MARK MORGAN / MIKE KHOURY “Self-Titled” C70 (Soundholes)


The self-titled tape from Mark Morgan and Mike Khoury on Soundholes is menacing in a way. The two artists – Morgan on guitar and vocals, Khoury on viola – create disorienting movements that are difficult to pin down, even though you have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing. The instruments and Morgan’s voice are layered and mixed in such a way that they’re constantly losing their footing, slipping on slick rocks at the top of a misty seaside cliff and threatening to plunge to their doom. They don’t do that though. They just keep slipping.
Not before barking their shins or scraping their hands first though. It’s a rough world, Morgan and Khoury’s, an uneasy one, and their interplay draws that out. Strings scrape and drone, Morgan wordlessly expresses … whatever, and Khoury expertly weaves samples of everything together for pure mystification. Patterns emerge, submerge, get lost in a fog. The sound is brutally tactile, but not pummeling: naturally brutal, like the sea, or a cliff by the sea, covered in wet rocks. Then the wind whips up, and it becomes a maelstrom! Here comes the plunge.
Too late, already plunged, from “press Play” on. I feel so bruised!

BETTER FRIEND “Safe House” (Gay Hippie Vampire)


Oh …
I had no intention of having an emo flashback today, but here I am with Better Friend’s Safe House, an EP dropped in 2015 and reissued by Gay Hippie Vampire in 2017. High-pitched tortured vocals, all lines beginning in media res with “And,” an affinity for Sunny Day Real Estate … Oh my god, Better Friend is an absolute dream.
“You will be miserable when you get older, you know.”
Perfect emo lyric. I’m smitten. Here comes the rabbit hole for the rest of the day. Further Seems Forever next, maybe?

YVES MALONE “Immortal Death” C40 (Third Kind Records)


Everything about Immortal Death absolutely reeks of stylization, from the faux-horror-movie-poster j-card (Tiny Little Hammers ftw) to the faux-horror-movie soundtrack it probably purports to be. Make no mistake, Yves Malone has worn his influences on his sleeve before (I mean, Three Movies, amiright?), so the fact that Malone is back to drawing water from this well, one filled with giallo, John Carpenter, and Tangerine Dream, as well as contemporaries like Umberto, should not only be the most unsurprising turn of events but also an invigorating jolt to us COVID zombies hunkered in a state of utmost malaise as we quarantine in place. Unless you live in Florida of course, and you’re just out doing whatever the hell you want to do. I live in Florida. Sigh.
I need an escape then, and Immortal Death provides. Listening to Yves Malone often simply feels like I’m watching a film with my ears anyway, so that’s the easiest place for my mind to go. Everything happens at night, when the darkest deeds are carried out and the seediest characters flit from shadow to shadow. The synth-prog score – “all hardware, all night” – punctuates the darkness with neon reds, the expressive instrumentals rippling in the rain and gathering under the moon. I’m at a drive-in in the 1970s, in some alternate America where European exploitation flicks top the box office. I’m steamrolled by smut but buoyed by the slick tunes, pumping life into these old veins and energizing pleasure receptors. I need an escape then, and Yves Malone provides.
Yves Malone always provides.

NATT “The Way You Were Made” C42 (Amek)


Polish producer NATT fits right into the Amek Collective, from the j-card featuring a blurred silhouette against a stark white orb that’s about to be engulfed by a black abyss to the blurred silhouette of dark ambience of the recordings themselves, set as they are in stark relief against a bleak reality but still about to be engulfed by a black abyss of mood and tone. DARK AMBIENCE: let it be a lesson to you, a polestar to guide you through a murk of negative energy that nonetheless thrills in its capacity for catharsis. NATT grasps the humanness of disappointment and despair and grips it until it’s choked purple and black, wringing every last ounce of remorse and regret out of it. Then NATT takes the byproduct of this nefarious deed and distills it, then chugs it, then creates. That’s The Way You Were Made.
That’s why NATT fits right into the Amek Collective – NATT is able to turn grief into digestible sound, somewhere between desolate electronics and despondent IDM, all smeared with a hollowness of reverb and echo to accentuate the part of the person that has been ripped away or is missing. But what these Central Europeans (Amek is located in Bulgaria) have going for them is that they’re able to tap into a vitality within the grief, an energy that crackles just out of earshot but is inherently present in their work. So where NATT’s music may be all about the gloaming of regularity and routine following a disruptive event and the sculpting of a psyche through trauma, the “way [that personality] was made,” on the other side of it, the disruption itself brings forth a grim vigor that propels the sufferer forward, hopefully to a less dismal outcome. But to find out, through NATT’s endeavors, is an exciting proposition!

