Track Premiere! The Exit Bags – At Least I Know Now
7.29.23 by Matty McPherson
It’s been a grueling July. The heat is the giveaway, “hottest month recorded in human history”, after all. But it is in the details of the heat that therein lies the strangely cruel magnitude. Not too far from my house is an asphalt road. It was poorly paved over an underwater creek bed. Every winter shower, it bubble over and runs amok. The city nor the county chose to maintain the road. They let a stream of water spend the last 6 months gently dribble down and create algae debris and a litany of the most colorful weeds this side of North San Diego county. Well the heat proper finally dried that asphalt creek riverbed up. The magnitude is small, but the feeling lingers.
Anyways we turn our attention up towards Edmonton, Alberta, where my observation feels like naive, wishful. There’s more than 10 dozen fires currently raging up there. The magnitude of that destruction doesn’t escape me one bit from my time spent in Isla Vista where 2017-2020 burns imparted a new wariness amongst students of all ilk. And it rings in my head while in the thick of Michael James’ return to “The Exit Bags” moniker. Back in 2021 Michael came to Drongo with a tender, lowkey effort, Tower of Quiet. We premiered a track then! And now, James returns to Drongo with a new release, Our Sun Will Clean its Holy Wounds, out on September 1st. And he comes bearing a humid, thick bass-grounded slow burner of a cut that might as well be the soundtrack of the late stage summers from here on out. Here at Tabs Out, we (well, myself!) are getting out of our summer funk with a track premiere of The Exit Bags’ second single, “At Least I Know Now”. You’ll find the video & Bandcamp stream above and the image of album artwork below.
It’s an exceptional refinement of where Michael James’ slowcore-tinged palette was in 2021. There’s a humid THICK crunch to the sound that rushes to the red. The result of those pulsing drums and lurching bass that make up the bulk of the track proper. but also fragile quietLOUDquiet bursts that run amok towards the end. It all culminates in the kind that sounds both unwieldy expansive yet conveys the summer heat, if not personal anguish, bearing down on you. Whatever James is mining at here on “At Least I Know Now”, it’s conveyed with utmost deftness that defines the personality of each Drongo Release
Scranton, Pennsylvania based Snake Eggs has achieved about a decade’s worth of nebulous bandcamp transmissions. All tied to the long running digital label Stress Carrier. Approaching 100 releases, Stress Carrier’s discogs page is a graveyard, although their varied presence across bandcamp, facebook, and twitter do indicate that this has been a lively era long endeavor of capturing independent and experimental music in Northeastern Pennsylvania happening with great frequency. Many free downloads are abound if that sort of interests you.
With the notion of whether or not the label or Snake Eggs has done physicals before not able to be pinned down in any capacity, we should stick with what we know about their latest, Ceremony I, the cowering. “New mixtape of sorts; reassembles and recontextualizes fragments of sound into a cryptic, haunted narrative.” It’s quite a simple and inviting C34 of two long plays that do end up charting a refined execution of multi-part composition; the kind fit for the cassette format. Ceremony I, the cowering reveals depth in listening, amongst a strong fascination for global genre splicing and movement that the cassette experience does entertain most splendidly.
Phase 1 has a solid flow starting with subterranean backchannel FM and closing with rapture level ritualistic drone. For an 18 minute piece that’s a tricky proposition to set course on, but there’s a real excitement to the opening minutes of strange rhythms and voices moving through static. The sudden pivot into lo-fi indie is washed out, startled to be there itself, a piece of hypnagogia unexpected. And that is before the final eight or so minutes of deep sea ambient exploring and accelerating towards the depths of drone.
Phase 2 ups environmental sounds and effects. There’s helicopters and machine guns, a strange trip to a zone far from the garage right now. Gurgling war machines, and a low hanging spectral synth drone; the kind of a giant red sun. Well, at least that’s the opening 4ish minutes before we turn to an interlude of space machine bleeping and folk that’s artifact’d. All gives way though, to a single guitar chord that reverberates and becomes the drone under bird noises of a non-organic materiality. Again, the band seem to test the elasticity of one chord droning to carry this piece, as it transitions towards a gong’s drone that soon ebbs into a percussive clanking akin to footing and flutes likened to the highlands. It chews the idea for a while, before quickly fading out.
