good enough for me.

 

*Well, I Don’t Like You isn’t totally antisocial – the awesome Orb alum Samuel Goff makes an appearance on “Transmission Dreams.”

 

https://orbtapes.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

THANOS FOTIADIS “Five Triptychs for Upheaval” (Plaża Zachodnia)



Upheaval, clearly, is the act of disruption, of lives interrupted by outside forces that cause palpable changes to the status quo. Upheaval doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing – such shifts can shake off rust, get you out of a rut, point you on a different, better path. Upheaval can be a bad thing too if you’re not ready for it, or if it actively inhibits your ability to procure the basics for living. We could go down that rabbit hole and get ourselves upset about a bunch of things. But you know what I mean.

 

Thanos Fotiadis, a “composer”/“curious human being,” contemplates the minutiae of upheaval throughout his, well, aptly titled Five Triptychs for Upheaval. Each of the five pieces is set up as a triptych, so you have to cut them into thirds before you hang them on your wall. I kid! Using “a modular system and a Soma Ether,” Fotiadis enacts his commotion on an atomic level, shaking the very molecules of your existence, agitating them with currents and pulses. This feels like drone, Five Triptychs for Upheaval is more a live wire just under the skin, electricity rippling through your body until you’re out of your chair and moving a lot quicker than you were before.

 

It’s only a matter of time before you leave behind what you once knew and embark on a new and determined path. As Fotiadis says, drone equals time, and he’s there to underlie your processes as they unfold with his drone. Let’s just hope he doesn’t snap his fingers while wearing that Infinity Gauntlet, right? That’ll really get us upheaved!

 

Sorry, bad joke, but I couldn’t help myself.

 

https://thanosfotiadis.bandcamp.com/

 

https://plazach.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

BIZARRE STATUE “The Polish Embassy/The Cane Field” C37 (Woodford Halse)



Bizarre Statue is Bill Foreman, onetime singer/songwriter, and The Polish Embassy/The Cane Field is his attempt to shed his former skin. No longer confined to tropes or conditions of his former idiom, Foreman leans hard into esoteric, sprawling composition, more interested in letting his songs breathe deeply, performing novels than short stories. That’s how The Polish Embassy/The Cane Field came to be – this newfound freedom of form released Foreman to pursue incredible new angles and observe hidden corners. Bizarre Statue escaped its amorphous basalt origins and took on a new, untraditional, and distinguished shape.

 

Each of the two long tracks follows a character through a narrative. The first, “The Polish Embassy,” focuses on a British agent in Cold War Berlin, and the track is appropriately late-1960s chilly and downbeat, veering in and out of a Pink Floyd–ian soundtrack vibe. The Central European locale is as much a character as the agent himself, the crunch of sidewalk snow underfoot as shoulders hunch into trenchcoat and scarf against the wind. “If it’s true that they’re keeping me another year behind the wall,” the protagonist notes to his handler, “I’m going to need that pistol you promised. So give it to me.” Whether or not said promised pistol emerges we’ll never know, but the risk is true, and the loneliness of a secret agent in a foreign land is palpable and oddly mundane, the danger a dull ache behind a perpetual stress headache.

 

“The Cane Field” points toward hope, though – its character is an escaped eighteenth-century slave groping for freedom on St. Kitts. It’s not remotely easy, and we’re with him as he’s crouched, taking a break, taking stock, thinking about food and about danger and feeling the spark of excitement as a life beckons to him beyond the reach of slaveholders. Still more (More?) Floyd-ishness as acoustic strums and doubled/harmonized voices melt into baritone registers. Maybe it’s a little more Hergest Ridge in its pastoral applications, with Foreman introducing vocals to the Mike Oldfield format. At any rate, “The Cane Field” opens up – again – and any direction you choose is the right one. Well, except for backward – there’s no returning here, only open possibility.

 

These stories and these songs build on motifs and stretch out till every longing, every striving moment these characters experience demands your empathy. Bizarre Statue hooks you early and easily and refuses to relinquish his spell.

