MARBLE SKY "The Sad Return" (Callow God)

Released in a private edition of 15 copies, this ambient tape by Jeff Witscher (Deep Jew/Impregnable/Secret Abuse) will never fall into any of your eager little hands. Nope. It's only for fancy pants people. That's why it's a private edition. It's so limited, in fact, that this review is the closest you'll ever get to this tape. I have it, which means that my cassette collection is better than all of yours, and therefore, I am a better collector than everyone reading this. I won't even tell you what it sounds like. That would ruin the mystery. But I will say that it is exquisite. Pure auditory bliss. Can you picture the self satisfied smile on my face as I sit in my bedroom listening to it over and over again, caressing the beautifully printed j-card, reading and rereading the poetic track titles to myself? It's so good that I hope it gets rereleased on vinyl, but that would make the whole thing so much less special.

AT JENNIE RITCHIE / VERTONEN "Time: Or Fractal Waves Of Increasing Novelty / Soilure" (BOC Sound Laboratories)

The Vertonen side sounds like Vertonen. It's fine. I grabbed this tape from the box of promos sent to Cassette Gods because I have enjoyed his work in the past and follow his record label, Crippled Intellect Productions. His piece is a three part suite of droney modular synth work. As usual, Vertonen uses nice sounds, but in this case, the tape sounds too typical, like he's just cruising through outer space on auto-pilot. The other side, though, blew me away completely. The A side is by At Jennie Ritchie, a project previously unfamiliar to me. It is a daring little tape for a noise artist to put out. Carefully placed in a sea of long silences, faint pops and cracles appear, sounding almost like noise from a bad cable or some other type of equipment malfunction. For fans of Radu Malfatti, Taku Sugimoto and the Wandelweiser composers who feel that contemporary music is far too active, too chatty. I will definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for further releases by this group/artist.

PRIVY SEALS "Means Nothing" (Ekhein)

This tape, released in a very limited quantity for his east coast tour with God Willing and Work/Death, is, in my opinion, the best work we have yet heard from Matt Sullivan's Privy Seals project. Except for perhaps, "Tacit," the infamous double c30, whose tapes were designed to be played at the same time on two different cassette decks, this best represents Sullivan's dedication to recording as a practice separate from playing live. Most noise producers churn out tape after tape of music that is, essentially, identical to what you might hear if you were to see them perform. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, and there's a lot of skill required in producing live what one produces in their bedroom under "ideal" conditions. However, it takes a certain artistic seriousness to carefully examine what methods work in each context and what a person can expect from their audience at a show and from their audience at home in front of their stereo. "Means Nothing" is much more patient than a Privy Seals performance. It contains no screaming or choking or gear throwing. Each side is a long, slowly changing crumble. Far from harsh, yet it is not without its tense aggression. It sounds almost like a small avalanche that lasts forty minutes. A flat landscape, burnt black by some mysterious disaster-- the aftermath of Harsh Noise.

FOSSILS “Dug” (Middle James Co.)

More murky malarkey from these OCD Ontario ontologists. “Dug” captures five summer live sets, two recorded in Michigan and three in Canada. Live, Fossils exhume a dryer corpse…there’s more air, open drift zones, brittle amp crackling, even some recognizable horns float up outta the noise-crawl quicksand. For some reason the proceedings sound less stoned/disorienting than their home-tracked stuff, which is either good or bad, depending on what kinda freak you are. I dig “Dug” though. Especially when the MC goes “And now, please give a warm rock action welcome to…..FOSSILS!!!” and like four mellow friends clap their hands. A solid C60/documentary of ancient junk mud oozing on microphones.