While Phase 2 seems to be a little more stretched on how to edits these ideas together over 15 minutes, it never ceases to be such a beguiling listen. It is as if the possible musics Bardo Todol’s field recordings often suggest are around the corner suddenly did arise. And Snake Eggs in Scranton, PA happens to answer that desire, in stunning lo-fi. With a handful of copies of the tape left, a mighty recommendation goes towards the adventurous zoners.
Edition of 21 Tapes Shipping Now at the Snake Eggs Bandcamp Page!
D.I.H.D. is more a distro/personal imprint than a record label proper. Human Adult Band, a recent Already Dead alum, runs the joint and keeps things focused on a consistent barrage of their own projects (their website was last updated a month ago with new release for both the Finnish html site + email-based HYSTERtapes & mailordrdr + Already Dead). Although the 2 decade long project abides by one particular mission: a yearly “Gunk Music” compilation. ‘Thunk Gunk’ was the 7th year’s edition that arrived on the deck and has recently seen a long awaited panning out. The compilation’s rules are simple: a smattering of the artists Human Adult Band has been in contact with in the last year. It runs about 50% entirely fresh names with barren discogs pages amongst massive catalog and decade spanning noise mavericks n’ sound practitioners. A heady compilation that connects to several other ends outside just the walls of a bandcamp roundup.
Things start with Philadelphia-based Jesse Sinclair Dewlow’s long running lo-fi project, People Skills. A refined rocker for the compilation that reels you in. And by track two, Reynols, the Argentinian experimental band (lone international act) with recordings that date back to 1993, has arrived with a Here, they show up with a feedback bounce house of blasting riffs and vocal mantras. Carbon Records boss + noise maverick, Joe+N shows up with a harmonic mending of guitar orchestral epiphanies and basement fuzz; it’s an absolute treat for fans of the easy magic of a “slowcored n’ post-rock’d” crescendo that shows off the possibility when kept short and sweet.
Yet after these almost household names, Thunk Gunk pivots into the newbie undercard! Half a House, is a free folk artist within the New Jersey area with performances that date back to 2015. The moniker basically untraceable. Rooftop Gardens’ make their debut appearance with a title track comprised of a drum machine droney motorik beat, and guitar that wobbles like a blue warhead in yr mouth. Alice Fawn follows with two dimly lit folk sketches. The second, May it Come True, an especially tender cut based around her dazzling voice that suddenly just ends. Siesta Rates’ Kubrick Stare seems like it was meant it for Julia’s War.
Meanwhile, Human Adult Band’s Th’ Spot (Long Branch 2019) is washed out lazer noise n’ guitar wails. Max Nordle, Paisley Shirt alum, takes to the K records-damaged-cut slot of the tape, pulling beatnik poetry under a rattling noir boondocks the best a one man show can muster. While Joe(amazing) isn’t a household name, his work with the Brown Christmas for their 2016 Orb Tape sure is with Tabs Out audiences! And as the detente, he literally dazzles, seriously his synth line rides with the force of a green laser pen. All is to say…a good Thunk Gunk
Tape available at Carbon Records or https://www.dihd.net/(If you can get that later link to work!)
Hole Dweller – Flies the Coop (Dungeon Deep) Delaware Dan – No Problem 911 Clip Show (Apartment 421) Night Sky Body – Soft Sculptures (Kimberly Dawn Recordings) Hole Dweller – Flies the Coop II (Dungeon Deep) Clang Quartet – A Slow Death For The Peacemaker (No Rent / Strange Mono) The OT X-TET – The Bridge To Total Freedom (Home Assembly Music) Hole Dweller – Jamwine’s Unfinished Tales (Dungeon Deep) Decade In Exile – Transit Pulse (Crash Symbols) Clan of the Cave Bear – Prove You’re Human (Mistake by the Lake) Anteater – Flora & Fauna (self released)
Lanayah, “a ‘fairly unclassifiable blackened screamo’ collective based in Santa Barbara, CA & Seattle, WA” [at the House of Drongo], ought to be a household name. Well, in reality, they were sorta a household name if you happened to know the Santa Barabara/Ventura/805 scene AND/OR Drongo tapes back around 2019 and the fateful pre-pandemic weeks of 2020. Lanayah have long been gestating in that region, with a Bandcamp release dating back to 2016, but a proper Drongo debut from 2019, Forever in May. That later one made small waves amongst a few dedicated individuals–Thom from Planning for Burial, if I recall correctly, was a staunch supporter of the album during that time. And for good reason. Forever in May was an absolutely bonkers lil’ doomgaze tape that seemed particularly focused on finding precarious snippets of downtime, droning and crashing into something mighty. The trance characteristics, amongst the heavy bliss out that was hiding underneath it all, would become especially apparent during an auditorium show where I’d be introduced to the gang of Will (vocals/head screamer), Lynn (guitars), Ethan (drums), and Ari (synths, kyma, organ, tape loops/tactical warfare guru).
