"Have U Scanned Ur Club Card?"
(Antiquated Future Records)

Delicate chamber pop for the lost at sea. At once nostalgic, dreamy, ethereal, haunting, and beautiful like a sunset remembered on the last day of something big. Intimate, minimal, and full of wonder.

The Washboard Abs is a great name, though I suppose I expected a surf band and was pleasantly surprised by the lush songwriting that came forth. The whole thing goes by quickly, which is a compliment as sometimes this kind of thing can drag on if too many songs re-tread ground. Easy to keep flipping the tape over and over.

Not morose in a sad bastard kind of way but there is honest sadness here. The opener plays out feeling like a bittersweet mourning. The harmonies on The Day Draws Nearer evoke two people on either side of a breakup - emotions run high no matter which side you're on. Plus it's got great whistling (eat your heart out Andrew Bird).

In closing: keep your head up out there, folks; it's a wooly world. You might be sad now but The Washboard Abs are gonna help you through it.

Highly recommended.

-- Greg Hanson

(Minimal Impact Noise)

Two very opposite sides of the noise spectrum presented here, in an ultra limited edition of 10 on recycled cassettes (my copy is recorded over a Sammy Davis jr record), from Brisbane Australia label Minimal Impact Noise. Strangler Fig play vacant eyed, mouth drooling noise using glacially paced pulsations of static wash and subtle chiming instrumentation, while Industrial Hydrophobia flip the switch and kick out an intense thrash jazz jam with piano, sax, and huge distorted blurts of noise. About ten minutes of music here all told, and rather than each claiming one side for themselves the whole thing plays out on one side. It’s an effective and palatable take on the idea of a split release, nicely pairing disparate approaches to the world of harsh sounds. There’s something very rewarding about following up a slow burner song with a high intensity, energy filled track, it’s the album equivalent of waiting for the mosh riff in a hardcore song.

If someone were to grab you by the throat and demand to know what’s up with noise, you could put on this release and it’d just about portray the breadth of variance in the genre in brief without overstaying its welcome. Between the two, I prefer the mind melting grind of Industrial Hydrophobia, who, further research details, have one other release of sick, disgusting quality, which seems only available on Youtube format that hits on a more zonked sound than the fury of the take on this tape. Worth looking at. This split’s (obviously) sold out from the label, but the curious can listen here.

-- Tim Johnson

RAPHAEL LERAY “Solstitial Memories” (Phinery)

Paris-born, Tokyo-domiciled Raphael Leray has one of the best Bandcamp bios I’ve ever seen: “Raphael Leray is an experimental melodist, engineer, and occasional illustrator….” That description flows with a deft lyricism that’s surprising to find in an artist known mainly for wordless composition. If that were me, I’d print up thousands of business cards with that on it. It’s too good not to pass out to everyone I’d meet.

As a self-proclaimed “experimental melodicist,” there’s a lot to expect in the music unleashed upon the world by one so described. You can’t just knock out a pop tune with some warbly synthesizer and call it a day (I’m looking at you … Weezer, I guess?). Leray’s got it covered, though, don’t you worry, because his music doesn’t screw around in the slightest. It’s intensely obvious that every single note and pattern released on Solstitial Memories was agonized over, the detail scrutinized to a micro degree. In some ways it’s small, personal music, in that it feels insular and particular, a product of one person made for consumption by individuals. But just as you’d find if you bent your head to the ground and observed the great living activity there, if you bend your ear closely to Solstitial Memories, it reveals itself more clearly under examination. 

That’s the magic of the tape. Every moment is a deep, clean breath, every melody a hint of birdsong at sunrise. Even tracks with distinct percussive elements like “Dance I” and “War” invite pure immersion that leaves you feeling refreshed on the other side. I can’t get enough of it – I’ve literally listened to it four times in a row while barely writing this review, because I keep getting distracted by it, and my writing suffers. Sometimes I don’t write good, and it’s because music invades my brain’s writing parts for its own insidious purposes and makes me stupid. Of course, once the music’s off and I shake the haze, I’m back to my good old self again, ready to shout rudely to anyone within earshot how good Raphael Leray is. I get a lot of funny looks at the supermarket.

So I’ll end by shouting at you readers instead, and spare the incredulous onlookers I encounter in public. You won’t find a better entry point to the Phinery aesthetic than Raphael Leray. His work – at times music box–like, at others gloriously meditative – is cut-and-paste gorgeousness. It’s probably hard to be this inventive and still have time to do other things. Like print up business cards or shop for groceries. You know, the basics.

--Ryan Masteller

BARY CENTER “Stop Believing” (Speaker Footage)

Like two celestial objects orbiting each other, Bary Center’s music is massive and constantly in motion. Mark Williams, Bary Center’s alter ego, sets his controls for the heart of the sun and blasts into cosmic bliss throughout his Speaker Footage tape Stop Believing, a fulcrum, a point of balance where electronic dance music serves as the central point around which all matter revolves. It’s an absolute miracle of physics. Hear that, you scientists? I said “miracle”!

But miracles require belief, and Bary Center says, “Stop that, you guys! All that matters is the lights and euphoria, the motion and the rhythm. Let’s get off this stupid planet and manipulate the universe with our minds!” I’m assuming that’s what he’s saying to someone, maybe his own subconscious, as he throws some wicked shapes in his own bedroom while composing his next great techno opus. Because that’s what Stop Believing is, ten tracks of immense dancefloor fodder that burst into color behind your closed eyelids as you lose yourself in ecstasy.

