DIAMONDHEAD "Street Leaf" (White Tapes)

Those familiar with White Tapes proprietor Russ Waterhouse's work in Blues Control will immediately recognize a kindred spirit in Diamondhead. Maybe there's something in the air in South Austin that with the right combination of musical heritage, intuition and whiskey could account for what's channeled on "Street Leaf." L. Eugene Methe (Naturaliste) and R.J. Reynolds' (Leatherbag) melding of psych and R&B with folk sensibilities recalls another couple of Austin dwellers and former tape-slangers, Charalambides. But Diamondhead's influences extend well beyond the south, and since Methe is from Nebraska, that whole correlation might be fudged anyway. A listen to the title track just as easily evokes Ennio Morricone's soundtracks for Argento flicks, done up raw garage style with obliterated vocal mumbles, fuzzed out wah guitar, badass creep bass and mean as hell drum gnashing. The various additions of synth, organ and tape effects on "Oh Oh Rimbaud" and "Alabastor" emanate the jarring atmospherics one might expect from a No Neck session. An interlude on side A even throws in some screeching fried violin for good measure. The ten tracks which make up "Street Leaf" tend to sprawl like excerpts culled from hours of living room jams, yet every selection has unique ideas and despite the loose format emerge as whole. Another killer tape from this highly slept-on label. RECOMMENDED!

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BABY BIRDS DON'T DRINK MILK "Ekk Ekk" (Lillerne Tape Club)

Factoid: the motto of Lawrence, Kansas is "From Ashes to Immortality." How badass is that? Having about as much experience with the Midwest as with contemporary indie pop- that is to say, little to nothing- I imagined this tape (sent in from the charming Lillerne label) sprouting inexplicably from fields of inedible bioengineered soybeans. Probably not the case, but one has to dream.
More likely, Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk is a phoenix of rad, unabashedly jangly pop juggernauticity ascending from the fetid mediocrity that is the American liberal college town music scene. They're probably popular enough by now in local circles to be releasing more widely accessible CD albums, but damn if a tape release or two doesn't build character. The eight tracks on "Ekk Ekk" swing back and forth without pause between straightforward psych tinged pop ballads and effects-and-loops-laden abstract improv. Maybe it's the format, the hiss, slight tape distortion and warbling that makes "Ekk Ekk" easy to appreciate. It might be the full orchestral sound created by a fairly large band simply playing in unison. There are other groups who do the whole lush acoustic/electric guitar, vocal harmonizing, everything drenched in reverb thing well, but this tape captures a certain feeling that's just...right. Or feels right. Like nostalgia, or even fake nostalgia. Like Family Underground covering a bunch of Sarah Records tunes, or something. Definitely one of the best tapes I've heard this year. Awesome full-color doodled artwork seals the deal. RECOMMENDED!


ALISTAIR CROSBIE "Sad Faces Of The Moon" (Peasant Magik)

This is the only music I have listened to for more than a week now. Seriously. I see absolutely no reason to ever take this tape out of my cassette deck. Every time it ends, I consider what to listen to next, pause, then flip this bastard over and play it again. Imagine you’ve never heard the term “Dark Ambient” before. Pretend the term is not a genre name, but in fact two adjectives paired to actually describe something. Scotland’s Alistair Crosbie sounds nothing like Alio Die (or any other wretched Goth garbage) but has produced a cold, sorrowful masterpiece of ambient music. “Sad Faces of the Moon” is, of course, culturally closer to the realm of the (pseudo) new age drone that labels like Students of Decay and Twonicorn have been promoting for the last couple of years. But while his peers, for the most part, explore major chords, blissful tones, and fuzz guitar harmonics, Crosbie’s palette is less overtly hopeful. The whole tape is absolutely drenched in reverb, as if the musical material was produced miles away, and the listener can observe only the splashy mournful decay, minutes later. The sounds themselves are earthy, organic, like two smooth stones being rubbed together, above which, the slowly shifting ring of a resonant windstorm howls. While avoiding anything that might be considered melodic, Crosbie’s soundscape evokes the kind of emotions that are usually targeted by melody. As listeners, we know that certain types of melody signify and trigger emotions like heartbreak, longing, grief, regret, and we can recognize them when they are used to manipulate us. “Sad Faces of the Moon” has the power to conjure these feelings without utilizing the usual bag of tricks to do so, and in doing, avoids the triteness and quaintness associated with those tricks. It is a truly astonishing release, with characteristically impressive packaging from the label, Peasant Magik.

