Tongue Depressor & Weston Olencki – Don’t Tell No Tales Upon Us
3.13.23 by Matty McPherson
Dinzu Artefacts continues batch processing and curating of the highest magnitude. New titles in the month of February have been making their way to the hi-fi. In between bouts of anime and Bandcamp tape filing (have you ever tried to catalog DIY tapes? It’s sort of impossible! And you can’t make entries on the mobile app! Flop-ass software!), I have been giving late night samples. The three this month are deep longforms. Two are pushing near or past the hour mark. If there’s anything I’ve noted about a Dinzu Artefacts bundle, it’s that the variety with time often means either the LONGEST or the SHORTEST tape of the month is highlight; a most unusual circumstance akin to picking sticks. This time, I find myself most enamored with the latest from the Tongue Depressor duo & their collaboration with Weston Olencki; a brevity-laden affair of drone harmonics. The kind that glistens at the witching hour and ignite a strange set of surrealist mantras and images to go inward, before returning outward with force.
Henry Birdesy and Zach Rowden are longtime conspirators, with ties down the New England coast and with Crazy Doberman, amongst a longstanding career of dronery as Tongue Depressor. Birdsey’s career across a magnitude of labels, monikers, and instrumentation has seen him develop a rather strange beckoning towards a kind of land-art induced gospel for masses between 1 to a few dozen folks. For the two piece, Birdsey turns to Bagpipes & Rowden takes up Bass. Meanwhile, the South Carolina born, Berlin-based Olencki brings out Trombone. Try to make sense of this formation, it’s not supposed to be a crystal clear harmony in ultraviolet you may tell.
The trio both enforce and reject the roles of their respective instruments. Side A’s Tapping Season is perhaps TD and Olencki’s standard MO. Tongue Depressor create a blackened tar of a drone, with a viscosity thick as imperial stout. The bagpipes harmonize with a thrilling electricity to their harmonics, an all out assault bolstered by the bass! Olencki takes to the wall of sound and attempts to find a place to scowl and grovel with the trombone, creating a cracks across the surface of the piece. You can opt to follow the noise or lay awash in the drone and strike a pre-conscious image from there.
If Death Be Printed On His Face opens the palette outward instead of the intense inward focus of Side A. There’s droning cassette loops that are plague-stricken and gloomed amongst a flicker of water. Coils and sawblades, even creaky gates(!) rummage amongst the wastes of this soundscape, rustling and looming omnipotently. It recalls the bad-acid psychedelic beaches that have come to define Bill Nace’s 2020s works, or gloomscapes of Arvo Zylo and German Army. A banjo is summoned, but so taken out of its immediate sonic properties it only adds to the apocalypse of the b-side; it sounds closer to pedal steel wobbling and budging through a stomachache. When you do zoom out of the piece, considering the slow lumbers of it’s movement instead of the moment-by-moment blows that make it a hat trick of a sprawling piece, it’s clear to see that the trio was creating an inverse to the drone of their first half; especially when it strips itself halfway through to open those stringed drones. There’s an aching beauty to that back half I’ve found. The kind that document the emotions of a cowboy who’s “too old for this shit” and wants to ride off into the sunset, but also knows that with the heat-death of the sun approaching sooner and sooner, it’s just more convenient to soak in the moment. Nothing cruel about it, just ruthless pragmatism.
And that’s what perhaps makes the trio’s release so damn rewarding and the highlight of the the Dinzu Artefacts batch. It cuts to the heart of the label’s strange tightrope walk between “free jazz” and “free field recordings”; the grey area/no man’s land where soundscapes exist as small zones to contemplate feelings that aren’t exactly compressible nor can be abstracted. They’re just experienced like old tales from times long ago.
Limited Edition of 200 Available Now at the Dinzu Artefacts Bandcamp!
I had to call out sick to work last Saturday. I genuinely don’t like doing that, but for about the past year I’ve been having repeated bouts of Sciatica in the lower left side of my body; I was limping out in socks at 5pm and straight up unable to bend down and pick up a King of the Hill DVD I dropped later that night. When you are 24 years old, this shit wrecks you. Trying to pinpoint the triggers that start the cycles, the recovery routines that work, and the mobility patterns that uphold stability have become mental focuses crucial to my ability to navigate the world; the feeling of what’s going on and what could happen in the span of a few hours can mean the world to me. One thing that I know works is the hot water and jets of a jacuzzi. Water revealed a talismanic quality in that it seems to loosen and shift my joints in the worst bouts.
