Parish/Potter – On and Off
9.25.23 by Ryan Masteller
The lack of **^4##*NULL\\\///ZoN3*##^** … er, \\NULL|Z0NE// … eff it, Null Zone activity over the past couple years has had a cumulative effect on my psyche that I simply did not expect: once weaned from Michael Potter’s Athens, Georgia, label since 2021 or so, I found myself super jacked right back in once his band, the Electric Nature, dropped Old World Die Must earlier this year. It was a hit of free-jazz/fusion/noise madness that sped right into the weirdo centers of my brain and pretty much cooked all my synapses till I wasn’t able to respond to anything properly, such was the overload. Sitting on my couch, drooling and glassy-eyed as the title track, taking up the entirety of side B, fizzed its feedback to a close, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had made it through in one piece, clearly frazzled at my lack of preparation for new Null Zone after a layoff.
So I didn’t know if it was a good thing or not that several months separated Old World Die Must and the first new Null Zone cassette-only releases (Old World exists as a vinyl LP co-released with Feeding Tube) to hit the streets, but I was certainly game, and I was pretty sure the melted parts of my brain had cooled and hardened into protective barriers over the rest of the lobes and cortices I was still using – Potter wasn’t going to take me by surprise this time. Fortunately, On and Off, Potter’s new tape as a duo with Ahleuchatistas’ Shane Parish (no stranger to Null Zone), dispenses with the coiled chaos and heads straight to the warm comfort areas where blankets and cushions (or amniotic floating) serve as the perfect accoutrements/venue for experiencing this tape.
Did it turn out I really needed this? Yeah, it absolutely did.
Over two sidelong tracks on this C32, Potter and Parish layer their guitars over each other, generating entire hemispheres of imagination in their primordial playing. The A side, “On and Off,” fulfills every person’s fantasy of what the soundtrack to the actual formation of the Earth over billions of years should sound like. The duo’s electric guitars establish the firmament, a tectonic drone ceaselessly undergirds the elements bubbling and flitting above it, and the sky I’m seeing behind my eyelids fills with smoke and fire before clearing to mountains, lakes, and valleys, the promise of green fields and fresh air a millennium or so away – but that’s not a long time on the Cosmic Calendar! Their proto-proto-proto blues scratches glyphs on the walls of prehistoric caves; it’s truly not weird at all that Potter’s found himself on the same bill as guitar legend Bill Orcutt.
“Here and There” covers side B and showcases Parish and Potter’s acoustic chops, a set recorded a year removed from “On and Off” but a thematic and sonic cousin nonetheless. Again over a reverberating drone, the duo picks riverine melodies through newly cut valleys as animal and plant life spring into being at their passing, drifting into the expansiveness of evolutionary process. The movement and tactility of the guitar interplay is like blood through veins, a vital process of circulation to ensure all parts of the body (including the brain!) are properly nourished. Overlaying the body’s roadmap on the Earth’s contours ties the concept together, a universality of flesh and soil and the source of connection. It’s like a proto-proto-proto folk outline simmering in the mineral baths. Have either of these guys ever played with William Tyler?
So, it is with great relief that I announce, yes: it’s great to have Null Zone back, and it’s great that the label’s back with such a fantastic bang. And hey, guess what? Now that I’ve re-centered myself and primed myself once again for the “anything goes” mentality Potter and pals routinely bring to their releases, I think I could even take on something a little crazier, a little more extreme if something of the sort comes my way… Hey, speaking of, where’s that Serrater tape?