ACRE "Volcanic Legacy" (Bone Tooth Horn)

This one came in a batch with several other Bone Tooth Horn (NJ) releases which will hopefully be worked through for CG soon. Check out the sites below anyway, if not just for the new promotional photo/shrine.
Most anyone with a soft spot for minimal oscillator-driven drone would lap up this trance-inducing 40 minute slothfest from Portland's Acre. The two side-long tracks, "Riley" and "Volcanic Legacy," offer subtle differences in harmonics but more or less all material on here is produced with the same formula. Following a slow build, the tones contort into a simultaneous lull and euphoria. Simplicity like this isn't necessarily easy to pull off, but Acre provides a good example of how it's done. RECOMMENDED!



This long-playing, four-headed beast of a double cassette from Philly based Peasant Magik and Wilmington, Delaware's No Horse Shit was daunting enough to put off reviewing for a few months (doubtless a few labels could say that at this point). Once the gears get rolling, though, it's damn hard to not play this thing until the bitter end. Wether's "Night Terrors" is a versatile mashup of cacophonous bells, buzzing amplified resonance (not unlike Damion Romero's recent work), manipulation of stereo panning and scorched harsh noise. It's more sparse than cluttered, and Wether's focus on one primary sound at a time works very effectively. Pillars of Heaven follows with "In A Mirror, Darkly," a loping atmospheric piece with multiple layers of wavering tape hiss, distant field recordings and high/ low-pitched oscillations reverberating off of each other. Simultaneously lulling and apprehensive. Gallows is eclectic enough to resist easy labeling, although they resemble Fossils in a soundtrack-ish vein. Miscellaneous clanging, low rumbles and background loops could describe a gaggle of mediocre groups, but this one manages to pull a haunting and melancholy feel from some otherwise apathetic rubble.
The only underwhelming side on here is the closer by Deerstalker. Allegedly a "collaborative effort" between the other artists (there's no mention on the website as to which artists are involved), it bears little resemblence to any of the other groups except Gallows. Rather than calculated drones or walls of distortion, there's some blasé vocal moaning and obscured knob fiddling in the background. Perhaps this was a room recording which translated poorly on tape. This isn't too surprising; as others have previously written, it's not unusual for a one-off noise collab to fail to add up to the sum of its parts.
At any rate, the consistent quality of the other sides should be reason enough to check for this split (both Peasant Magik and NHS have recently had it in stock). The two tapes come in an oversize vinyl case with full-color wraparound art. RECOMMENDED!


SWAMP HORSE "Ravish" (Community College)

While it is not a Cassette Gods law that I do so, I avoid writing about the same artists over and over again. We get sent a lot of tapes, and, as a guy who writes mostly about Harsh Noise, I tend to have plenty of new things to ramble about. Which is why it should be surprising that I am writing about another Swamp Horse tape only two months after I wrote about the last one. And this is only their second tape! Perhaps when they release their third, I will be again so compelled to write that I will continue to cover their entire discography.
My review of the self titled cassette on Husk was positive, but I wouldn't say it was a rave. When CG was sent a promo of "Ravish" I thought I'd sit back and let one of my colleagues take a crack at it. When I found that nobody had claimed the tape, I popped it in my player, with no intention of reviewing it. This time, Swamp Horse has become, like, my favorite new band.
The A side contains one long shimmering drone that rises and falls with it's own woozy logic, with tones that conjure a low-fi Vangelis, without the heroic melodies. It's much less spooky than the previous cassette; where the self titled tape was the soundtrack to the creeping approach of a Lovecraftian forest beast, this first side is the morning after, when the sunrise finally breaks on the faces of the night's survivors. Side B is a return to doomier territory, but retains some of the glassy high-end sheen of the A side's palette. Beneath touches of spikey, hairy distortion, a nebula of synth tones swirl and churn. A more science fictiony affair, perhaps-- like watching a second generation VHS dupe of Event Horizon on a really small TV, and still getting the shit scared out of you.