Sometimes recalling Underworld, other times Orbital, and even Aphex Twin here and there, Stop Believing plays like a tourism film for the heyday of excellent and intelligent electronic beatmakers. And it’s no wonder that the artists I just mentioned had some modicum of mainstream success – like them, Bary Center fills these tunes with accessible hooks and inventive ways to package 4/4 rhythms to appeal to the raver (not me) and the internalizer (me) in equal measure. It’s a deft trick, and one that he’s continuing to pull off – see his rapidly growing discography featuring tapes on Crash Symbols, Skrot Up, MJ MJ Records, and others. Right now, throw down your baggage and hit play, lose yourself and Stop Believing. Space magic is happening.

--Ryan Masteller

“Les Rivières de la Nuit” C50
(ERR Recordings)

There’s an ancient proverb that goes, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Those who intoned these mystical words forgot one important thing – in space, no one can hear you do anything. No one can hear you jog along the corridor of your spacecraft. No one can hear you prepare your space food in the galley. No one can hear you practice your modular synthesizer in your cabin. It’s space fact – there’s no freaking sound.

Fortunately, in space, everyone can hear Dreyt Nien for some reason, because Dreyt Nien has the ability to transcend physical limitations. Or maybe my enthusiasm for Alien references led me down a rabbit hole I’ll never escape. Either way, Dreyt Nien does have the ability to transmit his modular synthesizer compositions in a wavelength that’s translatable to the human ear, and we’re all the better for it. The mysterious French composer has a distinct and possibly disturbing fascination with the outer limits of the human ability to adapt to non-Earth conditions, and that combination of isolation and discovery serves to focus Les Rivières de la Nuit (“Rivers of the Night” – am I the only one getting the deep space vibe, then?) in enthralling ways.

Les Rivières de la Nuit recalls modular synth maestros ranging from Morton Subotnick to Keith Fullerton Whitman, and can find modern tape-scene equivalents in the work of Hollowfonts, Mortuus Auris and the Black Hand, and the White Reeves Productions crew. The tape varies within a defined space, not veering too far beyond “chilling” or “tense,” if at all. There’s the creeping miasma of the title track, the percussive dread of “Psychopods,” the decaying AI of “Ici Sont Des Dragons,” and the minuscule malfunctions threatening disaster of “Dix Neuf Abîmes.” I think it’s safe to say that Dreyt Nien has harnessed a distinct vibe.

If there was ever a moment to remind you that you should always take every precaution while on a maintenance spacewalk outside your craft, now’s the time, because Les Rivières de la Nuit is the soundtrack to everything going wrong, resulting in your permanent separation.  There’s no more safety after that. Maybe your comm will work for a little while as you drift, watching your ship get smaller and smaller as it moves away from you, and you can talk to your crewmates to give your good-byes. Or maybe you will scream, in panic, until there’s only static. The possibilities are endless! Let Dreyt Nien guide you to your doom, possibly in the form of getting hit by a passing asteroid.

Oh, uh, tapes are sold out from the label, better hit up the artist page, and quick!

--Ryan Masteller

FWY! "San Gabriel" (Soft Abuse)

If you've been following Edmund Xavier's music then you know he's a genius chameleon, taking on outsider folk (Skygreen Leopards, Thuja) catchy lo-fi art pop (Art Museums, The Reds, Pinks & Purples) & minimal post punk (Teenage Panzerkorps, Walking Korpses) since the early 00's, & I think out of all of his amazing bands, FWY! might be my favorite. He's been trading in soft focus kosmische synths on top of languid post punk rhythms for a minute now, but i think here he has reached his full power. If Michael Rother had played with Movement-era New Order, you would be getting close to what he's driving at. San Gabriel is the perfect encapsulation of hot hazy Southern California afternoons spent on the beach followed by the interminable gridlock getting home.

-- Ryan Durfee

“Mutus Liber” (No Problema Tapes)

The Philosopher’s Stone. Many have yearned for it, as its possession would surely entail untold riches for its owner. It could even extend life. Some may have fleetingly been in its presence. I have. How do you think I’m still alive after all these centuries? You should have seen the Middle Ages. Absolute nightmare.

That’s where the Mutus Liber comes in. You can imagine how someone would try anything, desperately, to harness the power of something like the Philosopher’s Stone. Lord Voldemort sure tried. The Mutus Liber, published in 1677 in La Rochelle, France, purports to be a guidebook on manufacturing the Philosopher’s Stone via alchemical means. Take it from me, from experience, that this book knows its stuff.

Anyway, batcrap mysticism aside, Giulio Aldinucci (Siena) and Moon Ra (Florence) represent two of Italy’s most exciting sound artists working within the experimental and found-sound idiom. What they’ve done on their respective sides of Mutus Liber, their split cassette on Santiago (Chile)’s No Problema Tapes, is take the concept of the cryptic tome and applied it to their sound design. Meaning, they’ve concocted, via literal alchemy (right?), music that turns metals into gold and grants eternal life. Meaning also, if I keep listening, I don’t have to keep drinking this awful stuff that I make from the Philosopher’s Stone. (You get that I’m implying I have a Philosopher’s Stone in my garage, right?)

Aldinucci’s side focuses on the wonder and excitement of creation and discovery. There’s a palpable joy in his four tracks as the surprise of scientific breakthrough occurs after a lengthy period of experimentation.  Moon Ra’s on a different track, though – she realizes that playing with alchemy is like playing god, and in doing so they’ve gone too far, unleashed something too powerful and uncontrollable. The playing of Mutus Liber is like opening up Pandora’s Box, and there’s no way to get that lid back on. Her tense pieces belie this sense of “Oh no, what have we done?”

Which is where I come in. Somebody’s gotta clean up this mess, and since I’ve got a little bit of experience in this area, I’ll see what I can do. But don’t let all this stop you from grabbing yourself a copy of this tape – I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.

--Ryan Masteller