Tabs Out | Westelaken – I am Steaming Mushrooms
9.18.23 by Matty McPherson
Recently “slowcore” found itself on my mind. It’s a personally loathed term for genre, especially when bands purposely find themselves rigidly seeking to fit the codification. As a “sonic context” used to explain and document certain sonic phenomena, it actually becomes an incredibly valuable tool. Basically, the question imo should never be “is it playing slow to this set of rigors” but “why is it playing slow? who caused this and for what?” Resulting, this summer, I’ve seen myself taking a greater joy in the Blue Nile’s Hats! and Meshell Ndegocello’s Bitter. Neither of these albums would ever get shaken down as slowcore releases, unless you came looking at a larger context willing to accept that artists working in adult contemporary sonic modes also…could write flatlined, heartbroken compositions that resonated with the day to day mundanity. On some level, slowcore is about chewing the scenery and the effective disconnects between yourself and things around you. These artists could do that and probably deserve greater dialogue at the table, or more actual acknowledgement for providing new ways to bring new resonance out of the slow. Perhaps that’s why so Ethel Cain did so well.
Anyways, Westelaken is a four piece in Toronto, Canada. They’re not adult contemporary. They happen to write extremely knotty, twisted country rock compositions; the kind where everything is dependent on the red wheelbarrow filled with water. It has ancillaries in 90s post-rock to certain degrees and Drive By-Truckers to other degrees. Although, certain strains of folk songwriters that aim for this music inadvertently wander into making music that hits the slowcore marks but really finds a joy and energy in chewing the scenery with a steady upbeat midtempo. The pace can be glacial, but it’s the serendipitous joy of the lulls and the come to transcendent moments that make the music so much more situated, personable, and (powerfully) relistenable. About a handful of people have heard their music. If you are reading this, you’re probably one of them or about to be.
This is all a long way to say I am Steaming Mushrooms their 3rd and latest long playing cassette, is utterly terrific. It immediately reminded me of the quirky intimacy nestled within Tenci’s under-sung 2020 effort and the soaring desire to find purpose of Caroline’s 2022 debut. Both records felt lived-in, full of points that invited listeners in to share a common cause or experience, catch up and savor a moment of the world. I am Steaming Mushrooms is doing that too; it feels fit for somewhere between open highways and half-empty barrooms where everyone knows your name.
That sense is immediately enshrined with near-14 minute Ozzy’s Palace. It takes a minute for that open-tuned guitar to crash in with open arms. Backed by barroom piano keys, a lumbering bassline, a def drum beat, and the heaviest of tape fuzz it become apparent immediately that’s it come to pay homage to a one of a kind space the only way it knows how: to sprawl and explode in sudden, charming bursts. The drums’ lack of straight time, more or less hammering on beats that dodge immediate time signatures, and more or less sound like shots knocked back on a mahogany oak bar. Occasionally it crashes into catharsis, but more often than not, it sprawls and beckons you to listen closely to the beat of that drum. It’s one of the year’s most confident opening cuts.
Rob McLay’s drum is essential to understanding how Westelaken keeps such a streak going. Mid-tempo & ruminative, it really guides the album as Jordan Seccareccia perks up his wistful drawl filled with detail and desire keen to these beats. He is a terrific everyperson on this release, and while the lyrics aren’t published, they did arrive on folded postcard; there is serendipity and wonder to this exchange and power. His voice under instrumentals, built atop Lucas Temor’s killer piano and Alex Baigent sly, almost dub-trodden bass, convey and match the reserved performance. Across Side A this all comes in to play. The pit-pat piano rumblings of Pear Tree, that builds to a wry, small epiphany. Fixed Up By an Orange Light finds incredibly potency with guitar, key, and string interplay under absolutely gob-smacked potency in crashing frill breaks; a particular noisy syncopation with backing vocals is so raw, so warm. Annex Clinic & Pharmacy reinforces those queitLOUDquiet synctopations, as well as that grit and balance key to the tape.