Fat double cassette of bizarre folk outsiders on the headquarters of middle America insanity, Green Tape. Churchburners, like always, do whatever the hell they feel like, shunning all expectations of aesthetic continuity. Song titles range from “Sluts Fucking Suck” to “Fucking is for Fuckers” and song-styles range from kazoo beat-boxing to psych-ward acoustic sing-alongs. Only for the very, very brave. Next up is DBH which, unfortunately, is an acronym for Diameter at Breast Height. Musically this translates to raw group puke overloaded with horns, beer cans being popped open, no-fi percussive splatter, etc. The first track was recorded at the 2007 International Noise Conference, but the others were all laid down in
Bloomington, IN. Somehow the home-recorded songs are 90 million times worse-sounding, blown out to the degree that they sound like anti-music or vague erratic clatter. Baffling in a way perhaps best described as “Textbook Green Tape Fuck You-isms.” Tape 2 starts with HMDS (Hand Me Down Satellites), who I’ve never heard of before and may never again. But I hope I do, cause this is my favorite side here. Intimate warm keyboard hieroglyphics (plus occasional guitar) weaving back and forth in pleasing melody patterns…pools of glowing drones offset by sharper tonal warblings and pitter-patter drum machine rhythms. Like K Records Kraftwerk or something. Unexpected! Ex-Quem Quaeritis-ite and full-time folk loon John Thill closes the collection with six simple folk songs driven by linear narratives, basic chords, and verse/chorus arrangements. Live he likes to strip and have nervous breakdowns but here it’s just singer/songwriter 101 stuff. As plain as day.

FOSSILS “Zombie Mystic” (Middle James Co.)

Brain-feeding mania from this tirelessly prolific Canuck weirdo duo/trio. Not even the most delusionally obsessive fan could map/fathom every permutation in the Fossils discography, there’s just way too much there. So, that said, don’t know where in the trajectory “Zombie Mystic” is situated, but it seems fairly representative of their overall no-mind, gonzo-fi, mixer-breathing marathon special FX generation. Nearly everything sounds pitch-shifted and tape-speed-manipulated, so essentially nothing’s identifiable as a human-world “instrument” as such, but that’s basically the point. Farting metal, resonant echoes, stretch-marked hallucinations…the Hamilton, Ontario retreat from reality continues, unabated, over the endless 90 minutes of this drool-quest. With trash art in a plastic bag.

ELEPHANT KISS "Introduce: Red Cat, Green" (JK Tapes)

So this is kind of the best avant-twee record since Weirdo/Begeirdo broke up. It’s cute and energetic, but with lots of random twiddles, gameboy blips and off-beat drum machine drops. Perhaps you’ll be overwhelmed by the preciousness of this release, but that’d be the wrong move dude. Haven’t you heard ADORABLE is the new “sociopathically ironic.” It’s all about cute pictures in the park and making out in ball pits now instead of pretending to like Hummers and all aspects of corporate infrastructure. Happy meals on the other hand are still in because they are both corporate and cute. So basically this is the coolest band around because they are so ahead of the game on friendship bracelets and being in love. Unfortunately no one knows this yet except for me and maybe the guy from JK Tapes…Um, yeah. So…I really do like this tape, it’s a good combination of random blips and saccharine pop – I mean that in a good way…somehow. Fun like the Special Olympics, but arty like uh...Art School?

THINKING FELLERS (UNION LOCAL #282) "Wormed By Leonard" (Thwart)

Ahem, remember me? Yeah, I write for this blog too. Where have I been? Drinking myself dumb, walking aimlessly around my neighborhood much to the chagrin of old women with small dogs who glare at me as I pass. So I decided maybe I should write some tape reviews tonight since I’ve become infinitely frustrated with a song I’ve now recorded upwards of thirty times. And no it wasn’t even the song I’m supposed to finish for the editor of said blog, Mr. Miller. And I probably should record that track, especially since he has been kind enough to offer his residence up for my record release show. By the way Brian, I am 95% sure that Charlie McAlister will be playing that night too. That’s pretty cool right? He moved to L.A. Maybe Peter Moran can give him a job…So why break my silence. I guess it has to do with a crazy tape, which I found at The Smell in downtown Los Angeles in the “mix tape trade” shelf. I was kind of a bastard and didn’t follow the instructions, i.e. I didn’t replace the tape I took with one of my own. (I will later, I swear). Anyway, so what I grabbed was a Thinking Fellers tape dating back to 1988. It’s a quintessential example of Bay Area black-light weirdness mixed up with some South East Asian percussion vibes. On previous listens to Thinking Fellers records I couldn’t quite see what the point was, but this record speaks in a language of garbled gobbledygook that I can understand. The closest thing to straightforward on this record is a stream of conscious free rock rant about walking dogs. In other places it seems like they proceed Amps for Christ in their patented game of melding slabs of noise with folk songs. It’s hard to not get sucked into the hazy guitar meanderings of “Oregon Trail” only to have all well-being dissolved by the jerky treble blasting “Misfits Park.” Each new direction and idea seems effortless and you end up desperately confused. I guess what all this means is that when I replace this tape with another on the mix tape rack at The Smell, it will be unlikely that the recompense will be half as intriguing.