156/KNURL “Split” C40 (Humanhood Recordings)


The nasty “The Collapse of It All (Pts. I-III)” by 156 on the A-side of this hellish split is twenty minutes of creeping drone and industrial rhythm and piercing feedback, all rammed together for maximum discomfort. That's what 156 does though, you know? There’s never a moment when you can relax, never a point when you shouldn’t be on your toes. And that’s just good preparation – you can’t take anything in stride with something called “The Collapse of It All,” because it’s just going to crumble to bits and you’re going to be standing there looking like an idiot if you’re not ready for it. 156’s side crumbles to piano notes instead of bits.
Knurl’s “Retalophase” is even less subtle and stable than 156’s side – and that’s saying something! Knurl is a noisy noisenik, and his interest in replicating the sound of metal objects in his work continues here, as these twenty minutes of sheer grindage act to hollow out any solid matter that’s left in my head. Seriously, Knurl clears everything away, all the pesky brain and skull and whatnot, sandblasting it all to a smooth sheen. Piggybacking nicely on 156’s “The Collapse of It All,” my personal human head collapses in only one part, although it stays erect and alert throughout “Retalophase.” But as soon as the sound of all those seizing gears and heavy friction ends, it’s like a tent coming down. It’s a wonder I’ve been able to type at all with this happening to me in real time.

LUIS PESTANA “Rosa Pano” C32 (Orange Milk)


It is upon you before you even know it. Portuguese artist Luis Pestana wastes no time ramping up Rosa Pano, his debut album, its opening chord shifting and growing as it builds to a sustained orchestral ambiance, voices intoning atop it. It continues in this vein – electronic tension punctuated by vocal performance, the first three tracks seamlessly blending as one. Even track four, “Calice Relampago,” the first to shift away from the initial momentum, carries on in the introduced Rosa Pano tradition. It pulls back on the tension, allowing it to drop away for a hint of melancholy before taking the short breath ahead of “Ao Romper da Bela Aurora.”
Because here, at the halfway mark, Rosa Pano goes full-on emotional supernova.
A chorus of male voices rolls choir-like through the track, bursting with every feeling to ever pass through your heart. The effect is overwhelming, the layers infinitely stacked, superimposed over one another, upon the threshold of euphoric tolerance. It is here that it becomes obvious that chemicals cause these feelings in your mind, because it’s impossible to imagine the response to the music as anything other than a rapid injection straight into your veins and carried at light speed via your circulatory system to the extremities of your body. Luis Pestana has composed the soundtrack to my ascension, my transfiguration into light.
Rosa Pano, sadly, must come down, and it does, via the hauntingly beautiful nine-minute title track that closes the album, allowing Pestana to bring us full circle into orchestral build before becoming silent, as if in the presence of a hushed audience. But this does nothing to dull the utterly invigorating cycle. And the slow burn is probably the only way to properly balance the chemicals that are fizzing throughout your brain, to bring them back into manageable stasis before they get out of control. You can’t fizz forever, you’ll burn out – don’t you know that? Luis Pestana does, and he has calculated and adjusted for a safe return – after maximum impact of course.

WICKED PISS “Muckbang Babylon” (Gay Hippie Vampire)


This here tape’s a wicked pissah! OK, had to go there, but only because this tape is actually and literally taking one helluva wicked piss on my living room carpet! Or maybe that’s just me, sprawled out on my living room carpet, earthquake’d into submission because I turned the stereo up too loud when I popped in this Wicked Piss tape, urine spraying from my body because I can’t control anything anymore. That’s right – Wicked Piss makes me unable to control my own bodily functions.
Surely, you say, there’s no way a cassette tape could actually and literally make you piss yourself. But there is! And I think the artist of this tape is called “Wicked Piss” because of that sole purpose. The noise artist unleashes waves upon waves of an intense low-frequency sonic onslaught, rippling through my body and causing inadvertent reactions. I almost don’t even care that it’s happening (I will later when I realize what I have to clean up) – it’s like I’m viewing what’s happening to my own body from outside of it. Yeah – Wicked Piss is giving me an out-of-body pee experience with Muckbang Babylon!
Oh wait, that’s not me, that’s my brother on the ground. Oh, I should probably call an ambulance.
Edition of who knows how many, maybe just one.