About this time last year, I found myself suddenly tuned towards a rather unique EP release from Nyokabi Kariuki. There were numerous reasons why I found something to latch onto with Peace Places: Kenyan Memories. Firstly, Kariuki was born the same year I was and has lived a completely different, spatially omnibus life; one cut between family in Kenya and the US east coast. The title alone was enough to reinforce this, the sense of a different space from my own. Secondly, the EP had a strong sense of personhood that was less reliant on synthesizers than traditional instrumentation and field recordings. Kariuki was legitimately moving beyond just merely recording utilitarian spatial music and seemed to be breaking the fourth wall to deliver a personal truth, a situated knowledge that this style of ambient often waves and hints at but often fails to deliver. Kariuki had an incredible mastery of analog elements that sought to inform a listener “you can escape your Leibnizian monadic lifestyle if you take stock of the surroundings around you.” And it really liked water!
Kariuki’s sudden turnaround–this time for a “debut album” on cmntx records, FEELING BODY, solely released on tape right now–struck me hard when I heard it last month. As far as C32s run, this is a brutally efficient, deeply precocious open book listen (and yes, there is a book edition shipping with the tape). Returning to Peace Places after listening to FEELING BODY, what strikes me is the space, the open zone quality to these field recordings, often tied together by water. She is building off of the immense space and vagueness of that enticing release, but Kariuki has turned deeply inward.
There is a small, but burgeoning reaction to long COVID showing up in a handful of releases on Bandcamp. When I talked to Paul Dickow (Strategy) last fall, Dickow revealed that he had been working through long COVID and the fatigue the onset produces. Dickow’s latest Strategy releases have not quite responded to this temporal fatigue if only because they were developed over the last decade before this disease existed. FEELING BODY makes it rather clear in its Bandcamp notes that this is a long COVID album–and Kariuki has recovered from it to a manageable level. This shift inward is a purposeful reaction to trying to pinpoint the resonance, the feelings of a body in a moment of catatonic chronic illness. Documenting that is a radically vulnerable task, as much as an incredible display of finding healing in novel capacities; cycling for the right sounds, the necessary mantras, and the otherworldly spaces that a mind can imagine outside the pain it finds itself in.
FEELING BODY is not much different than its predecessor. 6 tracks running slightly longer, albeit this time the title track is a whopping 12 minutes; instrumentation is less regionally diverse, but still focuses on a chamber set (from bass to violin and now trumpet) amongst delicate vocal harmony that radiates its own unique ambience. It’s a greater focus in classical composition that allows Kariuki to tell her story in manner while experimenting Opener “Subira” is built off of those vocal harmonies and glacial pauses akin to a breathing exercise. One that welcomes you while coming to terms with a deft truth “your recovery may take longer than you think.” Yet, herein lies a promise of recovery and a shift to a new understanding of the body.
The 12-minute title track that follows is amongst the most adventurous compositions so far this year. There’s a return to the motif of water that shifts in pace and tension throughout the piece; yet the quality is that of a drippier, more hypnotic texture. There’s a subconscious dive across the track. Her vocal production leans towards that of ASMR-defusion and immediate focus. If it can drift peacefully, it’s amongst faint clouds of vocals that sound akin to harmonic engine whistles. Yet, there’s a stress and tension to the opening fourth; tightrope strings that want to collapse on themselves. It culminates in one moment Kariuki considers the dissociation of how her body may feel for a while. It’s enough to create a beckoning, fleet feeling in its back third; radiant horns and bird sounds amongst the harmonic chorus, a euphoric spring.
Side B’s “fire head’ recalls recent text-to-speech works of Lucy Liyou. Kariuki fucks with the voice as if to prime the listener to a buzzing, not-quite temporally tuned mind. The repetition becomes a storm in itself, lashing and gaining a BPM as Michael Denis Ó Callaghan’s horn races to an unsettling, sublime climax. “quiet face” is a duet between the violin and its feedback and Kariuki’s haunted, dissociated voice that seems to wander across in search in the silence. When it finds itself out of that black hole, “folds” creates a sense of stately dread from what seems to be an insect rustle, that Kariuki defuses with an operatic lullaby and clarinet; it feels of a narcotized pop that’s been missing dearly, especially as her voice approaches a vaudevillian dream. Its low drone, functions akin to a detente, disarming all the while.
“Nazama” (“I sink” in Swahili), the only other track capitalized outside the opener, reintroduces the water motif. One that returns faintly but noticeably at the end as Kariuki seems to surrender into the water and its potential for healing. It ends the tape on an empowering note that reveals a pertinent resolution.
Edition of 100 Available at the cmntx Records Bandcamp Page
I’m not on Bandcamp’s Tape Label Report. In my opinion, the whole thing exists as a ghetto to allow a handful of writers to say “wow look at this label” without really ever getting into the meat of the whole thing. It’s publicity for small endeavors, which is always a good thing I believe, although it also feels like you’ve got writers taking a nominal fee to either a) tell you a label with 400 releases is “really cool” (see Marc Masters writing about Already Dead, which seriously dismayed me in how it boiled Muave down to far too few words with a limited perspective) or b) tell you a label with 5 releases and a barely defined aesthetic is “the next big thing.” This is borderline windowshopping “scene celebrates itself” shenanigans I see all the time in San Diego beer journalism, except it is online on the Epic Games owned website that’ll now have a radio station in Fortnite. As such, I rarely feel like i’ve learned anything at the end of the day or found a new salience. Why do these labels being highlighted…matter?