In fact, at times I damn well had to clean my ears to confirm this wasn’t some misbegotten blog rock stray or Sub Pop one album wonder that was too witty for its time. It’s too twee, too unkempt, too pertinent and realistic; where cuts are disarmingly heartfelt and still summon a five-alarm warning system off in your head. Side B makes that clear, with Ribcage’s banjo strumming majesty & the bass n’ drum thump of hard knock rocker, Polar Bear. Yet, its the knockout penultimate of Fossilhead and closer I Can Hear the Highway. Both cuts are premiere Westelaken snapshots: Fossilhead stretches for ten minutes, bathing itself clean in piano arpeggios, a low bass hum, and a kick drum that strikes down to a molten level, resulting in a quiet blessing; I Can Hear the Highway sees the band’s foreplay and sonic palette in robust effect. They hit a chorus with the impact of a sledgehammer, amongst the delicacy of an oil painting of sunset in the country; with all the pear trees and rolling hills detailed out. Seccareccia ends humming us out like he’s hitchhiking his way to the next adventure.
It’s remarkable how that works. it’s also just a bloody miracle that in 2023 this album exists, and it’s swaggering confidence and homespun jerks mark it amongst the finest of the year, and a real “eureka!” (some rights reserved) for modern indie folk. All the dead oceans americana could learn a thing or two from these Canadians.
Edition of 100 Tapes available at the Westelaken Page; Comes with a Free Postcard of Lyrics.
Track Premiere! Ian MacPhee – Move
9.6.23 by Matty McPherson
Ian MacPhee is taking quite the leap. Well, Already Dead Records is making a door more open, bringing him into the fray with a proper self-titled debut EP, Distance, set for the label’s calendar on 10/6. It’s a stark C30 that’s finessed the edges of last year’s Everything proof of concept cassette into a proper sonic roadmap of Simi Valley’s uncanniness; although don’t be surprised if flickers of Kankyō Ongaku tickle through your ears while listening. Distance returns to that same transient zone once more, finding greater sweetness out of MacPhee’s Line 6 DL4 & Yamaha Portasound set-up.. Material’s been tested until its become a sort of public utility, rendering each environment (the park, the garage) I’ve found myself in as some sort of sauna to the sounds; it’s a no-fuss ambient EP, amongst the year’s most comfortable with its sense of place. Featherweight DAW compositions, to say the least.
MacPhee’s been in the TBD orbit, enough that we’re co-premiering the video for Move, the fourth cut and lone single coming out on Distance. Desolate windy roads on late night drives to abandoned freeways; empty gated communities high under glistening stars; parking lots, the kind where the feel of a thick valley heat rubs off the lone suburban light in the otherwise vacant zone. MacPhee’s Move finds a joy in the emptiness of Simi Valley suburbia. His video as well, just a snapshot of places and out-of-focus zones, recall the quiet peace of the downtown lights.
Field recordings and his drone give that sense of a glistening emptiness, but it’s the few shimmering synth chords that he trickles into the mix that give a warmth and heart. The kind of joy from spotting a white poppy amidst an orange barrage. In live time, the darkness or starkness of its pre-dawn intro lights up akin to a sunrise overcoming those Simi Valley mountains. It just needs a sprinkler recording to remind you of the many green lawns that litter the town. Truly, a remarkable little gem I’m glad we’re afforded to share today.
Distance is out 10/6 on Already Dead Tapes and Records. You can Pre-Order at their Bandcamp
Illusion of Safety – ORGAN CHOIR DRONE
8.25.23 by Matty McPherson
Arvo Zylo has been keeping me in his thoughts I assume. A couple years back, Ryan tapped me to consider ESCHATOLOGY, a massive 12 tape endeavor of 24 noise splits and subterranean rumblings. It’s an essential release of the 2020s if you have the $65+ to shell out and are deeply invested in the practicing of noise and the doctors who do so on a global scale. Zylo sent one my way, but the truth was I couldn’t review that; there wasn’t an in for me in a different listening mindset. I admired it immensely though, and it gave me an in to the world Zylo has sought to curate and network. And ESCHATOLOGY did make our 2021 list and recieved a nod on that podcast, because the efforts of Zylo & the No Part of It label should not go undocumented or unacknowledged; that truly is cassette art at its finest and only rivaled by a few releases this decade in terms of unabashed sincerity and dedication to the noise. Even as I sit 8 stories high overlooking the Coronado bridge, any No Part of It release reminds me of a subterranean world that is out there waiting for the architecture to collapse and a new dawn to rise out of the ashes.