Now nearly four years later, and after another era of gestating, the Lanayah collective has returned in new form. Ethan may have left, with Michael Tsang now performs drum duties; meanwhile both Isabelle Thorn (of Dear Laika, half a world away) & Elliott Hansen (CEO of Drongo Tapes) fill in vocal and tape loop auxiliary roles, respectively. Everyone’s contribution reveal I’m Picking Lights in a Field… as an airtight C41 that sees the collective both paying attention to larger shifts in online heavy music, while also dialing in their own ability to cast off ecstatic, divine compositions with immense precision. The kinds that you accept whole and take everything.
A lot happens in four years, enough that renders the tape’s 8 tracks as bonafide genre polyglots. Sewn together to reflect the brilliant, tumultuous pacing shifts that keep yr ears perked up. Lanayah’s capacity for the ethereal had been noted last go around. And now there’s a greater sense of space and varied tension in cuts thanks largely to the auxiliary players and the main lineup’s dedication to explore these textures. Sometimes, like the staunch opener Aspen, there’s a digital crunch enough to carry the tension, and even in the case of Peak and Core, it becomes the framework for its own kind of wobbly, wonky quietLOUDquiet cut. While other times, like in Staring Blankly, it operates as an intricate detail in the mix; an extra crispness that recalls the effortless work Loathe amounted to on their 2020 metalcore masterstroke. This is all but confirmed with Picking Lights in a Field. It’s a highlight, not an interlude, that strips away all tension to revea the production on the loop’s acting as a memory of a memory. The cut itself recalls alternative rock demos, but then strips it down until its wailing effervescence amongst skyscrapers in the distant lights. If there’s one area for heavy, cyborg-esque metalcore music to continue exploring, it’s here.
Yet unlike Loathe, Lanayah can write sub-90 second sludge punk that functions as either an intro to a piece (Insects in their Immersion), or an intricate moment to a song. Knife, Mirror in particular finds that sludgy energy and marries it under a blackened rainbow of a synth line that blisters forward during reverent choruses that actively make me want to melt like a popsicle in the sun. It truly feels like letting everything go. Especially as things pick up on the superblast of a closer, Carrying Fire. It’s an all killer, no filler closer; the kind where knotty riffs and wailing guitars burst into massive fills and uncompromising drones. It’s to the piece’s credit that it repeatedly shifts its bpms and uses everything at its disposal (especially those tape loops and synths) to create an omnibus akin to a steel mill at its most industrious. And it’s fun enough to want to loop back to the start and begin the begin all over again.
Edition of 200 Tapes available now at the Drongo Tapes Bandcamp Page!
Michael Cormier-O’Leary – Heard From the Next Room Over
6.23.23 by Matty McPherson
Lily’s Tapes and Discs has been a quietly upstanding outpost in Rochester, New York, deep in the heart the Hudson Valley. The region’s mass migration (a result of COVID, at least on a secondary level) and ample space has seen it begin to flourish into a real regional community outside NYC happening across the past few years. From the new sounds of Island House to longtime experimental maverick movers and shakers like M. Geddes Gengras and Ben Seretan making it their home (Seretan also recently became Basilica Hudson curator), alongside venues like Tubby’s having successfully navigated COVID era restrictions to hold down a five year festival party. Yup, it’s sort of a powerhouse in new, regional American musics.
Yet, Lily’s Tapes and Discs has been fighting the DIY fight long before, at times circling and encroaching on a variety on gumshoes and mavericks that keep their nose to the 4-track recorder and work on home recording apparitions and sleights. The label sent Tabs Out a handful of their Fall 2022 releases, which came off of a lovely summer 2022 that included the Natural Park Service’s latest slowcore sleeper masterstroke. And as such, I’ve been sort of keeping the tapes quietly to myself and my boombox in the wee-hours when applicable.