ICARUS PHOENIX “Icarus Phoenix” (Telos Tapes)


We pulled onto the interstate just as the sun started to peek over the horizon. We had each other. At first I thought we were running from something – we were, in actuality, hightailing it from some responsibilities that future we wouldn’t even remember, let alone consider important – but once those rays hit my eyes, stinging them with tears, and I flipped down my visor against them, I understood that what was ahead of us was actually something we were running toward. It filled my heart with joy, and even though the memory of that moment of sweetness would take on some bitter notes – we did indeed love some people that we left behind – there never in my mind entered any hint of regret or the twinge that we’d done the wrong thing. For the first time in what felt like forever, we had something to look forward to, some hope in a future that we were forging for ourselves. I cracked the window just enough to get a hit of that crisp morning autumn air, and it filled my chest and lungs and spread to my fingers and toes. I felt fricking alive.
This is how Icarus Phoenix, the brainchild of Drew Danburry, makes me feel. It reminds me of when I was young and lost, and every crazy decision felt immediate and raw and important. Maybe some of them were, but it doesn’t even matter. There’s a secret powderkeg ready to explode in all of us, and no matter how emotionally jarring it is, it is vital and it is real. I felt these things back in high school and college when I was listening to Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens, and I’m feeling them now with Icarus Phoenix. Gorgeous stuff.

JEF MERTENS “No Amp” (291)

No amp? No problem! Jef Mertens just plays his 12-string Danelectro into the void and hopes to heck somebody picks up the sound. Well, that’s not entirely true – he recorded this “prepared guitar tape” at a place called Hum Palace, so the recording equipment all but guaranteed that somebody was going to hear it. But still, it’s certainly not going to be heard very loudly – not with No Amp.

The pieces are all quite meditative, and you can sit listening to them quietly on headphones (my recommendation). You’ll be able to discern each pick hit and string crack, and sometimes the guitar oscillates or sounds effected – which means you’d need an amp for that, right? Wait a second …

Everything is an expansive landscape. FFO processed friggin’ guitar, man! What else do you want?


ACTUALHELL “Amaxophilia: Or Field Recordings for Strangers” C90 x 2 (Gay Hippie Vampire)


I’m going to suggest you set aside some time if you’re into manipulated and deconstructed field recordings, because Amaxophilia: Or Field Recordings for Strangers by Actualhell is literally 180 minutes of that. This 2xCS on recycled cassette tape (Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Saw Stars, read by George Guidall) is a nightmare of source material from all over the damn place and in physical states of all sorts. “Actualhell” may be the most apt artist designation for this kind of material, because this may indeed be an approximation of the sound of (or the actual result of sending a microphone down somehow into), ahem, actual hell. Not that it’s not weird or not fascinating, because it is – you just have to be in the mood for it, or into it all the time. Plus, there’s a lot of it. So maybe if you’re into it all the time you’re good? Also, there may only be one copy of this that exists, so …

GABIE STRONG “Spectress” C30 (Crystalline Morphologies)


Gabie Strong announces her presence in Spectress as totally a specter, but with an intentionally female construction. What’s interesting is that the recordings on Spectress – one from Complex, Glendale, California, January 26, 2016; the other from Non Plus Ultra, Los Angeles, January 20, 2016 – don’t point toward any gender at all, and as such the spirit worlds conjured by Strong’s guitar/synthesizer setups remain distinctly that: ungendered spirits. But I think the point is probably lost in the end anyway, the title perhaps merely serving as non-symbolic identifier. Regardless of whichever way you choose to read it, Spectress is all about disembodied forces coalescing within a performance and then recorded to tape. Let’s just listen to it.
Over a steady drone, “Sunset Circuit” finds Strong layering feedback and effects to enhance tension, building ever-so-slowly over sixteen minutes to an unstable conclusion of humid feedback, which is odd given the utter lack of humidity in Southern California at any given time. “Taphthartharath” (that’s a mouthful, and a lot of T’s and H’s!) on side B is where it breaks, the feedback divebombing you unrelentingly. It’s like a tidal wave of rocks and nails cascading from a junkyard ocean and obliterating your senses, until you’re only able to perceive the piercing tones left in its wake. Do be careful when listening on headphones – check the volume!

