EVAN A. JAMES “Escapist Foreplay” C34 (Adhesive Sounds)

By the time I reached “playful,” track 3 on Escapist Foreplay, the new reel spinner by Evan A. James, I became convinced that James is in fact a handful of mischievous sprites instead of a single person, flitting about inside computer programs, their activities resulting in sonic cohesion. Why? Because they’re magic, you clod, and magic makes stuff happen out of thin air! It coalesces unrelated phenomena into perceivable patterns in ways that can only make you go, “WTF, dude?!?” I submit that Evan A. James, a collection of imaginary creatures imbued with great power, has outdone itself with this tape, and although it has revealed its true identity to us (Canadian producer?! Bah!) and therefore stripped away some of its mystery, I’m still able to distance myself from this madness and learn to love the content.

The content is the key, as it becomes clear Escapist Foreplay is a collection of sixteen short tracks designed to elevate and confound in equal measure, unveiling its weird cohesion as it progresses. The shifts in style and tone are blissful, and although there are hints of vaporwave to be found – this is an Adhesive Sounds joint after all – it’s impossible to truly pin this release down. It reminds me of some of the adventurous sound design releases on Orange Milk Records, and the Evan spirits should maybe shoot Seth Graham an email, if they’re capable of holding a smartphone. (They’re magic, of course they can!)

If you want to try to wrangle the overarching stylings that the James Gang (OK, maybe that’s enough) produces here, you have to start with the idea of a film soundtrack (and there’s even a track, the closer “filmic bullshit,” that does this) – you can go through a lot of moods in one sitting with visual accompaniment, but it’s way harder to do when you’re appealing to only one sense. Then, scrutinize the detail of the composition and you get a sort of modern electronic classical, one which, again, Seth Graham would certainly relate to. Step back one more time to revel in the sheer magnitude of the stylistic cross-sections: you get dark folk (“trace”), classical string quartet (“drape,” “tunnel”), jazz (“rejoice,” “weather”), synthesizer wash (“demonwish”), and whatever “seeking” is – let’s call it the meeting between hardvapour, actual hardcore, and Queen. I don’t know, it’s great though.

The combinative powers James displays foreshadow a hopefully lengthy discography filled with excitement and wonder. It’s an established fact that he’s already got a couple of winners under his belt (his self-titled debut and Falling Out with Number 1), so it should be no surprise when he grows into fantastic creations like Escapist Foreplay. I’m ready for the next tape already – are you?

--Ryan Masteller

MUKQS / DJWWWW “Split” (Phinery)

Like trying to ingest a live jaguar in one sitting, it’s a daunting process to digest the recorded finery (see what I did there?) of artists as compelling as Mukqs and DJWWWW, especially when they combine their intense powers for a split release. Mind you, it’s not difficult – especially if you don’t mind a few deep scratch marks on your face (visible scars are a sign of strength and toughness, at least according to all the 1980s action films I watch on repeat) – but you certainly have to buckle yourself in before embarking. At least cassette tapes aren’t as violently squirmy as pissed-off jaguars, otherwise I wouldn’t have much of this beautiful face left. At least this split is as satisfying, psychologically, as a belly stuffed with jaguar would be.

I digress, of course. But I’m not fooling you when I commend this release for filling itself to the absolute brim with exciting and strange and unique compositions. I cannot be more serious when I say “my cup runneth over” with remarkable blessings of musical enlightenment! And hey, you know the players, the ones whose miracle tunes invade your ears on a daily basis: Mukqs has his whole Hausu Mountain/Good Willsmith thing going, while DJWWWW is just … well, DJ-goddamned-WWWW, or at least an alias of DJWWWW. Both are rightly celebrated for doing their experimental-electronic-improv-loopy thing better than mostly everybody else on the planet, and that’s the kind of thing that gets you called up to the big-league labels like Orange Milk, Umor Rex, and Phinery. Gotta have your A-game working to have any sort of sustained success.

Mukqs is the master at live manipulations of loops and tapes, and his side is a great example of synthetic world-building at a macro level. Nothing is reserved, every second is conjured via magic spells from the dust of tangible sound sources, woven via molecular interpretation. Each element bleeds into the next, wavering melodies emerge from the mix and quickly submerge, only to be replaced by something equally as interesting. Can you poke at magic with a stick or examine it under a microscope? That’s the beauty of a Mukqs joint – even if you do, even if you uncover the mechanisms beneath the hood, it’s still magic in the end.

Japanese producer DJWWWW, on the other hand, is a much more tactile explorer, a mad scientist ratcheting up his sonic output to cartoon-like levels. Each track points east and fidgets with its subject material, like Hikari No Wa, “Ramen Power,” and the Tokyo metro system, taking elements of each physical object, person, or location and flinging them into Cuisinart of beats and pulses for maximum pulpage. The result is not dissimilar to that envisioned by Mukqs, but with a decidedly different flavor. If DJWWWW is like a poppier Foodman – if something like that exists, or is possible, or is not even a paradox – then Mukqs is a tape manipulator’s Pink Floyd, and that’s probable even without the admittedly hamfisted comparison.

So take that jaguar out of your mouth, brush off the saliva, pat it on the head, give it something to gnaw, and focus instead on this fabulous split. You’ll be doing yourself and animal lovers everywhere a favor, and you’ll be able to direct your energy to a more appropriate place.