I do love Lily’s Tapes and Discs strangely uniform design: a font that’s not quite “grouper helvetia” or “drongo new roman” (some of my other favorite fonts) but often reflects a humble, imperfectly scurried font; color palettes that often employ earth greens and hand drawn drawings that recall crayola tuesday at the elementary; a j-card that folds out to reveal a whole other half of a paper finessed into liner notes; amongst a gold foil on the tape shell. There is a smell that comes with this type of uniformity in tape design, a smell of woodland oak and fine pine wine to be exact. The rustic homemade psychedelia of Lily’s Tapes and Discs can do that to one, I suppose.
Such is the case with one of the best DIY-tape modes that I’ve been a bit privy towards recently: the homespun rehearsal tape. Michael Cormier-O’Leary’s “Heard From the Next Room Over” is one such tape, a sudden spurt of January 2022 recordings that seemed to just drop out of a hat and into a C25. I was drawn to the tape by merit of its title, which almost seemed to become a daring desire of how to approach these tunes. Up close with headphones, and well yes you’ll be especially attuned to the pedal clamps, the studio set-up sounds, and the small quivers that each key provides. Tune it out and play it over the hi-fi, in another room over or underneath whatever anime boxset you have out that the library will let you keep for half a year, Cormier-O’Leary’s keys become a sound bath, if not just fulfills a sort of utilitarian purpose its title promises. Really there is not a lot I can emphasize about Cormier-O’Leary’s playing or MO on this recording besides that each cut carries a velvety finesse and familiarity. It happens to reflect a particularly strong day of piano rehearsal.
The mode that tapes like this provide, from Tara Jane O’Neil’s 2021 sketches for Orindal or Ross Hammond’s guitar practice tape from last fall on Full Spectrum, is one of both intense listening as much as a window into the past. A strong day of rehearsal can sometimes just summon such stirrings. The kinds where my minds recedes towards when I lived with a piano. Its sound filled the house and its hallway. Was it pleasant? I suppose so, especially at the age of six. Do I wax nostalgic for it really? Well it never was delivered with the delicacy that a six year old can provide. At least nothing that Michael Cormier-O’Leary could not have found with the dazzling key changes and cooing haptics of a rehearsal well spent.
Edition of 75 pro-dubbed gold foil tapes. Packaged with full-color j-cards with artwork by Francis Lyons (circlechange.net), numbered and assembled by hand at LTD Headquarters available now!
Have you ever watched your famous empty pond become…well I guess an unempty pond? One filled with winter rains that slowly evaporate across spring? But have you ever had it evaporate so slowly algae starts to suddenly grow and turn the granite colored water to swamp granite? That empty pond…it’s aging well in its late day life; never thought I’d see a day where it would mature enough to have algae here on the property. But today, it does.
I suppose there’s something within that paragraph above you could untangle a connection to the KSR/Wind Tide split from January 6th of this year, released by the sterling, PHYSICAL, tape label of New Mexico. We come nearly half a year after its release, as my ears have continued to mature (and bubble like algae?), once again finding myself back to craving the gaps and the space between the noise; they bubble like algae I suppose. Anyways, K/S/R is comprised of Abigail Smith, Justin Rhody, and Ben Kujawski, and they happen to keep their feet low to the ground. They’ve been working with PHYSICAL before on releasing other 2022 recordings at the No Name Cinema and the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. This time their work in the venue sees the trio laid down three inquisitive, low-rumbling improvisations of wind instruments and stringed playing. It maintains one hand in free-jazz and another in rudimentary slow finger picking. Smith and Rhody often complement themselves thanks to their flute and violin playing, respectively; it’s the kind where both of the performer seems to be trying a tickle of a flute or a ghastly high-wire chord crash out of each other. All the while, Kujawski hangs underneath with impressive electronic bass or free form pedal steel and unkmept percussive. Together, the trio’s free forms on Side A are nothing short of a small ruminations. Fit for dusk or dawn, these are pieces that labor slowly in their space, beckoning to be beamed on your porch in the comedown or come-up of a scorching desert day. The energy of the pieces themselves reflect low desert plains and the tourist traps of lost wisdom found within, tangled lethargic balls of energy that keep you a minute and seem to take you somewhere further out.