 

https://bizarrestatue.bandcamp.com/

 

https://woodfordhalse.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

DARKO THE SUPER (PRODUCED BY STEEL TIPPED DOVE) “The Devil Defeated” (Already Dead)



I’m not gonna lie, I have the last Hell Hole Store album on my jogging playlist. So every once in a while, I hear Darko pumping through my earbuds, and that butter-smooth energetic flow kicks me into another gear. I often find myself chuckling at Darko’s wordplay. So imagine my delight when the latest Already Dead batch included the latest Darko the Super tape. IMAGINE IT!

 

I’m probably gonna upload this one too. Or, uh, wear a big chunky Walkman and play the actual tape, since, you know, this is a cassette site. (Psst: I’m not gonna do that.)

 

The Devil Defeated continues Darko’s Del/Serch storytelling saga, and this time the Philly rapper takes on the greatest enemy ever envisioned – the Devil himself. Fortunately, before we even hit bar one, we know that Devil’s going down, because Darko said so, and at this point we believe Darko. As impressive as that feat is, it’s not as impressive as the wordplay making an absolute mockery of the foibles of everyday life, ripping a new blowhole in every demonic interlude.

 

See, the Bible tells us that the Devil is behind every bad thing, like traffic and indigestion and Twilight. So that just means the battle is real, every day, all the time! That’s exhausting, but Darko can do it, Darko can take it on, always, and here with a cadre of companions led by producer Steel Tipped Dove. (Hell Hole buddy Ialive makes an appearance too!) And not only do Darko and crew take on the most malevolent forces of evil, they do it with style and swagger.

 

Or, you know, you just roll with this great tape and don’t worry about what’s going on behind the scenes. Darko’s got you covered there too.

 

https://darkothesuper.bandcamp.com/

 

https://alreadydeadtapes.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

ALDERHOLMENS FUTURISTISKA “Nutid” (Do You Dream of Noise?)

 


The trio Alderholmens Futuristiska is rooted in the now, get me? That’s what Nutid means, anyway, “present,” like you gotta be there, you gotta be right there to get what’s going on. Well, everybody, I’m here, I’m right here, so I’m reporting live from life, on the unshakable linear bedrock of time. It’s super easy to tell where I am on that timeline. I’m at the exact point where everything is happening.


That’s gonna be so weird for you future readers.


LEHNBERG (it would be so awesome to have a single, all-caps name), Olle Oljud, and Slim Vic comprise Alderholmens Futuristiska, and they can create quite a racket. They can also create quite a calm, serene atmosphere too, don’t get me wrong – it’s the juxtaposition of these two things that make Nutid such a fascinating listen. The murk of their drift is punctuated by sonic detritus – spinning vortices, blinking lights, sinister undertows – and there may even be human moaning within the morass as well. But every second counts, no matter how long or drawn-out any of this material is. There is no past or future here, no time to dwell on anything or anticipate. The space is all there is, and the AF boys fill it.


So while the overall experience is one of innerspace synthesizer machination, don’t be dulled into thinking that’s all there is. AF is adept at peppering the tones with noisy accoutrement, never allowing any track to sink into its own murk. And that’s right on, right here, right now. Or anytime, who’s to say?


https://soundcloud.com/alderholmensfuturistiska


https://www.facebook.com/doyoudreamofnoise/


--Ryan


PKCT “Арха́нгельск” (Do You Dream of Noise?)



Арха́нгельск is transliterated as Arkhangelsk, “Archangel,” and Арха́нгельск, is dedicated to the people who live there. Arkhangelsk is located on the White Sea in northwestern Russia. That is the extent of my knowledge of the locale.

 

And yet … Арха́нгельск is exactly as I expect it to be.