BOSBY “The Essential Bosbeats Collection” (Gay Hippie Vampire)


Ugh, the stolen laptop. That’s the worst, right? Especially for a musician who keeps all their files on it and doesn’t have any other form of backup. That’s what happened to Bosby, and of course we’re talking about the pre-ubiquitous-cloud days of 2013-ish, so everything was in one place, and one place only. I think there’s a special circle of hell reserved for those who steal from poor artists – laptops, gear, merch, whatever. It absolutely makes me cringe inside.
Bosby did not bounce back from the loss, dropping all intentions to make the kind of music found on The Essential Bosbeats Collection again. The tracks that appear hereon are unfinished versions of what was on the laptop. Still, lucky for Bosby, and I’m not just saying this to be nice, Bosbeats contains quite a few melted-circuit lo-fi electro burners. Often coming off like early instrumental Black Moth Super Rainbow paired with a lo-fi Octopus Project (wait, I think that happened), Bosby weaves hooks and earworms through and around junky hip-hop settings, tripping over patch cords and synth presets and magically inducing happy accidents.
Equal parts chilled soundtrack and busy mixtape, Bosbeats sounds both relaxed and composed while maintaining an open mind depending on where a track is headed. It’s a shame that Bosby lost his computer, but we’re still lucky to have this little nugget to look back on and wonder about what could have been. And while this is available as a download on Bosby’s Bandcamp, I have in my hand an actual cassette tape from Gay Hippie Vampire, which may or may not have been actually released as such. Still, it exists – and therefore it counts on this site!

OUTFIT OF LOSS “Outfit of Loss” C30 (Clinquant Pudendum)


“A Morgue Now Rests Where a Tomb Once Towered” is, I think, the mission statement of Outfit of Loss, where a celebrated monument to death and decay decays into a less-celebrated monument to death and decay. Where one was purely ornamental, serving no purpose other than to mark a spot of death, the other is decidedly functional, working to make sense of that death. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through the work of power electronics and noise artists over the years is that meaninglessness pervades, death is absolute and random, and functionality is a big fat waste of time.
Sorry to knock the sunshine from your morning!
So let’s sit back in our easy chairs of nihilism and watch the busy ants thinking that there’s a reason for their toil. This act can be dutifully soundtracked by Outfit of Loss, whose manipulations of harsh noise resolve into easily discernible patterns that jag and stutter and jolt and jerk us through six hellacious tracks, each one less meaningful that the last. It’s the kind of soul-ripping, mind-crushing experience that actually ends up being a bit invigorating on the other end. Because once you experience something like Outfit of Loss, it’s like your psyche has been scoured, the detritus removed. So even though that kind of encounter tends to overwhelm your particles to the point of decomposition, once you recompose and realign, you come out of the whole thing better than you had been. And isn’t that kind of the point of this noisy stuff?
Unless of course you don’t come out of it at all. Tombs and morgues and stuff, after all.

HEAVY PETTING “Adult Program” C20 (Dead Definition)


Seattle’s Heavy Petting has the kind of band name that makes you go “Hmm…,” like that C + C Music Factory song. (Fun fact: C + C Music Factory had a gig at a laser tag/arcade I was playing minigolf at, totally unbeknownst to me when I got there. This was at least a decade and a half after they’d achieved one-hit-wonder status.) Regardless of whether or not you can get the cover of that one NOFX album out of your head after starting in on this won’t matter. There’s very little the trio of Evan Anderson, Derek Blackstone, and Evan Easthope have to do with either heavy petting or pop punk, or, uh, late-1980s dance music. Unless you want to emphasize the “heavy.” They kind of have a “heavy” vibe.
What Heavy Petting do quite well is the ponderous post-rock thing, where the trio snake down mathy instrumental passages that pummel without overwhelming with volume. Adult Program is a rad EP that recalls some of my favorite netlabel releases back in the mid-aughts (see especially Lost Children’s run of post-rock/math-rock EPs). The guitar, while distorted on many occasions, does not bludgeon with metal intensity, so this isn’t some stoner rock knockoff. And the “post-rockness” of Adult Program picks up the pace periodically as well, so there’s some definite variation. This is just one of those good-old guitar/bass/drums trio EPs where the interplay works, the songs don’t overstay their welcome, and enjoyment is almost a certainty.