Of course, Side B will lead us to perhaps the best non-tourist trap in the plains of West Texas: the Wind Tide studio in Littefield’s downtown. Have you ever visited Wind Tide studio? It’s quite the spacious endeavor. Wind Tide, Gretchen Korsmo & Andrew Weathers, keep the endeavor as an open-book affair, which is what makes Wind Tide (the project) a rather exciting, enticing proposition. The 2020 era releases from the two were obsessed with the studio space itself, turning their home loft/studio/etc into one grand musique concrete tribute and experience to the time and place. But as that energy has furthered back into Full Spectrum’s land art MO, Wind Tide has found themselves industrious as ever. The resulting tinkering with synth almost-pop and drone works (most notably 2021’s haunting surprise, Saturation Dust) has given the project’s longforms their own sense of adventure. Turn Up the Periwinkle is a serendipitous experience for Korsmo & Weathers, pushing away any traces of the project’s naturalism or intrinsically sweetness for a relatively brevity focused speculative fiction oriented soundtrack soundscape. Both the duo utilize synths (of an unknown source), as well as clarinet & tenor sax (respectively). With further instrumentation including lap steel and piano keys with even microcassette (loops?) and a shruti box being brought in, the duo work refinements towards a strange kind of monolithic entity. The synths radiate like plutonium, with a glisten that sugarcoats the ear. As such, the shruti box and microcassette loops maintain prescient buoyancy in the mix, as the horn and clairnet paint oblong shapes amongst their cryptid notes. Its calming though. Especially in the moments the synths drone at their lowest and leave them just playing off each other. The kinship to that moment, two souls on the Texas prairie just rehearsing their own prairie jazz. A fine day’s work.
Edition of 100 copies w/download code, professionally dubbed with gold printed shells, are available now at the PHYSICAL Bandcamp Page
Don’t anticipate to find much information on groffic currently. A twitter that indicates a presence between Texas and Oklahoma with work that dates back to 2021, a groffic gorilla logo by Jordan Kelley, and a bandcamp page that ponders “Does it think of me as much as I have given thought to it?”. All is mystery to my eyes, but the truth is that Bad Luck Comparing Hands, the groffic debut cassette self-release, untangles the mystery a bit. There’s a picture of a friendly looking individual inside, someone who likely haunts the country fauna of the Texas plains. It was mastered FOR CASSETTE by none other than Angel Marcloid, whom is thanked alongside glitch[dot]cool, God is War, Semantix, Little Mountain House, and a few other artists that possibly suggest a semblance of a scene–part meatspace, part digital–of likeminded individuals working together in realms of “hyper”-glitch, high-pitch jitterbug electronic listening music, and deconstructed rave textures.
If those genre labels sound enticing (or you like early PC music), well Bad Luck Comparing Hands, is likely going to be an incredibly smooth soulful listen. groffic’s thirteen tracks are giggly, bubbly romps; illuminating synapses in the process that construct a pathway out of the club and into the psychedelic tropics of that j-card. A lot of which is the result of groffic’s pacing across the 13 cuts. Tenacious and high-wire like Orange Milk or Hausu Mountain sleights streamlined into a full fizzled DJ mix stuttering on command. Tracks sort of collapse into each other, united by a whatever thread was last on the mix: a vocal texture, a fizzling high bpm drum, or a synth line that keeps the eye on the prize. The result is that downtime on Bad Luck Comparing Hands becomes a rarity, but its not to be treated a luxury; groffic’s one-track mindset is such a draw itself that the tape’s consistent punchy textures and dopamine jackpot deconstructions. It’s other worldly big sounding music. Less focus on the low-end package, with a greater emphasis towards vocal frys, metal sounds, and hyperrealist urban blights in mid-end that wake one from a pre-conscious slumber. You’ll seem to have a greater realization of where you are as you hear the tape.
As such, it makes natural sense that groffic didn’t just do a cassette release. There’s still a handful of “DIY VHS includes the entire album accompanied by visuals for each song which combine AI visualizations with other video”. These kinds of releases are rare–calling back to Already Dead’s release of Muave from early 2023–but I cannot help but endorse the release full stop. groffic’s tunes at their best moments on the tape carry that kind of potency of wearing the “THEY LIVE” sunglasses, realizing everything around you isn’t what it is. To marry that to new images, like the one suggested on the cover, only seems to hint at where groffic is further taking the music towards.