 

It’s not super warm up there, and PKCT doesn’t veer from that vibe at all, piping in a chilly ambient drone that’s as lonely as it is serene. Imagine the sea cloaked in fog, solitary vessels plying its waters on shipping or naval routes, quiet, calm, restrained. Imagine the weight of that solitude on the hardened mariners. Imagine the long night at the wheel.

 

When Арха́нгельск dissolves back and sound ceases, you’re left with the raw, exposed feelings surfaced during your time alone with it. PKCT crafts compositions like bodies of water, dense and immersive, full of mystery and wonder. It’s time to take a deep breath, hold it, and plunge into the waiting sea. Who knows what you’ll find out about yourself in there?  

 

https://www.facebook.com/doyoudreamofnoise/

 

--Ryan

QUESTION MARK BAND* “The Ivory Era” (Radical Documents)



The Ivory Era asks us if our road movies are all there is. Like, perpetual motion, one stop to the next, never settling down, never gaining that base of operations. Never resting. You wake up somewhere new every day, your eyes are bleary, you take in a deep sigh, maybe three of four of them, and will yourself back behind the wheel.

 

The Ivory Era assumes that our road movies are our lives. The endless highway strip, American space. Question Mark Band punctuates those road movies with solitary piano, lonely, haunted, stark. It contrasts with the richness of the air, carrying with it the weight of not knowing what to do next and the uncertainty of being able to carry out whatever’s next anyway.

 

The Ivory Era hopes for escape but doesn’t expect it. It feels the breeze through the open window but isn’t refreshed by it. The sun glares through the windshield, and you have to peek around the lowered visor to see the road. Tears form behind your shades.

 

*Do not confuse with ? and the Mysterians.

 

https://radicaldocuments.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

BEATNIK PARTY “Heaps Lucky EP” C16 (Fuq Records)


Beatnik Party has plied its bass/drums/vocals approach for a long time. Heaps Lucky is a collection of five songs within that minimalist post-punk approach. Vocals are spoken-yelped, and for a band made up of percussion instruments, there’s not a lot of groove or steady rhythm or anything to even kind of cohere it. If this is your thing, if you are into it, I’ve posted a link below. Me? I’m going to pop in something by Ed Schrader’s Music Beat.


--Thumb Lasers

ZEBULARIN “Strangled Curiosity” C46 (Steep Gloss)



Zebularin is dangerous. It’s subversive. It’ll get under your skin and stay there, and then it’ll pipe thoughts into your mind that are not your own. You don’t know how Zebularin has infiltrated every part of your being – your physical person, your consciousness, your … uh, tummy? – and is now controlling your every perception. Your first instinct, like mine, is probably to fight it – what kind of alien entity is scrambling around inside of me? But listen: take it from me, you’re much better off just going with it and letting Zebularin do its thing. It might even leave you alone after a while.

 

The Stuttgart collective is adroit at the noisy end of the experimental spectrum, but they don’t shy away from pulling back into a minimalist approach here and there. Feedback and synthesizer mayhem rumble and squirt throughout the tracks, but stringed instruments definitely make their presence known at points throughout. Far from being a freeform freakout and letting walls upon walls of noise crush you, Strangled Curiosity is more intimate, as the title suggests, opting to toss you about like a cat does a mouse before finally making you its prey.

 

But as it progresses, the nature of it changes – it seems to become a little friendlier, even though there’s no way it’s going to let up on its control over you. And that’s all good – forms emerge from the sounds, and intention and process bloom. There’s beauty in the noise, in the composition – yes, composition (probably)! – as it becomes obvious this is really an ambient/noise/drone record played as jazz. And yet it’s really none of those things. Still, if you want to find kindred spirits nowadays, look no further than the excellent Bulgarian label Amek Collective. Zebularin and the Amek folks would get along just fine!

 

Oh, it says right here that the players are rooted in traditions as varied as “ambient, jazz, noise, classical music, postrock, or freeform electronics.” Well why did I even write any of that up there? I could have just quoted the Bandcamp page.