It’s why when I received a new package from Zylo out of the blue, with no immediate warning, return address, or MO, I was both a bit caught off guard but deeply humbled. Something in Zylo’s wisdom had tipped him off that I’d had Amek Drone Ensemble’s Op. 1 on the boombox for sleepy time listening. Thus, Illusion of Safety’s Organ Choir Drone seemed like the next thing that was to be. Even finally listening to it months later, fresh out of the shrink wrap, I’m amazed by the project’s sense of time. Illusion of Safety is celebrating 40 years of unlimited noise potential; releases from Digitalis Limited to WFMU, amongst a long running partnership with Zylo’s No Part of This are just a few of the breadcrumbs on discogs. It all offers a steady directions of limitless directions to choose from, as long as you like it black as can be. While there were a period of 2010s “wilderness” years with no releases, Daniel Burke’s project has been slowly cranking out tapes and reconnecting with No Part of It for a proper cassette return since 2013’s Surrender.
Daniel Burke invite Zylo to work with him in putting together a new release. By “putting together” that meant a return to the catacombs of Burke’s audio dungeon. Combing what source material could either be degraded into the tracklist, or was already a finished soundscape–just in need of the “Zylo Treatment”. It makes for a particularly touching collaboration for the noiseniks; raw Burkian sound, Zylo touches of humid noise or breakneck bass. All the while Burke is able to reconnect to raw materials or moments of triumph, like Eurorack modular sketches from 2010, used for a late Spring 2011 performance.
Organ Choir Drone might be noteworthy for how much it promises and teases an organ drone, but opts to keep it out of the frame. The first two cuts, over 12 minutes, dart between screetchy-leechy eurorack stigmata, or low-flying ambient terror; with a low-end rumble akin to black helicopters over the compound. The brevity of these pieces make for tender snapshots; both Burke and Zylo were feeding off of each other, and what Zylo was opting to curate carefully around exploring all aspects of this blackened noise, especially considering 3 of the later cuts run over 10 minutes. By track 3, Organic Pistons, when we even are finally come ear to ear with a droning organ it lulls like hunchback bells. Rumbling with a furious low end that channels a lot of intensity under an incredible sullen, discomfortingly reverent organ drone. Waste of Civilization mends all 3 of the previous side A pieces together into straight up stalker-plasma. Flashes of light come through, amongst radio static silence and the haunting non-organ drone. Yet it’s truly haunted by a piercing sound, one parallel to ferric tape wailing–if you’ve got old Columbia or EG tapes you know the sound. Quixotic in the best of ways as a listener; an extra layer of immersion to the experience.
Side B comes back bigger and deffer. It opens with a literal piece called Black Helicopters! And it sure does sound like sky monsters scraping the sky, surmounting a steelworker’s drone even Norman W. Long would shed a tear towards. That it happens to features a processed guitar chord loop gives it dimension and a space to expand to and let take over, curling over the chord into a new liquid drone. Groundswell Horns seamless enters into focus, an all encompassing blackened ambient dub cut for it’s first dozen or so minutes. It wisely jettisons any real sense of motion; just crackles, subterranean bass rumbles, and a small growl of horns. It lashes in a thrilling, visceral manner as piece swells into alien noise generator tones in its final third. It won’t swallow you whole, but it’ll really unhinge your swagger. Enough for the detente of Blackout to land as both a blessed field recording sanctuary and a heartbeat-skipping claustrophobic closing to the C50. A baptism in Eurorack never felt so spine-tickling.