Edition of 100 tapes and 10 VHS tapes are now available at the groffic Bandcamp page.
Welcome to I Love Your Label, a new column on Tabs Out, where Zach Mitchell interviews the heads of tape labels about their labels and artists. For the inaugural entry, I spoke with Raegan Labat of Tough Gum, a Baton Rouge, LA tape label specializing in left field, colorful, home recorded punk. You may also know Raegan as the bassist in the live formation of Feel It Records artists Spllit. Check the label’s tapes out over on Bandcamp, and their video series over on YouTube.
ZM: How did Tough Gum initially start?
RL: Me and Ryan [Welsh] started this music festival and we ended up collaborating with this other band Loudness War. We called it WarFair. We would try to bring in bands that we didn’t get to see here a lot. I did this twice, maybe? I was like “I really don’t have my name on any of this shit and I kind of want recognition.” I was already wanting to get press passes to do photo stuff at concerts, so I was like “I’m gonna start a blog.” I already had a name, but I didn’t know what it was going to be. I hadn’t started it yet because I didn’t have a clear vision of what it was, and that’s kind of what it became. I just started to describe it as a file folder of things I was doing. If you look back on old [Instagram] posts you’d probably see playlists, festival content, photo diaries, and I was also booking shows under the name. Then the pandemic hit. I knew I always wanted to start a label but I didn’t know how, so I just started following – just like everyone else in music scenes – DIY labels and seeing people make more tapes. Somehow, a live video series and a tape label started to form. I got a tape deck and it just happened.
ZM: Thematically, what do you think Tough Gum really is? Is there a Tough Gum sound you’re looking for or is it just whatever strikes your fancy as it comes across your plate?
RL: I feel like it’s more whatever strikes my fancy. I don’t feel like a curator, I just have my tastes. I was booking a lot of energetic punk shows. I was bringing the kind of stuff I wish we had in Baton Rouge but just wasn’t happening. That was me being self-serving, but I knew it was really fucking cool and I wanted people to get into it. People did get into it! No one formed punk bands after that, but, y’know, people had a great time. With the label, I had similar ideas and wanted to bring interesting sounds and stuff that I really loved to the audience I already had. I think the Tough Gum sound is definitely per my taste but I’m looking for new and unique sounds that really energize me and make me feel like I really want to help share this person’s stuff with people.
ZM: It seems like a lot of the Tough Gum output is pretty regional to Baton Rouge. What’s the Baton Rouge scene like these days?
RL: During Covid, it really dissipated. It became disconnected. People weren’t doing a lot in person, obviously, and I don’t really recall a lot of stuff being put out. After that, it was very slow to pick up as a committed scene. The Baton Rouge scene has always been very eclectic. There’s a mix of sounds and individual crews doing whatever they’re doing. They all come together for live shows, it’s pretty cool.
ZM: I want to talk about your history with cassettes a little bit. Have you been a cassette lifer or did you pick up collecting them at a certain point in your life?
RL: I really don’t know! I remember my first record, how I started collecting, and what I started collecting first but with tapes, I don’t know. You know me and physical media – I have an addiction and an appreciation. I’d imagine that it ramped up at the same time [as Tough Gum starting] for me. It’s always the cheapest thing on the merch table, at least compared to the records. Ever since I got an actual player I started getting more and more. Before that, my only memory [of tapes] is with my dad. He used to run a nightclub in LaPlace [Louisiana] of all places – like an alternative, new wave nightclub. He was the owner, bartender, and DJ. He made mixtapes for it and that’s kind of the sentimental aspect of cassettes. I cherish having those and seeing the designs and how he curated stuff.
STEEF – POST F
ZM: With Steef, everything on it makes sense together but it covers a lot of genre ground over 16 minutes. There’s zolo stuff, straight ahead punk stuff, and a really funny dance song on there. Which one is that?
RL: “Get Uglier.”
ZM: There’s also a silly element to it, which I hope you don’t find insulting.
RL: Sounds like Stevie [Spring]! I feel like this and the Fake Last Name record are really similar in that there are, like, 30 different genres attached [to those releases]. But yeah, I remember when Stevie sent [the album] to me. I was on Side A and I was like “sick, I’m so excited for this.” On Side B I was like, “what’s going on? This record completely changed!” It sounded like a lot of his solo stuff. He’s, just to put it out there, a pop master. He’s XTC’s biggest fan. I feel like he has this pop sensibility and just loves to sing. He’s also good at making “Ableton Punk,” which is just bizarre, freaky sounds. He creates his own world.