 

https://steepgloss.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

H A I R S A B Y S S “H A I R S A B Y S S” C25 (Steep Gloss)



It’s menacing, sure, right off the bat, the gurgling static, the sine waves, the fuzz. The spoken samples emerge from the murk, disappear back into it, reemerge. A doctor addressing a patient perhaps? Who knows, “ESP,” who knows, you first track, you – despite the grit and the disintegration, H A I R S A B Y S S know how to purposefully penetrate the minds of their subjects, jolting them at a low voltage to desensitize them, then knocking them out with a seismic burst. Their looped nightmares are immersive the noise churning, the patterns easily attainable. Almost rhythmic. Almost.

 

“Untitled” swings us along on some buried mariachi horns while pure electricity overwhelms it. And then pure electricity overwhelms “Gliding,” the electricity itself becoming the looped pattern. By the time they’re ready to close this out with “ESP Part IV,” they’ve proven that they’ve already hollowed out the mind, and in fact, have been doing ESP on you this whole time, regardless of track title. In fact, they’re in there, and the sound of “ESP Part IV” is the sound of your complete and total submission, already. You’re there on the operating table in the lab. You’re skull’s pried open, there are wires and electrodes all up in it. They’re connected to a computer, as are electrodes and wires connected to the open brain of H A I R S A B Y S S. Something’s going on here.

 

https://steepgloss.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

ALPHA MOUND “Building Kit” (Do You Dream of Noise?)



Sweden-based Joakim Westlund records under the Alpha Mound moniker, and if we’re going to get a steady trickle of the kind of thing that he’s recorded on Building Kit, then I say let climate change have at those glaciers! Metaphorically, of course – I sort of want whatever’s blocking the Alpha Mound deluge to melt, just so I can selfishly have more of it. I don’t really want glaciers to melt – that wouldn’t be good for anybody.

 

What I do want is more Alpha Mound, please – Building Kit, released on Do You Dream of Noise?, is the perfect all-terrain soundtrack, the sonic backdrop to whatever you happen to be doing. Part post-rock, part drifting trance, part ambient mood adjuster, part synth pad knockout, and ALL AWESOME, Building Kit is like a windswept kosmische evening carrying the chill of those aforementioned glaciers all the way to the middle of your living room (or wherever you happen to listen to tapes). Doesn’t matter if you’re in Fiji, doesn’t matter if you’re in Mozambique, that cool breeze will cover you. You’ll be powerless to resist its charms.

 

A perfect fit on DYDON?, Building Kit hits all the right notes for a gentle yet bracing experience. Its quiet and contemplative façade is underscored by pulsing rhythms and overwhelmed often with washes of melody. It’s restrained yet colorful, a refreshing burst of sound masquerading as light and liquid, a dream dissolving in constant clouds. I feel like I could eat it, but I probably shouldn’t. Still, I can’t wait till that flood of Swedish delight hits me – and it better be soon!

 

https://alphamound.bandcamp.com/

 

https://www.facebook.com/doyoudreamofnoise/

 

--Ryan

AMANDA R. HOWLAND “Meeting Dr. Ancient” (Unifactor)



Any Amanda R. Howland release should be braced for, and Meeting Dr. Ancient is no different. (Although I keep saying Meeting Dr. Evil in my head for some reason. Now it’s out here. On the internet.) The main attraction is the heavily distorted and manipulated vocals, sometimes over a backdrop of deep silence, at other blasted to smithereens by static or feedback. There’s a bit of the primal scream approach to Meeting Dr. Ancient, but it’s much deeper and richer than Howland simply, ahem, howling into the abyss. Here the abyss stares back. Here the abyss reflects your own head, your own thoughts back at you, except that you’re a mirror and you didn’t realize it, so the whole thing’s just an infinite mirror reflection until the Twilight Zone theme plays. Or something like that.