In truth, move beyond my my finger wagging and bellyaching above. If you want to figure why something matters, well you should go out and find for yourself! Such was the case I found myself with Island House. Self-described as “a little label based on a little island in the East river,” run by a cool dad who’s a self-described member of the post-wook revolution and has released to this day…9 releases.
But it is with a light heart that I can say the 9 releases are THAT terrific; against the grain, what Tim McManus is curating has legitimate heat and stakes. He “started [the label] in 2022 at the behest of his guitar teacher and online friends,” which again perhaps explains how Island House probably made some absolutely insane mogul moves so early on. Getting Steve Rosborough of Moon Glyph to do art on your first release is a power play. Having M. Geddes Gengras, Jeff Tobias, and Jen Powers of Astral Editions write liner notes are also huge net gains. He has European Distribution for select titles. At release 5 Island House did a comp where 37.5% of the material was just German Army cuts alongside Andrew Weathers land art + Prana Crafter “going psych mode.” Like pretty much all he needs is just ONE Patrick Shiroishi tape by the year’s end and Island House officially acquires the “American Tape Label Triple Crown Hat Trick” award good mother of god. Maybe Joe WAS right!
Now, I was able to share a lovely phone call with McManus back on Sunday 2/19, as he stepped out of one room where he was staying in the Hudson Valley that weekend, to talk shop about the label. McManus has had quite the past 3 years, both through new fatherhood and slowly taking account of both local rumblings in New York City & the Hudson Valley; he had moved from a tiny apartment in Roosevelt Island out to Harlem when an opportunity for more space presented itself. There were quick, snappy mentions of a new Kent Ave space, 411 not 285, where David Watson’s Shift has taken up space for eclectic arts, as well as the Pit, a space run by Jim McHugh from Sunwatchers. McManus has been going to these shows, clocking names and faces, partially thanks to one extroverted conversation after another started by Zack Hale; all while even jumping into amateur DIY gig booking that included a rather successful donation gig.
McManus’ ties to both the DIY rumblings in NYC and the Hudson have been crucial in garnering the courage and gumption to go deep into his own label. At the moment, Island House would not exist without the immense support and keen ear of people running from those who are booking at the spaces above, Mr. Hale, Ryley Walker, Jeff Tobias, Mike Horn, numerous Twitter mutuals (including one Aquarium Drunkard writer in the city), amongst many others have all played a role in McManus taking the label to this current stage; it’s an era of mutual help and the strength of weak ties being played to its fullest. There’s a wealth of information and resources these folks have tapped into, reinforcing a belief both McManus and myself share, the kind that “any kind of experimental scene that’s not from your normal…that’s where im happy.” McManus is humble though, repeatedly emphasizing during the call “I’m just trying to get the music out there” working with the goodest of good goobers he can afford. CDs may be coming soon, although vinyl is a pipe dream; the expense and sourcing right now is too hard to make the calls for. Oh, and he’s a stay at home dad wrapping up a college degree; I can attest to brief blips of that struggle!
So in 9 releases, as a result of these connections & reception, the label has actually been able to position itself at a stronger advantage than other tape labels I’ve noted. Most notably (and centering everything), there’s the tape j-card art. While the Steve Rosborough design of IH-001, a Seawind of Battery release, was a one-off (planned to be reissued to match the current aesthetic), McManus quickly sought inspiration and design aesthetics from Astral Spirits. As such, Island House quickly sorted out a design that allows for artists to submit their own art, while also keeping a uniform “peachy” label. Such is going to standout, especially when Island House has taken the bold steps to garner European, Australian, South African, and even Japanese distribution in varied capacities (one tape even made it’s way to Palace Music HQ). Tapes down there that quickly? Well, McManus is going a day at a time though, as he considers which release is next on the docket, who’s to pen the liner notes, and just what kind of local community he wants to spring from Island House. The roster right now stands as a result of a web of connections and admiration; for example, it was J. Moss of the Modern Folk who was the one who shepherded that aforementioned compilation to the label for last year. Two releases down the line set for spring are to feature…vocals! McManus is wagering they may have a stronger reach than the instrumental folk sounds the label has chased so far.