ZM: I was surprised at his pipes, honestly. I feel like a lot of vocals in bedroom punk stuff just end up being an afterthought and are buried in the mix. Dude wants to croon a little bit.
RL: Yeah, with the harmonies and everything! I feel like it makes it more unexpected. The melodies and sounds on that album are kind of a strange vibe.
Urq – Stop Mania/Scrapped Ideas
ZM: Urq is probably the closest to Steef in sound, but it’s a little more straightforward. You released a cassingle, which is cool. I think you told me you only did a cassingle because you bought the wrong tape, right?
RL: I misordered the Steef tapes! I’m also obsessed with singles and I love a good b-side. I had a lot of good ideas for singles but Matthew [of Urq] ended up having the energy to come up with an idea for how to use the tape. He has other records that aren’t as straightforward, like stuff that’s more into the strange, Residents-y world. Very strange, weird voice alterations and characters. For his single, he sent me two options and this is the one I picked. The other was a mega-song that would be split and you’d have to flip [the tape], but I didn’t think it would make sense for the format. I just loved the guitar lead on side A. It’s all about sugar addiction. He started performing live as a one man band and I think it’s everything me and his friends have wanted to see him do.
ZM: That’s what I liked about the single, I could tell it was kinda the poppier end of what he wanted to do with this project.
RL: I agree. His record The Castle Has a Backdoor is also very poppy. This leaned away from that garage sound and more towards the stuff that he’s good at. It’s still the Ableton sound. He’s still in there slicing and dicing. But even this single has a strange B-side that was kind of an “ok, that’s what we’re doing?” moment like Steef’s b-side. He also likes to write pop songs.
Fake Last Name – It’ll Happen Again
ZM: This one breaks the mold of the other two a bit. It’s still very homespun but it’s spooky.
RL: To have started my label with this is so important to me. [It’s] not only because Ronni has been such a dear best friend to me for 10 years, but everything about it is what’s important to me and important to running a label. It’s all home recorded. It’s got field recordings in it and it’s kind of experimental. It’s so vulnerable in the lyrical content. Just knowing the artist and the way they work – I dunno. I just respect it so much and love the sound of it, everything it’s about. No one really knew how to talk about it and when they did talk about it it was so different from everyone else. It was cool.
ZM: That’s how I felt about it too. I definitely liked it but I dunno. I felt like I shouldn’t have been spooked by it but there’s definitely a “someone whispering from around a corner” element to it.
RL: Those recordings were born out of lock down and getting fired. I don’t know if any of the themes of getting fired made it into there, but –
ZM: There’s one song on there.
ZM: Yeah. I don’t think I got fired vibes from it but I did get very “I am worried about my employment and the impact it has on me” vibes which, again, is very pandemic related.
RL: For sure, there’s a lot of sensitive and vulnerable themes on that record, which is admirable to me. I don’t write or make my own music currently. I just love it with all my heart. It was recorded on a four track!
Time Out Room – Tight Ass Goku Pictures
ZM: This one isn’t punk but still kinda falls in line with the homespun bedroom pop sound.
RL: This one is back to the four track vibes. I think he altered his voice by pressing on the tape and wiggling it. Only recently did I learn that all the drums were from a Casio keyboard. I just remember listening to it and when I started hearing these old sounds of where my record collection started I got a little jittery and excited. I fell in love with it immediately but I just kept listening to it over and over again. It was unlike anything I’d put out before but it was still very unique. He’s local, so it fits in in that sense. It wasn’t a question [of if I should put it out], it was just a question of the details.
ZM: Most of the other tapes from your label are all from the Spllit family of artists but this one is from outside of that. I was wondering how that came about.
RL: What’s crazy is that he was just in a rut and Stevie told him if he did something I might put it out. He just had that in his head. He apparently locked himself away for two months and fleshed out this album. I moved to Baton Rouge for college in 2013. At that time he had either just moved or was moving [from Baton Rouge] to New Orleans. He was in this scene way before I got here. He was in a band called Melters. They were this garage, pop-punk sort of thing. I wasn’t around for that, but I’ve learned that it was Taylor [McCrary, the artist behind Timeout Room] writing pop smash hits for them as well. There’s just something warm about this release. I loved the way it sounded.