REST “Druidz” (AGH Tapes)


Sound collage, remix, remaster. Mash and smear, smash and smoosh. Rest, relaxing hammock-bound in Baltimore, Maryland – or so I assume, what with the “Rest” and all – pulls together sound sources, samples, loops, and Druidz is the “mixtape” of a result. Circuitz bend and stretch like taffy, perspective is right out the window. Sometimes you can tell what radio station is piping, in, but it often gets cut off by some kind of electrical current, causing it to glitch into oblivion. There’s nothing left except electrical currents. Well, also more samples. And more currents. They intertwine with each other and react and repel and spiral out of control, and then come back in for additional intertwining. It’s like a fascinating sonic double helix that barely holds together.

MATT NORMAN AND DELAWARE DAN LLC “Car Stories + Experimental Marketing Strategies for the New Age Deluxe Edition” (AGH Tapes)


Matt Norman tells stories. Delaware Dan warps stories. Matt Norman and Delaware Dan have stories to tell, but they warp the hell out of them. They don’t even know where one ends and the other begins. Experimental. Weird. Analog vaporwave. Tape loop mayhem. Performance art in a blender in Canada. The hotlines have become sentient and taken over. They own the information. They’re the ones that have the power to save you. But they can’t, because they’re glitches, and that’s it. Quirks of the matrix. The code is decaying, and we’re all in trouble because of it. I don’t think we’re going to survive this one.

I DROWNED AN EXTRATERRESTRIAL “I Drowned an Extraterrestrial” (Quaddead Records)


I hope it was by accident, Mr. Fix Your Mind to Die! What did that extraterrestrial ever do to you?
I hope the knowledge it gave you before it died, expressed here as stuttering, decaying data files transmitted straight to the prefrontal lobe, is not lost. I hope it is disseminated to others who can use it for good.
I hope the samples and loops are organized in such a way for maximum impact. I hope this works.
Otherwise, that extraterrestrial died in vain, Mr. Fix Your Mind to Die. And that can’t happen! Not on my watch.
Not on my watch.
--Sherriff Frank Truman

GEORGE FIERO III “Sun Rooms” (Uba Tuba Tapes)


Look, I don’t know what Skeleton Pals is, but George Fiero III built instruments for Danny Elfman for the thing. That’s enough to get my attention for a split second, so the music he made during the same time, using guitar, tape, the “reverberations of his room,” along with more guitar and synthesizer, passes through my cassette player in joyful hope. Joyful hope is rewarded with joyful listening. George Fiero III has got something going on here.
I’m a huge fan of lo-fi, and this is as lo-fi as it gets. The recorded tape is actually manipulated at points, the stop and play buttons actually part of the performance. The guitar dreamily wafts as if it’s wooden, and the room is wooden, and the space the sound passes through is wooden. The tape warbles and warps. Magnets attract filament. Decomposition occurs. A glorious piece called “One Day the Mountains Will Grow Legs and Walk Back into the Sea” ends side A on the highest note possible.
“Light Virgin” and “Glass Rain” comprise the B-side, 32 minutes of synthesizer and guitar experimentation. Vastly different from side A, these two tracks grow and reverberate, filling rooms and minds with glistening fractal patterns and misshapen melodic fragments. Easy to get lost in, easy to glaze out to. I vibed out and came to hours later. Didn’t know what hit me.