BODY COLLECTOR "Blood Worship" (ESR)

This Body Collector release has been sitting on my "to review" stack for a while, and I thought for sure that Epicene Sound would have sold out of it by now. Lo, according to the ESR catalog there are still copies to be had by a lucky few. Body Collector is the solo guise of Khristopher from Royal Oak, Michigan's own chain thrashers Villa Valley, and though "Blood Worship" isn't a far cry from the duo's work it will sate your average appetite for destruction. "Incessant Sciolism" is a satisfying mix of thunderous walls, hiss and furious scrap metal lashings. Oddly enough a snippet of a jazz recording barely forces its way into the mix, perhaps to add a layer of confusion or just to illustrate the vacuum-like power of noise, sucking in all other sound and all the light. The B-side "Dead Lord" takes a while to catch the same inertia, focusing solely on contact mics and metal before a dog barks and a low rumbling overwhelms the speakers. Then on back to that distorted, horrid mess you love (well, I do anyway). "Tempered in blood and tempered by lightning" as a dead Man once said. Nice cover design as per usual with this label, in color (red, naturally) on matte paper.

NATARAJA "Venetian Blinds" (JK Tapes)

Nataraja is comprised of Travis Shelton (Warmer Milks) on guitar and electronics and Thad Watson on bass and percussion. "Venetian Blinds" runs the entire A side and it's a slow moving ambient cruiser chock full of rumbling low-string strums and sparse cymbals accompanying. Over the course of half this c30 the drums become slightly more prominent and the guitar builds in intensity and teeters on the verge of feedback, all the while maintaining a meditative feel. "Reservoir" kicks off the second half with more bass-heavy wistful psych strumming, but fast forward to the closer "Circadian Rhythm" which focuses on (presumably) Watson's percussion, still minimal but rhythmically free, dosed with reverb and delay and recorded loud enuff to be as thoroughly psychedelic as the guitar-fronted tracks. Most side projects are doomed to be left in half-explored adolescence, so I'll keep suggestions for the future brief: Nataraja offers some likeable material, but if the band could find a way to combine the two different modes offered on this platter the overall effect would increase tenfold. The color artwork (as showcased on many classy'n'trashy JK gems) reminds me of Maya Miller's illus' somewhat, difficult to describe other than psychologically inebriating.

ALTAR OF FLIES "Kill the Lights" (ESR)

More from prolific Swedish artist Mattias Gustafsson. "Kill the Lights" has a little bit of everything in the Altar of Flies repertoire: minimal buzzing and drone, chaotic dark distortion and pulsating bass. The best section on side A, which unfortunately cuts off at the end of the reel, is a layered work with a spastic, screeching oscillator of some sort (I've been wrong about these things before) over a clouded bank of...something. Side B shows a fiercer side of what could be the same instrument with a liberal dose of mutilated distortion, then slows to a series of low-end waves contrasted with minimal high pitched circuit abuse, not entirely dissimilar to Hive Mind's recent output. The c30 format gives plenty of space for Gustafsson to experiment with a wide variety of techniques and styles, some harsh and some reserved, and it's obvious that he's learned ways to pace a recording by now. "Kill the Lights" is a well-produced recording and all of the individual elements are audible even if the overall volume is somewhat low. The insert is full-color on a nice glossy stock. Fans of synth-based noise would do well to check out this artist.

BURNT HILLS “Under the Weather” (Throne Heap)

urnt This is the first music missive I’ve heard from this upstate NY drum/freak-out army, and to my ears it functions a lot like a Gang Wizard or Big Nurse assault. Which is to say: if yr in the mood to hear too many drummers and guitarists all try to shred along to the same ragged sliver of a “song,” this will burn yr mind into molten brain. But if yr looking for some semblance of shape or coherence or purpose, this sounds like a pile of bearded slop. “Under the Weather” is a live recording from 2/07, and maybe that explains the total lack of group jam dynamics apparent in the audio (real-time shows are a bitch to capture properly). But I’m sure bearing to witness to this kinda mass frenzy is a blast, and would convert me far faster than a raw C22, and I’m definitely curious to hear something slightly more deliberate from the Hills (I think I read they have a Qbico LP en route?). Also worth mentioning: definitely another winner packaging-wise from the always immaculate Throne Heap factory – a fried abstract silver silkscreened J-card on thick textured dirt-brown paper.