--Ryan Masteller

ASHER HORTON “Mystery Bones” C50 (OSR Tapes)

“OSR Tapes is the logical continuation of the Elephant 6 collective!” you scream at your mother as she hovers over the stove preparing your pancakes and bacon before you head out to catch the bus for school. (Why a high school junior who still takes the school bus rates pancakes and bacon for breakfast before school is beyond me.) She visibly stiffens, but doesn’t turn around; instead, she closes her eyes and licks a bit of bacon grease from her thumb while silently cursing Zeus (she worships the old gods) for allowing a son like hers to be born into this world. She slowly shakes her head and returns to her work as you lean back in your chair until it crashes to the ground. Unhurt, you again scream at the top of your lungs: “Asher Horton is better than Miles Kurosky!”

Dammit, your mother thinks. He’s in my Asher Horton tapes again. She takes a deep breath before turning around and glares at your prone form with a stern look of disapproval on her face. You’re no help as you flail dramatically on the ground, like a turtle with your feet and arms in the air – you just can’t manage to flip over in order to right yourself. It’s a loud, violent process. There’s no question anymore in anyone’s mind why you don’t have your driver’s license yet – you’re a dangerous klutz. “Mom, MOM!” you scream again, your personal volume cranked outrageously to twelve, because it’s one goddamn unit of measure higher than eleven, and Nigel Tufnel can suck an egg! Your mother, patient beyond patient, a saint, a goddess, but still radiating sternness that would require bio suits and a Geiger counter, reaches out her hand and helps you stand. There’s no amount of gentle, jangly guitar pop that could soothe her. Maybe…

Slamming your fists on the kitchen table in frustration and hunger, an unnecessary amount of times that results in orange juice splatters all over the place, you reach into your backpack and pull out an old tape recorder, the kind with the handle on the front, and proceed to play Asher Horton’s Mystery Bones in its entirety, making you late for school by like an hour. Your mom, though, becomes a different person: the cloud of frustration dissipates, and a sunshiney smile of contentment overcomes her face. She finishes making breakfast and slides your plate across the kitchen table, bacon broken into a smiley face over a single enormous pancake. She tips over the maple syrup and lets it ooze onto the plate, smooth and sweet as Asher Horton’s voice. The syrup becomes a lake, then a river that cascades off the table and onto the floor, first taking a detour to your lap. The orange juice drops cover your white Marcy Playground tour t-shirt. You’re going to be sticky for phys ed. You scream at the top of your lungs in utter fury. Your mother doesn’t respond.

This is why you have no discipline: you know your mother’s secret tranquilizer, and it is Asher Horton.

--Ryan Masteller

"Kepler 20-F Suite" C30
(Love Earth Music)

With this album title, it’s easy to assign these seemingly untranslatable-to-human fluctuations in soundwaves as possible cosmic echoes off of distant planets and/or maybe, liek, signs from Extraterrestrial Intelligence orsomething. To the layperson, it all could easily sound like someone just jerking around with a theremin and distortion pedal. I suggest it’s somewhere in between. Make no mistake about it, though, that if you put enough effort into listening to this stuff while sitting still, with decent headphones, the psychoacoustic headfuckery achieved is very, very real; it leaves me thinking that this multi-channeled recording is, in fact, careful and deliberate…but I’m on summer vacation and in the mood for weird shit, so maybe it’s just me?

On a semi-related note, Love Earth Music puts out some pretty decent stuff…and sporadically some stuff I’d personally deem as unlistenably formulaic (this release is very much the former), but I’d pick up just about anything they’d put out if I found it in a used bin, and, if you, too, love the weird shit, I suggest you do the same. Otherwise, with their bare-bones (read: “not helpful”) website, you’ll never know the outsider glory that is their oh-so-mysterious-d-i-y shtick.

-- Jacob An Kittenplan

"Split" C42 (Orb Tapes)

On Side A, Primal Law offer up two dark-ambient narratives so ripe for interpretation, it’s hard not to feel uneasy, simply thinking about them. Bass heavy, the 20+ minutes fly by in a haze of wounded feedback sculpture, soundbite distortions, gusts of visiting looped mid-high treble textures, and sparse industrial percussion that functions solely as movement instead of beats. I can’t help feeling like the lone survivor that didn’t drink quite enough purple kool-aid, waking up two days later in a locked down bunker as the fire department breaks down the reinforced steel entrance…but that’s just one of many possible takes.

Kyklops’ Side B isn’t any cheerier, the song title, like the soundscaping, rife with macabre subtext, “We Found the Remains Behind His Shed”. Note: Not “his” remains. Not “the” shed. Note: “We Found…” and not “They”.

This lone 20+ track is reminiscent of Tecumseh’s low-end-rich drone-distortion worship, but with more accents of feedback and tremolo’d treble phasing’s to fill out the high end, leaving a hollow middle ground for your mind to color in, were you so inclined.

This tape isn’t for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for a psychological thriller, and you’re tired of looking at video footage, this is your soundtrack. Oh, & Crank Up the volume or you’ll miss out on a ton of subtleties buried below the reasonable decibel level.


-- Jacob An Kittenplan