 

The voice buzzes in my head, and then the buzzing buzzes in my head also. I wonder if the exact thing happens to Amanda R. Howland, and the whole process of recording is the process to get it out the mind and into the air? There’s an unrelenting aspect to all this, in that Howland pushes the limits of our listening to several different breaking points, then continues past those points full on as if there was no danger and everything was just going to end exactly how Howland wants it to end. In that sense, then, we’re collateral damage on Amanda R. Howland’s way to the edge of whatever it is she’s barreling toward. Not sure if there’s any thought of coming back unscathed. In fact, I highly doubt that thought has crossed Howland’s mind at all.

 

https://www.discogs.com/artist/1588427-Amanda-Howland

 

https://unifactor.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

WHISKER “Straight from the Bottle” C30 (Unifactor)



Andrew Scott Young and Ben Billington play upright bass and synthesizer on this inaugural foray as Whisker, one of the thousand or so projects each one is involved in. These two sides, called “Code Room Green” and “Tough Flux,” were performed live at the Empty Bottle in Chicago on January 28, 2020, a time when live performances thrived and COVID-19 was just a gleam in our collective eye. So we should probably consider ourselves lucky that Straight from the Bottle (I get it!) exists at all. Surely that planned live Quicksails album has been shelved till 2021 at the latest.*

 

As you might expect from these two improv nerds, Young and Billington approach their instruments like they’re tinkering in a chemistry lab with beakers and chemicals and tongs and things. They likely performed these numbers while wearing safety goggles (but not masks, because, you know, pre-COVID), and I’m sure a microscope or two made an appearance. What I mean is, the duo takes a rather scientific approach to eliciting sound from their instruments, experimenting, studying, and recording data to use in the next round of research. We’re just all privy to the process.

 

Young’s bass is all physical string, as each creak of the instrument is audible in the recording. Billington supplements the tactile performance with his own tangible approach, mixing in micro sonics so that the two instruments blend into unpredictable kinetic activity, scrabbling like two different insects spliced together so that they’re one new, unnatural being. But there’s nothing really unnatural about Whisker, just that they’re weird and scrabbly. As the minutes pass, the two sound sources separate and merge, each asserting its identity before combining with the other. I wish I could’ve been there to see what was going on – it was probably fascinating to watch the interplay.

 

* “Live Quicksails album, you say?” Naw, I’m just making that up.

 

https://unifactor.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan

NATE SCHEIBLE “Prions and Scrapie” (Unifactor)




Prions cause scrapie – well, probably, anyway. “Prions are misfolded proteins with the ability to transmit their misfolded shape onto normal variants of the same protein. They characterize several fatal and transmissible neurodegenerative diseases in humans and many other animals.” That’s from the internet – you can find it on there. Also on the internet is what “scrapie” is: “a disease of sheep involving the central nervous system, characterized by a lack of coordination causing affected animals to rub against trees and other objects for support, and thought to be caused by a virus-like agent such as a prion.”

I feel like I’ve learned so much today already!

But how to apply these ideas to Nate Scheible’s Prions and Scrapie tape on Unifactor? Scheible works within the idioms afforded him by tape loops and synthesizers, and we hear these loops disintegrate over a background of warm, ambient synth pads. If we consider the time we pass while listening as the same time it takes for prions to induce scrapie, then we can attach a sort of contemplative attitude toward the breakdown of a central nervous system. What happens in the head of an animal afflicted with scrapie? Are they attuned differently to aspects of nature? Do they ignore the breakdown occurring within them to focus on more philosophical matters?

Of course they don’t. They’re non-self-aware animals.

But if they were human? Sure. Nate Scheible is a human and so am I, and I empathize as a human with animals in distress, superimposing that distress to the human worldview (which, I realize, is pretty much the definition of empathy). So we’re given crystal lakes and vivid cloudscapes, sundrenched agriculture and brilliant prisms of light flaring through our optic nerves. All while the world – our bodies – break down around us. Talk about getting right into someone/thing else’s head!

https://natescheible.bandcamp.com/

https://unifactor.bandcamp.com/

--Ryan

ANURA “Deluge” (Already Dead)


Oh, this one isn’t black metal? OK, Brendan Landis, you got me. The Anura logo, the black hoodie, the long hair obscuring your face (look man, it’s OK to cut it off if you’re losing it, take it from me), all of that just screamed (bellowed? barked? shrieked?) black metal to me. But with the blurring of lines between shoegaze and slowcore and black metal these days, I guess it’s not super surprising that this is, indeed, more in line with shoegaze and slowcore than black metal. Kindred spirits find kindred atmospheres, and some of the aesthetics – in this case visual ones – cross over as a result.