AJILVSGA “Thorazine to Infinity” (Peasant Magik)

Another spool of fried magnetic tape by the Rose/Young Oklahoma guitar-corral duo, and this one’s got a killer exterior – exquisite black-on-black silkscreened art-paper slipcover plus a graphically designed J-card. Sound-wise, this is probably the lightest I’ve heard Ajilvsga be, buoyed up by loopy FX, soft-stumbling percussion, and gently jittery tinkering. Drifts by in a dazed-out fashion, which is fine, though the label description of “Soundtrack to a Cretaceous Period Apocalypse” and song titles like “I Am Your Charred Remains” and “Asphixiation” (sic) don’t really jive with the chill, sparse, unhurried, non-ominous jams they’re referring to. A more apt CS title might’ve been “Mood-Stabilizer to Infinity.” But medication specificity notwithstanding, it’s a pleasant enough excursion off the Ajilvsga heavy beaten path.


Rough-and-tumble C40 by these two Southern death cult units that free-ranges from robotic lurch passages to banshee shriek electronics to cold computer numbness. Like a lot of Southern noise crews/projects of late, SJ and KF are both way too rambling and vibe-gambling to get pegged to any particular genre, and that’s obviously for the best. Social Junk’s side, in particular, is a totally puke-soaked rubik’s cube of outsider modes, morphing and brawling through radically different labyrinths of overdriven impulses, abused machines, and weird feelings. Aggressively unique with an intensity that’s either painful or the exact reason why they rule. Flip a coin. Kraken Fury I’ve never heard before, but their untitled piece of this puzzle is a pleasant enough practice space meditation with slow-walking bass lines, stutter drumming, guitar noodling, and some backwards-looping mist in the corners. Doesn’t seem too hell-bent on accomplishing anything, but that’s no crime. Kinda jazzy with a relaxed, “killing time” chill-out mood. Definitely no fury here, whether Kraken-esque or otherwise.

COBRA BUBBLES "untitled" (Teenage Whore Tapes)

Further evidence that Robin Williams on Fire is as much Harry Pussy as they are XBXRX comes from this RWOF-related project. Dylan plays two things at once, but it is hard to say exactly what either of those are in this signal-cancellation heaven. It is likely that Mikey, the other half of this duo, also plays two things at once. The dense interplay of punkussion, rocker blurps, and tweeker queefs is usually ecstatic, often monumental, but never forgets to breath... although it hardly ever has to. Both sides begin at full speed. This is the natural pace for Cobra Bubbles. When the duo decides to take a whole note simultaneously, the breakneck speed is instantly recharged. While being sincerely wigged-out requires some sort of ramping/earning phase for most, here is one of those beautiful and youthful rarities that is all explosion and no fuse.

CRANK STURGEON "Bark King Haggard" (Barfing Dagger Recordings)

Crank Sturgeon answered a cry from us Cassette Gods, even if we didn't know that we had made it! With all the talk about the role of fidelity (especially my own obsession with lo-fidelity) Crank Sturgeon was inspired to send us what he implies is his own murky masterpiece. Do I consider it a masterpiece myself? Of course. What else would I think when someone makes it a point to appeal directly to my personal taste? Well, maybe I'm being a little facetious. Here is the deal though: these are sounds as insistent as a stubborn child trying to force a square peg through a round hole. An insistence that manifests from the signature Crank Sturgeon sense of pace and editing; constantly shifting viewpoints, but always focused on the same well chosen group of timbres. The vocal-heavy moments of this cassette are somewhere between Popeye ramblings and a terrible case of OCD. Lyrics that make it through seem to be something like, "You can't be friends with my girlfriend," and other magical insecurities. Don't be misled though, this is music about being a child or at least how terribly childish we all actually are; not childish music. Masterful for the reasons that matter (you know, musical ones), not because Crank Sturgeon flattered my childish ego. It is always a wonder when someone can make music about being a fool without becoming a complete comedy act. I believe it is ok to laugh when enjoying CS music though.