Catching up with FTAM Productions

8.14.19 by Ryan Masteller

FTAM Productions out of Milwaukee releases some noisy noise stuff on cassette tape (also other media, but do you really need to know about that here?). Let’s see what they’ve been up to, shall we?

Some joker at the Milwaukee Maker Faire decided it would be a good idea to let FTAM curate a noise show. Was it a good idea? Who knows! But surely there were many a “Great set!” handed out to the performers at the event. “We Made Some Sounds” is all the documentation you’ll ever need, though, to decide for yourself. Four artists are represented here: The Smudge, Bachelorette Party, Dan of Earth, and Lucky Bone. The Smudge marries hellish samples and ear-splitting feedback. Bachelorette Party does similar things but subtler, as if you can call waves of piercing sonics subtle. Still, the loud/quiet/loud dynamics is excellent, and if you listen hard enough, you’ll even parse some melody! Dan of Earth is all HNW knob-twiddling, which would have been ultra-intense to an audience member. And Lucky Bone warps ten minutes of what sounds like guitar noodling with what probably is an industrial magnet. The cassette-only bonus track is found sounds from the Faire. Was it fun? Probably! Exhausting? You bet!

Speaking of HNW releases, Taskmaster is a blistering madperson. Heavy processed harsh walls of noise (which is what HNW sort of stands for, except rearrange the words a little bit) empty from speakers like a lava flow into your bedroom, consuming everything it touches and making a hole in the floor and then into the foundation and finally into the Earth’s crust itself. It LITERALLY sounds like that, so much so that maybe Taskmaster just does field recordings of active volcanoes. But regardless, letting the new Taskmaster tape engulf you is just the start of the fun. Once inside (you or it in it or you, depending on your perspective), subtleties emerge, and gradual shifts become more apparent. But to point to subtlety while ignoring the sheer power of this release is folly: you will come away from Taskmaster’s output seismically changed, your core tectonics all goofed up inside you. But isn’t that the point?

I don’t think I’ve ever had a mind eraser, and it sounds horrible: Kahlua, lemon-lime soda, and vodka, layered over ice. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a mixed-drink enthusiast. In fact, I don’t drink them at all, really. But I have to wonder if Kyle Flanagan’s “Mind Eraser” is an ode to the drink, your mental state after knocking a few mind erasers back, or your mental state after partaking in “Mind Eraser” itself. Maybe all three, perhaps more. Over ten minutes, Flanagan layers piercing static and … horse noises? It’s wicked stuff, treble skimmed from the bass and treated and chemically reattached like daemons and kids at secret Magisterium labs. It’s also like a cement mixer rolling around one part cement, one part nitroglycerin, and three parts metal shards. Or like the drink cement mixer, another horrid concoction.

The cover fruit is chomped, loudly, obnoxiously, its rinds discarded. Woods manufactures tension with sounds and silence, weaving in elements and allowing them to disappear as quickly as they emerged in the first place. The dichotomy between space and structure becomes starker until it disappears completely in a haze of overwhelming sensory overload. This is just “Comedy, Pt. 2,” the opening track to “Shorter Flagpoles,” and it’s sixteen minutes of awe, wonder, and “Oops, I stayed too long, gotta go, it’s dangerous now!” The tape continues with the short, bombastic title track, then shifts back into subtle paranoia with the exquisitely titled “To Fall backward and Blindfolded into the Lap of a Goddess,” whose restraint and creeping intensity drift into whispered spoken text and shrill feedback. The fruitmeat is long gone; the rinds are covered in flies.

Milwaukee emo makes you think of what, Cap’n Jazz and The Promise Ring? What about Milwaukee screamo? Math rock? Murder in the Red Barn and Guns Blazing were two outfits at the forefront of the scene, and FTAM got its hands on an unreleased album by each. Why put them together? Easy: guitarist/vocalist Joshua Backes was in both bands, as was drummer James David. Murder in the Red Barn comes off as a sort of Drive Like Jehu/June of ’44 hybrid, with strangled guitars and time signature shifts. Guns Blazing is leaner, quicker, knottier – and still comes off as a sort of Drive Like Jehu / June of ’44 hybrid. I mean, this is perfect nostalgia stuff for me. That’s what I listened to in college. So this double tape is a perfect throwback to that time. Just know that it’s not a NOISE release, like all the other tapes on this list. I don’t want you to have unreasonable expectations.