The surprise was a nice one. Yes, I had braced myself (not too much – I certainly love me some black metal!), but I was totally fine with what resulted. As Anura, Brendan Landis, one-dude band (with some guests!), melancholies his way through a shimmery, dreamy album of wistful melodies and downtrodden tempos, falling somewhere between the American Analog Set and Galaxie 500, but with the twinkling lights of Mazzy Star. The Deluge is feelings, perhaps, an onrushing of acknowledgment that what’s dammed up inside can succinctly and artfully be hinted at, but there’s gotta be a breaking point somewhere. Right? Anura trades in these glimpses and glimmers, slowly building monuments to heartbreak and regret.

And while much of this is done in singular expressive guitar tones, by the time the title track rolls around, Anura’s also affirmed a capability of dabbling in electronic flourishes with success. From here come the big, drawn-out moments, the lengthy tracks you can try to hold your breath to but probably shouldn’t (unless you can hold your breath for a minimum of four minutes and twenty-two seconds – the side B minimum anyway). So even though Deluge doesn’t indulge in the histrionics of a primal scream, the intense whisper will do just as nicely.



--Ryan

ONE MORE FINAL I NEED YOU “We Loved Each Other and It Was Awful” (Already Dead)



I figured that forthcoming H. Jon Benjamin Sub Pop album was going to splice comedy and jazz together in such a way as to truly redefine each genre, but I was missing the real action. Turns out that improv trio One More Final I Need You’s We Loved Each Other and It Was Awful is where the real laughs are. Well, if we’re talking laughs like everybody’s so pathetic that it’s funny – think early Noah Baumbach, maybe – then we’ve nailed the comedy part of this equation. As I listen to Taylor Campbell, Bob Bucko Jr., and Landon Deaton mope through the title track that opens the album for almost ten minutes, I’m struck at a deep level just how appropriate the words “love” and “awful” go together, and how much that makes me laugh. Am I a sadistic bastard? Have I, a family man, lost touch with reality?

 

“Does Anyone Actually Ever Kill Themselves?” answers that question with another question, or maybe it doesn’t really answer it, only lurches through demonic swing while illustrating the highs and lows of whatever it is that’s actually being illustrated. This is where it goes – We Loved Each Other and It Was Awful is sweetness turned sickening, of rotting feelings and intentions wilting before our eyes and sometimes flung at us at high velocity. But Campbell, Bucko, and Deaton are game, ready to rip our festering hearts out and pepper them with shrapnel from horns and guitars and drums and whatnot. (Basically those three.) We feel good while we feel bad, and vice versa.

 

That’s a good trick for the music to play! Mostly I feel good though, and as I’ve mentioned with my chuckling above, it’s because of the naming conventions. How else are you going to approach “Erectional-Based Disasters” or “To Hell with Their Punishments!”? (To be fair, the second half of the titles aren’t quite as funny, and one is even uninventively called “Interlude.”) Plus, I’m not sure something like “Eggs in an Old Box” is even possible, unless they’re fresh eggs served, for some reason, in the titular box – otherwise they’d stink pretty bad over time. Whatever, I’m overthinking this. One More Final I Need You is always rapturously fascinating, and We Loved Each Other and It Was Awful is no exception. It’s probably even more rapturously fascinating given that title. Nice work, gents!

 

https://omfiny.bandcamp.com/

 

https://alreadydeadtapes.bandcamp.com/

 

--Ryan