GHOST MOTH / FOSSILS Split (Pendu Sound Recordings)

Even in New York, a town with a history of musical cross-pollination, Ghost Moth is an anomaly. Posed with the unique freedoms and restrictions of machine-produced noise and acoustic improvisation, the group has stubbornly refused to do anything but teeter on the fence between the two. Daniel Carter's reeds, flute and trumpet will likely never be run through effects processing, and Todd and Robbie's guitar and electronics will just as likely never be anything but. Despite all contradictions and in spite of the members' numerous other obligations, Ghost Moth has somehow kept running full-steam for almost two years. If you haven't checked out this platypus of a group's unique sound, this murky 40 minute split with Fossils (a.k.a the "Middle-James-of-the-Month Club," almost as difficult to define) is an appropriate introduction. Includes full-color collaged insert.

Pendu Sound Recordings: www.pendusound.com
Fossils: www.myspace.com/fossilstrio
Ghost Moth: www.myspace.com/ghstmth

TSUKIMONO “Bat Heads Roll” (Release the Bats)

Never heard of this Swedish drone fellow (Johan Gustavsson/Tsukimono) before but hopefully I do again, cause this micro-edition CS on Release The Bats is a wholly enjoyable slab of private electronic symbiosis. The A side was recorded live at RTB HQ but it sounds mid-fi enough to capture the wonderful rainbows of spiraling drone blasting outta whatever amplifier powered this sick occasion. The jam starts with an unsuspecting throb, like yet another mixer freak staring into wires, but then it grows and subsides into a subtle pool of new age bathwater before gradually freezing over into a dense vibrating iceberg of distortion, rumble, and skree. Near the end it sounds like he runs outta ideas, cause things drag a bit in a nowhere land of accidental noise and fatigue (and even some lazy sounding drum machine beats), but overall it’s a solid set. But, strangely, the B side “studio” recording (“Cloudness”) is vastly less varied and transformative. It ain’t bad, or even boring per se, but if yr any mood other than one of wanting to be totally drowned in infinity drone overload, this won’t be yr cup of coca-cola. Wish it had some more of the odd transitions of the live set but maybe that just wasn’t the vibe this night. Regardless: curious to hear more.

EMACIATOR “Dormant” (Hospital Productions) /// EMACIATOR “Within” (Callow God) /// EMACIATOR “Nonexistent” (Throne Heap)

When Tulare, California bleaknik Jon Borges first attempted to navigate away from the minor key rage and masculine despair that so defined his years-running harsh noise institution, Pedestrian Deposit, the results were promising but muted. Early Emaciator tapes on Hanson and Monorail Trespassing aimed to fuse the dread of blackened drone with the hypnotic qualities of ambient minimalism, oftentimes succeeding but occasionally sounding like a PD intro without the payoff thrash. Forget all that. The past is ancient history shit and today’s what matters. And over the past six-ish months Borges has slowly and single mindedly cultivated Emaciator into a beast far bleaker and more beautiful than any other musical stab-into-the-void he’s yet endeavored, and his latest batch of tapes are as sick as they come.

Dormant is a C15 on Dominick Fernow’s Hospital Productions label and it showcases the winter 2007 Emaciator live approach: summon dense clouds of buzzing ritual drone, then gently burn them away with quiet suicide-guitar arrangements, picking the strings like an inmate with nothing to gain from this life. The A ends like an elegy, miserable electric notes floating into the grave of a loved one, while the B howls with overloaded electronics all fighting to make themselves heard.

Within is on Jeff Witcher’s Callow God label, and was recorded in the fall of ’07, so I don’t know if that makes it more or less recent than Dormant (which has zero info except a million label logos everywhere), but if I had to guess I’d say it’s more recent. Because the A (“Lambent Truce”) especially sounds like the super current Emaciator style, which fleetingly at times verges on the new age drone harmonics of Taiga Remains, with the post-noise buzzing swarm of old reduced to a glistening landscape of emotional tones. The B (“Thoughts Harbouring”) is more of the same, a hypnotizing narcotic haze of pensive electronics. Overall a great tape, but the C12 aspect doesn’t give Borges much room to spread out and let things drift, grow, consume.

Which is why the relative opus-timespan of his Throne Heap C22, Nonexistent, is so deeply appreciated. Housed in an awesome and ominous black-and-grey silkscreened J-card, both Throne Heap sides here display how crushing, powerful, focused, and intense Emaciator is capable of being when all the drone-death tones are exquisitely cross-panned and overdriven and plowed straight into yr skull. The A is probably the stronger of the pair, but the B has a nice decaying, wasted quality that suits the mood of a tape-ending passage. There’s a grip of new TBA Emaciator slayings lined up for the future, so pray things stay inspiringly negative in Tulare, CA.