As such, it explain how Island House has been able to practically blast off in under 9 months. A wealth of connections, ample good will, and most necessarily, the space and (personal) time to take on this endeavor have given McManus’ label a chip on its shoulder. To me, Island House is the timeless story of DIY being played out in the best of ways: someone realizing they can be their own curator and documenter, using a web of connections to jump into the fray, and going one release at a time. We’ve lost some great labels over the past two years: Ingrown Records had to shut down due to life changes, FTAM finally decided to close up shop as Peter Woods moves across the pond to teach in academia; meanwhile, Garden Portal’s terminal hiatus doesn’t exactly inspire hope for what the Athens, GA maverick’s trajectory is. Yet, what I’ve listed above gives me ample hope that McManus has picked up that torch and will hopefully continue to ignite happenings around the Hudson, NYC, and far around the globe for as long as possible.
Anyways, here’s 3 quickies on the January, February, and March releases.
David Cedolin – Ligurian Pastoral
Genova, Italy-based Davide Cedolin brought Island House into 2023 with Ligurian Pastoral, an acoustic guitar release with the harmonic potency of sounding akin to being nestled up in the guitar. Half a world away, Cedolin has been settling into the Ligurian region, and Ligurian Pastoral is a tribute to that “tight and bent strip of land between the Ligurian sea and the Apennines mountains”; you could call it a mediterranean climate. The 7 cuts are simple instrumentals that unfurl with brilliant grace; a small drone or reverberation here, a touching astral projections from Seawind of Battery on cuts 2 & 7 there, a gorgeous litany of rustic harmonies at every turn. For a Pat Metheny head, you’d probably find a smidgen of jamming here too! Everything works to create a situated response and mapping of Cedolin’s current homestead, while also leaving an incredible amount of space for pondering and considering. This tape is autobiographical after all, refractions of daily routines, faces, and landmarks that words often falter when attempting to explain the gracefulness of; the vibe is something that you make of it. This winter, San Diego county has had a bounty of storms this winter. Ones that which our rapidly disappearing (see the word “aridification”) Mediterranean climate glisten back to life for brief spurts. When I listen to this tape, all I see are outside are a rainbow of greens, my own pastoral that that this tape gives me thanks for.
Emergency Group – Inspection of Cruelty
The quartet of Robert Boston (keys), Andreas Brade (drums), Jonathan Byerley (guitar), and Dave Mandi (bass) sat down on November 2nd, 2022. This is what followed. And what was that exactly? A 46 minute krautjam rock sesh, one held together by motorik drumming and an absolutely free-wheeling sense of open armed love and magic. Of the three releases spotlighted here, Inspection of Cruelty, is the deepest of deep zoning sessions the label has provided to date. The two parts of Inspection of Cruelty are ample enough to work on their own without the connecting piece, yet taken together you have an ample piece that sees each member figure their own aura. Over the course of the 46 minutes, each player is offered ample time to excel at a solo moment as their brethren tune down and lower their instruments either to a one-track mindset or fade out entirely. What results is a fully-fleshed, breathing document of the Emergency Group. In its best moments, Mandi holds down a bass groove, Brade locks into a cymbal rush or lays down a new fill-line, and Boston cranks out key noise or Byerly takes the guitar and wails. Or…they just enter that Autobahn cruise mode where you ride a riff out because it just sounds so goddamn pleasing and flush with flavor. Inspection of Cruelty is not going to create any new krautrockheads, but more or less just confirm how deep of one you already are if you’ve made it this far.
Joseph Allred – For the Fallen Dawn (to be released… soon!)
A tape of acoustic guitar (not quite, there’s more than one stringed instrument)? Takoma school indebted (perhaps, have you seen his CV)? Featuring a poem by Jen Powers (they’re label alum after all)? Are we sure this wasn’t an Astral Edition?! No no! For the Fallen Dawn is a continuation of Joseph Allred’s slick guitar acoustics and natural ambience that have been featured from Garden Portal to Scissor Tail and even Feeding Tube; he’s not exactly a celebrity, although you garner the sense Allred’s style is “discogs bait price” worthy as many of his tapes have become collectables. For the Fallen Dawn has the same pleasure that I found when I was deep into Ross Hammond’s brilliant cassette for Full Spectrum last year. Over 36 minutes, Allred plays to the night sky and ambience of the local crickets and rustling critters in the bushes. 8 cuts are split between 2 modes: short snippets, duets meant to bring in space for the ambience to fulfill and counter, amongst wild sprawling 7-9 minute guitar epics that contain all the stoicism a mighty fine 10 gallon hat can afford. The pleasure are simple and ample, overflowing even as Allred unites strains of country and folk into a sprawling psychedelic vision of his own accord. Ladysthumb and None Are Born or Die are favorites, cunning moments where he launches into an acoustic freakout that sends a jolt to my system.