ZM: There’s something really nostalgic to it, especially with all the little interludes that are kind of like weird radio transitions.
RL: I’m sure when I first heard it I was like, “do we need those?” but I’m not the artist. It grew on me. It’s also silly. It all fits together into this wholesome vibe I must be drawn to.
Look out for new releases by Spllit and Fake Last Name out on Tough Gum soon!
There are those Tuesday night dinners, the ones that reek of mundanity. A Monday dinner can be mundane, but the expectations are low enough as is no one will signal to you otherwise. But the tTesday dinner…well there’s something about microwave leftover pasta bake and a re-run of Chopped that sort of signifies a rather a white flag has been waved with an utmost lack of contempt. Then again, these dinners are nice if you find yourself tuned into the whole chopped game trying to brainstorm yourself another dinner, or just enjoying the company and breezy weather.
Of course my mind always imagines what are the basket ingredients of today’s tape? Think for a second, if you’d been given: Blue marble shell. Paper o-card with a plastic protector. Drums, piano, and double bass. & finally, “symbiotic, cermaic instruments.” Exactly what are do you craft here budzo? It all smells of an early pandemic era endeavor sneaking its way into the world! Wouldn’t you say so judges?
Yet, Roxanne Nesbitt at least claims that the endeavor, an ask into “how abstract instruments can make music in combination with drums, piano, and double bass,” had been brainstormed out previous to the outbreak. The whole experiment just happened to adopt easily to asynchronous recordings with Ben Brown and Marielle Groven over the following year. Both Nesbitt and Brown take composition credits on three and four cuts, respectively . The kinds of cuts that intermingle smoky almost-ambient, almost free jazz with outside ceramic rumbling, tumbling, and downright haptic illusions. “Play Symbiotic Instruments” is one of 2023’s more unexpected jazz delights. That kind of odyssey focused on the rollicking downtime and interplay on the fringe of what constitutes jazz and free downtempo beat crafting or wind chime spiritual dirges. It finds am immense level of return in how Nesbitt and Brown take to defining their own respective tracks that incorporate this “ceramic instrument” basket ingredient to its fullest potential.
The ceramic instruments themselves are akin to bowls or percussive instruments that seek to be bludgeoned or mistreated with the finesse of a preschooler on a little tots set or a seasoned xylophone maestro. Both Nesbitt and Brown have particular quirks to their respective pieces that present that. Brown emphasizes haptics and start-stop spurts; moments to test where an improv is going to scurry towards. Often jagged and tumultuous in their rumbling, as “Chauffeur” reveal, if not wind-skipped and floaty, as the spacious “Symbiotic Blues” starts before unfurling back towards the former. Meanwhile, Nesbitt cares about delicacy in the atmosphere. On her side A compositions, “Blues Seas” and “Tangent” Touch, the two are illustrious in their mood; utilizing strings and bells amongst the bass and ceramic keys to create a silky balance. A serenity emerges that feels akin to stepping into a dimly lit jazz lounge jam or almost-dub; all smoke, no mirrors. Both have approaches give the tape a legitimate sense of replayability to its sequencing, as both Nesbitt and Brown’s own respective cuts execute the usage of the ceramics with such opposing outcomes.
Side B sees the trio hitting a particular resonance, with them seeming to come together and lock into genuinely spirit raising rhythmic jamming. You can hear this quite well on “Wild Bell No. 3,” the kind of jam that sounds like a wind gong, or symphony of chimes being clamored at a steady pace by the wind, while a prickly key motif winds itself up every few seconds. That intro to the piece is the kind of atonal music that a toddler (well, at least this toddler) was attracted to making and trancing out to, although with sharper ears these days I could bluff myself into thinking it was a Cage Prepared Piano tribute; it even carries a sharp metronomic tap and reverb to it. “Pitch Police” almost approaches chamber-punk songwriting as its drum fills crash like twenty foot waves (or sawed off shotgun double barrel blasts) against the fickle keys and featherweight ceramic chimes, almost into a pop structure. Our detente, “Bowls,” meanwhile moves to haptic “plop!” mode with snappy rhythms that suddenly gain brass treble and become a hypnotic paean to the exercise of playing Symbiotic Instruments.
Edition of 200 tapes shipping from the Small Scale Music Montreal Bandcamp page!