Edition of 100 Tapes Available Now at the NO PART OF IT Bandcamp Page
Skull Mask – Iká
8.20.23 by Matty McPherson
I want to start this review by giving a sincere thanks to Gosha from Skull Mask. I don’t get messages through certain emails or non-twitter social media channels often, but they are open. And Gosha contacted me very much on the fly internationally with a tape from a label I wasn’t aware of, but very much in the vein of what I had been desiring from Radio Khiyaban’s 2022 releases, Senyawa’s 2021 masterwork, or any of the kinds of long arching, droning tones that envelop and win you over. Back in April I knew immediately this was going to be a tremendous release but that I would need time with it down the line. Gosha, thank you immensely for the cassette that has been needed during this summer.
Skull Mask, which is often just Miguel Pérez (Ciudad Juarez, Mexico based if I’m to believe) on guitar amongst a litany of other players in his orbit, have been working on their sound dating back to 2007. They debuted with “Cassette 2007”, but the first major release on the bandcamp will date back to 2012′ Sahumerio. Improvisational drone guitar is a reliant stalwart to several releases in catalog, but it is one based in psychedelic tones akin to anything between eastern asian music or crunchy, lo-fi desert blues, or blackened yet reverent gothic noise gospel. Peréz’s project and collaborations thrive on the space provided to them, both live and in cassette format that has been shied away from for too long.
Now, the private press cassette, like the jazz vinyl, is perhaps at its peak form when it is utilized for two longforms. And Skull Mask’s curation of Iká of two performances is a massive invitation into both an absolutely tantalizing duo amongst a promising European tape frontier. The tape might be an investment for those domestic bandcampers here in America (it’s an import from Raash), but Iká sees Skull Mask in peak form. It’s near 23 minutes fire off akin to a sepia toned nitrate print of a desert film; atmospherics are the main sleight. Afterall, Skull Mask is rarely about the drums, but the fanatical tone that boils deep to its core. As Gosha Hniu joins on wheel lyre (AKA hurdy-gurdy; also he mastered both tracks), he strikes an immaculate, sauntering drone that Pérez’s chords dance off of amidst an apocalyptic wasteland. It’s a sturdy balance that offers a primo snapshot of their August 2022. Side A is a Cafe OTO performance from August 10th, 2022 is a tour de force of that has been a reliant barometer for the low simmering insanity local tropical storms, heat waves, and nights that sweat up and choke you. As that is what the piece truly must have felt like to that Cafe OTO crowd last year.
Side 2 picks up a few days later at the Supernormal Festival (8/13/22) where stately droning and chord dabbling is not the move. What ensues is an immensely exciting happening of Skull Mask realizing itself in the moment and adhering towards “Iká” itself, a true wind piece. The result is conciser, yet more hectic tonal re-mapping of side 1 (itself recoloring the piece as not just one of droning, but wind energy). Side 2 opens practically en media res, with Peréz’s stable junker chords while the hurdy-gurdy drone deconstructs itself; this time as a shrieking wind noise takes greater focus in the mix at first. But quickly, things settle into a slinkier pattern. Peréz’s chords bounce about, a great tour-de-force, while the wind sound never dissipates but grows with hurricane intensity. It creates a deranged crescendo of sorts that suddenly becomes a staggering steam whistle. The kind that shrieks like a siren and pulls out a deep, CHUNKY energy in Peréz’s chords that becoming intensely meditative listens. It’s a riveting performance; as if the intensity of the improvisation always stays above 100 Fahrenheit. Steamy, not sweaty, drone work that has been missing in rotation this summer.
I mentioned earlier that this release came out on Raash Records; a Talipot Industrial, Jerusalem, Israel based label with their own radio show and DIY happenings (amongst a big love for Memphis Rap at least by the prospect of one mixtape for purchase). . It’s a region of tape labels Tabs Out have rarely covered but owe more to. Keep an eye out for what Raash is releasing on vinyl and tape, and if you can, pick up Skull Mask before the tape sells out. Seriously, the O Card packaging of that bird is enigmatic as all could be, and the tactical liner notes on the J-Card is a packaging sleight for the ages.