There was a point before my decent headphones broke and the holidays happened and it was suddenly the middle of February. It was a sunsoaked November day before Thanksgiving and I had to leave the house; I needed a book I had spotted a week earlier in Berkeley that I knew was only a bus trip away. I had been on something of a Scarcity kick around that time, with a burgeoning interest in Aveilut’s symphonic characteristics that often pushed the music out of black metal and into straight gothic industrial noise scowling. There was a thought line and even immense nods to downtown music that I was inkling with more than approaching it from straight black metal tropes. It reinforced a personal belief that the fidelity and speed of the tape are second to the pure underlying riffage and unique displays of intensely carnal visions. That is when I mend with black metal in the present.
I was a bit dazed I’ll admit, especially when I had finally taken a dive into Genital Shame’s Lion Piss + Arm Vulnerability cassingle/EP type beat. When I heard it back then I was gripped by the ambience, a different intensity outside of immediate black metal sound aesthetics that gave me something to grip on to. For, West Virginian Erin Dawson and her C15 is a concise, deft batch of homespun cuts that display a sound palette that is not so much as going full into black metal, but seeing it in a larger tapestry that connects to varying intensities of Dawson’s own endeavors in her life. To make this music is a personal project and approach it from this manner can be seen as a critique, but that can often miss reveling in the noise of a singular entity so esteemed and precise and Dawson.
Her sound is still perhaps assuming an evolved form beyond what we have been left with today. This is not appalachian folk-tinged black metal, nor symphonic black metal, nor blackened pop metal; Dawson’s 3 cuts err closer to though to the revolutionary “last flag standing” apocalypse worlds of Constellation Records. The emphasis on acoustic guitar (specifically during the final cut) put it more towards Mt. Silver Zion’s somber soundscapes, with tingles of the raw catharsis that has always defined Efrim. However, both Gnostienne and Ego non sum trust-fund puer recall the work of the sorely missed Lungbuter–not exactly a metal outfit mind you, but an absolute wonder trio when it came to fuzz. And across those swift blast beats and moments of jagged droned out ambience, there’s a lotta fuzz on the hi-fi. And yet, these 3 cuts all retains a carnal, jagged vision that also entices and invites comparison towards code-breakers (Liturgy), agnostics (Sprain), and revolutionary spirits (Agriculture) without playing to black metal trope adherently. Needless to say, it fits well with that weird lineup of Flenser tapes I’ve started to amass, and is quite pretty as the newest Pink Tape in the collection.
The tape sat in a holding cell without much of a second consideration of when to revisit or WHY NOT revisit it daily. I’ve re-opened the tape for the first time in a few moths and I’m still entranced by it’s simplicity. More than a mere proof of concept, Genital Shame’s “Lion Piss + Arm Vulnerability” is a staunchly gripping introduction to Dawson’s work. From its snarled swagger to acoustic vulnerability, whatever she’s cooking with down the line is to be of consideration.
Limited Tape Available at the Genital Shame Bandcamp Page
About a year ago I contracted the first in a trilogy of food poisoning adventures that marred the year 2022. There is no fondness or nostalgia for these days, just a buttered-up sense of apathy. This first incident was noteworthy in that it seemed to correspond to the time when the family’s Bosch dishwater did what all mid-00s bosch dishwasher are prone to doing: catching fire and (almost) causing an irreversible damage to the current state of affairs. It crackled and coughed up a black lung when it caught fire that night, creating a raw carnal smell that still echoes a year on; I still find myself in that catatonic food poison shock scarred by the noise. Although I’m not certain I really miss the old Bosch now that we have the new Bosch, nor if that this story has anything to do with the latest release from Polish-based Pointless Geometry cassette label, OPLA’s GTI.
Well maybe the C34 is having these memories run amok again because of the sound palette. Hubert Zemler (drummer/free improvisor/compser) and Piotr Bukowski’s (guitarist/composer/film score enthusiast) work as OPLA is supposed to be a “reinterpretation of traditional Polish dances”; if you’re a regional music head then you’ll likely raise a hearty glass towards the oberek phrases and tripartite metros embellished within this electronic sound of plastics. In other words, yes the “folk music” here sounds akin to the family’s Bosch giving up the ghost during that fateful terminal dishwasher cycle. Over the course of 6 tracks, Zemler and Bukowski marry the abstract to these patterns and movement, both finding a rigidity flourishing as well as a space for the eerie.
There are, in other words, two logics at play. Take a cut like LOP for instance. On one hand there is an arpeggio that moves akin to a 16-bit platformer that gives the piece its core. Yet, on top of that palette are the percussion “booms” and “clanks” that appear on their own logic and with the sharp crash akin to what a synthesizer afforded Keith Levine on PiL’s Careering. Meanwhile, FAX bleeps and bloops as jagged guitar glides over and improvises a heart to this movement. YPN’s one cantankerous synth loop fences against guitar jitters and hi-hat debris that swings uptempo and flourishes with curiosity. RAM is about the only cut that strips back the electronics to present rudimentary loops and clanks akin to a dusty folk sound.