ABYSMAL GROWLS OF DESPAIR “Sentir Le Poids Des Montagnes Et Trouver La Paix Dans Les Ténèbres” C66.6 (Blue Tapes)


Mars is weird, yeah? Abysmal Growls of Despair, which is Hangsvart’s recording project (I’m assuming you know who Hangsvart is), imagines Mars and its weirdness, but through the crushing weight of doom – doom on Mars. The title translates to “Feel the weight of the mountains and find peace in the darkness,” and I guess that’s the only option, really, if you’re getting crushed by a mountain on Mars. Darkness is solitude. Peace in oblivion.
Well, if there’s one adjective to describe Sentir Le Poids Des Montagnes Et Trouver La Paix Dans Les Ténèbres, it’s “crushing.” If I’m reading this right, we’re looking at six guitars and six basses, along with utterly guttural kargyraa vocals. Seriously, You don’t want Hangsvart intoning directly into your ear, that’s for sure. The whole thing is a black séance intent on bringing a pagan status quo to everyday Martian life, such as it is. Over its 66.6-minute runtime (you read that right), Hangsvart excavates the deepest, darkest secrets from the core of the red planet. Then he unleashes them.
You like Sunn O)))? You’ll like this.

BRAVE RADAR “Brave Radar in … It’s Honey’s World” (LINO)


Belle and Sebastian meets Beat Happening in Montreal.
I calls em like I sees em.
Quartet, lovingly crafted mini-songs. Been around for a while.
I calls em like I sees em.
Might they simply drift away on the breeze?
I calls em like I sees em.
That cover is absolute horseshit. It looks like my own handwriting with one of those permanent black markers (not a Sharpie).
I calls em like I sees em.
But … is that the intent?
I calls em like I … wait what?
Maybe I just wasn’t made for these times.
This doesn’t sound like the Beach Boys.

--Old Man Yells at Cloud

JULIA BLOOP “Uncut Carrara” C76 (KMAN 92.5)


Hey, I like movies. Who doesn’t? Getting lost in the celluloid labyrinth is one of my favorite things to do, as one film always opens the door for the next two, whether stylistically or personnel-wise, and it just spirals out from there exponentially. Julia Bloop, aka Devin Johnson (aka also Sunset Diver), digs movies too, and here on Uncut Carrara he brings his plunderphonic ear to a massive full-length feature. That’s right, for an hour and sixteen minutes, a nice length for lean picture, Johnson splices together film soundtracks and dialogue, using nothing but a four-track and samplers, building an immersive world that can only be realized on the silver screen. And by the “silver screen” I obviously mean a cassette tape! The visuals are only in my mind…
Grainy stock and black-and-white Hollywood dreams seep into the atmosphere and noir up the joint, the air of melodrama and intrigue thickening as the tape progresses. It’s probably not a stretch to imagine this as a Golden Age motion picture equivalent to Leland Kirby’s daguerreotype turn-of-the-century recordings as the Caretaker, complete with dust and cobwebs to give it character. Truly, Uncut Carrara sounds like Johnson dug up a bunch of old film reels in a Hollywood Hills attic or downtown storage facility. Even when decidedly 1960s-esque guitar and exotica seep through, it remains distinctly of a place and time, a period steeped in nostalgia, nostalgia for history and the then-present, nostalgia for the recreation of that history now. It’s an incredible thing to listen to all the way through.

SMOKEY EMERY “Nights Like This Are Why I Have No Heart” C72 (KMAN 92.5)

Daniel Hipólito records as Smokey Emery, and Nights Like This Are Why I Have No Heart is his latest tape loop extravaganza that will see you wandering into the pool on the cover in the middle of the night and probably drowning in a hypnotic state. But that’s morbid, and we don’t want to be morbid! Let’s pull back and latch on to that dreamlike effect he’s got going for him, that deep, ambient repetition that echoes through your mind until it resembles something completely different from what it started as. The gently shifting tones compel with soft suggestion. The midnight wanderer within me awakens. I’m gonna fall into that friggin’ pool.

With someone/-thing else hollowing out your conscious mind and rippling through your motor functions, it’s not hard to understand why Nights Like This Are Why I Have No Heart hits the spot that it does. It’s a swirling nocturnal sedative, disorienting in its constant and seemingly never-ending application. It works perfectly, conjuring such a surreal atmosphere that it’s almost impossible to believe that you’re still somewhat coherent. I mean, you can’t talk, you can’t hear anything other than Smokey Emery, and you can’t resist the pull of the hypnosis, but still! You’re at least aware of everything that’s going on. Powerless, but aware. Sometimes you just have to let go and let it happen. Falling into pools and whatnot.