These kind of patterns–deep listening synths and hyperrealist POPS–that give GTI its deftness and a gripping listenability. It begets a dance music, but the context it comes from has been warped through mechanization and industrialization. What’s left of those Polish dances is akin to showing up to the ballroom at 3AM instead of 3PM; all that’s left is a low drone of an HVAC and a scratchy karaoke machine no one loved enough to return and get their deposit back for. The spaces between become something new, akin to washer cycles and daily alerts flowing like ephemera. OPLA might be capturing a modern tension as much as expanding a regional sound into electronics to find a new truth of sorts within the routinization such tools offer. What I do know though, is that it won’t catch fire and suddenly explode on me. At least I hope not.
Tapes Sold Out at the Pointless Geometry Bandcamp!
Ryley Walker & Jeff Tobias – It’ll Sound Different Once We Get Some Bodies In The Room
2.9.23 by Matty McPherson
There’s new 2023 curatorial efforts from Ryley Walker (Husky Pants) & Jeff Tobias (Strategy of Tension) either out or coming on their labels, (Sam Goldberg & the Echoing Department’s Some Songs Are Sung & Feast of Epiphanies’ Significance, respectively). Endearing excursions towards a plane of pop enjoyment the experimental ferric enthusiast ought to take note of. Although neither of which happen to string a set of syllables together that warrants rare use, and I assumed both were stopgaps towards a greater objective, I had not anticipated that objective was actually going to be another Walker jam session. One recorded on January 27th, sent hot to the Bandcamp on February 3rd, and to be shipped off in about a week. And just like that those syllables melted out of my mouth and into the atmosphere.
Ah there it is! We miss this term, don’t we folks? Back in the 2010s when you saw that term you knew where the quality laid and that the album had an intended effect that perhaps extended beyond mere technical precision or dexterity; the kind towards the emotive, primal core of why words are drawn up and transmitted online. We miss that term and its implications for discourse 3 to 4 years down the line. And yet now, I’m bringing it back. “EUREKA!” and say it loud. As Walker and Tobias’ It’ll Sound Different Once We Get Some Bodies In The Room feels of a small achievement in the current tape world.
Firstly is the aforementioned immense speed of release. Right here and at this moment is a picture of two label heads and long time players cutting to the brass tax and just presenting it as fast as possible. Secondly, the thing shreds, threshing out a love for both Astral Spirits noise and cd era Louisville post-rock; a match made in heaven played like Texas hold ‘em.
Although please understand, we have been told little about the occasion of this release. Just “Jeff and Ryley sit down.” Practically a fairy tale in title form. Jeff’s duo tapes have shown two sides to him. The type of spirit that can follow a game (as with Jack Cooper of Modern Nature on Astral Spirits) or outright entertain a wrestling duel against his own. And I assume you’re aware of how he’s feeling, from back last fall. Jeff’s character with the saxophone (amongst trombone and reeds that aims between deconstructive noise or swaggering croonery hasn’t been as prepared as this kind of player.
Walker’s guitar channels a playfulness and style-nodding prowess that recaptures the beauty of DRWZI DOORS. Still, that release is a whole other noisenik affair. If there’s a baseline to be found (both with the tape + jeff), then it’s in Gastr deconstruction; brevity laden pauses and awe-ridden freakouts break through the C35 in half the tracks. Ryley will lead with breadcrumb chords like small stakes blinds and he needs Jeff to call, or Jeff will fire up a buzz of chords or a trombone drone. Sonically, it starts at 0 and the other will check or bluff to create an imperative; the kind where both of their noises meet and create a deep listen and an impressive show of force. Across six tracks, their high stakes poker game challenges the two to think of how to force a tell out of either.
When tracks develop, they can start to move like the community flop; a creep of free-jazz cacophonies or post-wolk ambience. “Guest of the Government” opens a pathway to trance with just an inquisitive guitar loop and a low drone. “Burnt Toyota Sienna” becomes practically caught up in a sax tornado that feels natural. The delicate “Buzz and Glide” plays its cards slowly, teasing out a gorgeous gliding guitar melody that breathes and pervades the space when it shines for its few seconds against the brass of Tobias’ horn; a dialogue and resonance indeed! If the tracks do tangle to the 7-minute mark, then the river portion of these cuts reveal a faithful devotion towards The For Carnation amongst the ghosts of Quarterstick’s past. “Cigarette Lake” retains a spooky tales from the crypt vibe as it approaches the five minute mark, where Ryley invokes southern gothic hallows and Jeff creates the sweltering atmosphere. It’s in these moments I find my quench sated, the nicest sonic jackpot of a tape in recent memory.
The Reverse Death trio of Daniel Onufer, Connor Johnson, and Ben Rea seemed to arrived on Drongo Tapes near the end of 2022 too blissed out amongst the endless listening pile. Yet, within the tumultuous soak of January’s winter rains, it’s found its way into my walkman and hi-fi once more, and as such I realized the curatorial ear of Drongo does not fail. The trio’s emphasis on a Side A/Side B affair across 5 tracks was purposeful; the result of a tour in Mexico imparting new wisdom in sequencing. As such, this wisdom results in a lot of sounds that beckon to be returned to for concurring reasons.
The opening “Water Orbit” shares a common thread with the droney, longing textures of Shells’ recent for Astral Editions, but often shares a keen ear for aquatic acoustics. The kinds that put it in lie with Scissor Tail tapes of early 2020 as much as vague debris of new age listening scattered across thrift shops. But the approach is neither spendthrift nor cheesey; there’s a sauntering lullaby quality to the movement, one that turns inward across “Floating Delight.” It’s here where reverb laden jangly guitar strings (amongst a cello!) and soft keys work in tandem to create a harmonic bliss akin to Bitchin Bajas’ search for the ultimate transcendent loop. Reverse Death doesn’t champion perfection here though, instead letting the improvisation and their own recordings of bird sounds or synth drones endlessly welcome you across the Side A.
Side B meanwhile, is the vocal psychedelic pop side; yet that sells the process short. The 4 cuts on this side, seem to carry a naturalistic ambience to their palette. The way the effect-laden drum crashes like salty waves on the jazzy Teapot, the almost-dub bass and twinkling melodies of Sweet Flower Moon’s slow waltz, Infinite Syd’s infinite looping reverb chords that invoke mid-aughts Paw Tracks, and the lo-fi reverent textures squeezed out of Temporary Ground. These are little elements that imply a distinct adherence to a subterranean silence second and virtuosic patience first and foremost the qualities that are of utmost necessity with what makes this style music so rewarding. Their PR mentions they’d been listening to Jessica Pratt, and it does show in the sheer amount of reverb and acoustic space amongst lo-fi recordings they’ve netted out of these 6 excursions. Their ability as such to use these drawn out cuts as a way to craft immense zones becomes their own private press achievement in that respect. Stretching to Infinity’s slow burn effectively rewards the wait, with each nugget becoming a knockout zone of its own volition so you give it the chance.
Edition of 100 Tapes Available Now at Drongo Tapes’ Bandcamp Page!
Take a moment to reset yourself with approaching India Sky. It’s the latest release from Ratskin Records, the Oakland based mecca for sublime and smatterings of non-hegemonic arts within the region. The label’s no stranger to noise and industrial, but often times its in their pop-oriented offerings that blessed diamonds and sublime matters seem to come to fruition. India Sky’s Somewhere Over the Mystic Moon is precisely in this realm.
An unexpected, but not uncommon theme with the 2023 releases I’ve been noting so far is that they happen to stem from film works. India Sky originally composed over half the material on Somewhere Over the Mystic Moon for her short film, The Life Cycle of Rainbows, released in 2021. But here, this is more a piece of context than an immediate epiphany about the recordings. Her nine synthpop cuts (two of which are simple interlude-sized sleights) are based within a simplistic, yet engrossing songwriting structure: large synthesizer loops that become a periphery for India Sky’s open-armed vocals and steadfast percussive rhythms; enough to grip one on their own. At times it can really slink off and transport to its own galaxy. In other moments it recalls Spellling’s Pantheon of Me as much as the brevity of downtime present in house music. The tempo and its genre-magpie nature are never languid though and the cuts and their emotive affects slowly reveal themselves over time; thus what is often presented in front of you at first warrants a keen ear and a patience with the process.
This is what made Bottom of the Sea and in particular, Breakdown, such gripping singles. For the former, it gave a sugar rush of an intro and a punchdrunk, thumping pre-chorus before it’d even completely built up. Yet, it subverted the whole affair by staying in that liminal space and enveloping you like a cocoon. Breakdown’s paean to a love found between the dancefloor and stars is ingenious in its subtle ability to chart a love with euphoric synths and sudden heartbeat-pining percussion, as India Sky weaves a small situated tale together with minimal detailing that is enough to feel universal and open-armed.
Yet outside of these two singles, there’s still a slow burn kaleidoscopic vision of India Sky’s intersection of theatrics and visual projections. The slinking yet seductive, telgraphed crashing clanks of Like a Wave. The Northern Lights evoking cut Begin Again that casts a regenerative spell in it the way India Sky’s voice is dubbed over and harmonizes into a liquid, glistening bliss and mantra. The reverb and pitter-patter of Dark Symphony that serves to champion India Sky and her own self-actualization, as much as guiding us to the Rainbow Gate. All of these cuts provide a glimpse though outside of her short film. They are an actual tantalizing image of her turning to synthpop for an evocative kind of soul-bearing release; one that’s angelic harmonics can become a form of healing and communal respite. In other words, India Sky’s latest for Ratskin Records indeed hits at a special prowess the label has, amplifying a heartfelt and personal call to one’s own community.
Limited Edition Chrome Hi Bias Cassette with 4 Panel Cassette JCard and full color stick on labels available at the Ratskin Records Bandcamp Page
Kenny Torrella, “D.C.’s sleeper cell groove sensation” sort of just wandered into 100% Silk last summer with arguably the label’s best effort since Ascultation’s III back in Summer 2020. It was so noteworthy, the label decided to revive their defunct House of Silk imprint just for the release of the Out of Office cassette. And when I was doing the Tabs Out Top 200 of 2022, I ended up stumbling into the tape and the last available copy from Torrella personally.
There are two things that have struck me about this tape and its illustrious qualities. Firstly, as lo-fi house (balearic stylings and bells and whistles are abound) it immediately warrants tape listens when applicable over any other sound system. The songs, specifically Magic Mirror & The Zone, are washed out and soaked in glitzy, effervescent textures that tingle and pop; they are funky fresh bops that are often otherworldly heartfelt and emotive. Other cuts, like the OOO mixes of All the Time & With You, Yeah purposely stick out of the low end, in lieu of imparting a crisp, ghostly layer of airy amber-laden synths on top of the crunchy beats. Tackling a sound like this can be merely pleasurable or it can impart a longing; any tape on 100% Silk could be this at any given day. Yet, Torella’s beats and smattering of almost-voices across the mid-range give the tape these feeling of window shopping on an abandoned stretch of the Miracle Mile. Bittersweet only could capture so much of what makes the tape ingenious.
This brings me to my second point: Torella’s synths LONG and YEARN in a rather resonate manner. While the fetishization of 80s/90s technology is merely a given at this point, the logic behind chasing these sounds and what one is supposed to do with them can be situated in many frameworks. And from there, why a sound becomes so hypnotic you want to live in it becomes its own mission statement. The synths that often ground a majority of this album are encroaching on a particular snappy n’ soppy or punchdrunk drone quality that puts the tape in a lineage dating back to mid-80s The Wake and their own emotive synth laden works. But they did not dance, they brooded unnervingly; whereas Torella purposely is chasing daydreams and crystalline midnight hours with brevity and gentle ease.
Anyways, if you haven’t heard Magic Mirror, it’s streaming below. Tapes Sold Out at the Bandcamp, but still available at the 100% Silk distro page on Midhaven dot com.
Another steamer of a Hot Releases tape complete with a tasteful nude. Permanent is Mimi Luse, who in the middle of June last year, laid down 10 cuts all without names outside of “Museum A0.” What ensued was not quite the synthetic populism of her previous tape, nor is it quite a minimal wave excursion even if the set-up is distinctly raw and “one-box”. Over the course of the ten pieces, some of which sprawl upwards of 6 to 12 minutes (but often come back down to earth at the 4-minute mark), Luse is in search of an industrial grinding trance that is slimey, gelatinous, and downright sinister. Brute force thumps and high energy razer lazers, are amongst the insanity of what a singular multi-effects pedal mindset willingly provides. And most of the cuts themselves aren’t really labeled but just edited together into a live-piece that’s always slightly shifting its focus, bringing in a new thump or blast beat, amongst big ‘ol noise with jarring shocks and sudden left turns.
The result though is that you have a tape that’s one-track mindset is going to work wonders on one long-tail end EXCEPTIONALLY well: private press industrial with a big libido. And across the 10 tracks, Luse’s steadfast adherence to this lane actually does pay off in strides. The raw four on the floor of the first twelve miniutes does mutate into a slicked up bass ditty by the 3rd movement that features a radiant tang of guitar feedback. There’s the 4th movement’s “big!” hype synth, one that bass stabs bounce off at first, before it mutates into a giant omnibus blob that often threatens to eat the entire track out in between deranged jitters.
The B-Side opens with the 5th movement, a hi-nrg inversion that proceeds over the course of the following two pieces, to be scraped apart and built into a lurching carnivorous hulking mass. On the 6ht movement its practically stripped of its fleet-footed nature and turned into a glass shards breaking over and over amidst feedback. By the 7th movement its sped back up into a rave inversion that it’s 8th movement turns into noise goo. That it moves so nimbly and with such a minimal but hypnotic set-up gives it that energy needed to carry it to the 9th movement where it almost returns to its original state on this side. Except now it dives deeper into feedback and lashes fanatically. Although I can’t say I was the fondest of the final bonus, a piece of vocal feedback and spoken word psychedelia that is crass and cantankerous in its layering, and demands a sense of time and place that is missing compared to the rest.
Tapes Sold Out at Hot Releases! But Perhaps Available at the Permanent/Mimi Luse Bandcamp Page