Tabs Out | Supervolcano – The Vault

Supervolcano – The Vault
4.13.17 by Paul Banks


Supervolcano’s “The Vault” is a fascinating, mysterious album. It occurred to me that the point of emphasis here is distance and spacing. The distance here comes into play in a few ways. The final product here, the recording, is quite removed from its original sound source. A meme, of all things, came to mind while listening: in the exploding mind meme, the most “enlightened” approach was a musician creating a tape “by holding a Walkman up to the computer speakers.” While I’m sure that’s not the approach here, the joke raises a question: do we take the recording at face value, or do we simultaneously, subsequently, whatever, consider what methods were used to create the recording, how it sounded before the final treatment?

This is important on “The Vault.” Because, behind the distance between the mics and what was recorded (or the artificially produced distance), under the Gaussian blur, there are instruments. There are rooms. And none of these things sound quite like they sound on this tape. Much like the recent output from the equally mysterious Korea Undok Group, we have what can be appreciated as, when removing context, as what one might imagine a time capsule recording to sound like. It’s decayed, the loops are organic in a way the might indicate degradation and technical failure. Indeed, as the tape progresses, these qualities become increasingly prominent.

If not for the fact that the digital version sounds practically identical to the tape one, it would be possible to consider it possible that the approach in the above meme produced this tape. But these were intentional choices. The aesthetic, rife with obfuscation, patient, and pregnant with hallways and spaces, collapses in upon itself – we were meant to listen because it was released, and yet the alienation is certainly purposeful, if not overwhelming. Outside of the Korea Undok Group output, I can’t think of an album that I immediately reconsidered if I had even paid attention to it (as that’s how fleeting and ephemeral is tries to be), and yet was haunted by it well after its completion.

Copies of this C30 are available from White Reeves Productions.

Tabs Out | German Army – Mountain City

German Army – Mountain City
1.17.17 by Paul Banks

german army

Shockingly, there are still a few copies of “Mountain City” left on Phinery’s Bandcamp page. I say this in part because German Army’s name seems to lead to countless “Sold Out” red stamps on the site, and partly because I sat on this album for so many months. The truth was, I checked out this album out of curiosity more than anything. I walked the fine line between being fairly accused of pretending to like the mysterious group, and admiring what they do without getting much out of it.

The issue with German Army is they do many things quite well. Unlike much of tape culture’s obsessive branding (same person, different project, different name is the normal procedure), German Army tapes don’t indicate any length or genre. You might have a guess as to what you’ll get based on the label, and I took a shot at finding my entry point into their work through this tape, an association with the beloved Phinery. Phinery churns out so much good music, it’s easy to take it for granted, and yet my expectations were that whatever German Army I found here, it would be good. That bet paid off.

“Mountain City,” in my first passive listen, was somewhat conventional for the label. There weren’t DIY-Autechre squeals, noise, electroacoustics, or progressive electronics. Instead, surprisingly, what unfurled was songs. I don’t think I was ready to reach a conceptual common ground with this album at first. However, as the months passed, this record became infectious. Think of this album as existing thematically on similar turf as a Sublime Frequencies collection, but in a very different geographic setting. Here we have work songs, blues, that fine line between a collection of traditional songs, and a conceptual shell of field recordings capturing these works. It could be the work song, hillbilly version of Ekkehard Ehlers’ “A Life Without Fear,” or recent work by the Caretaker, its scratchy voices as distant as any reclaimed jazz.

Indeed, I think time gave this album even more importance. Throughout the election, we heard pleas to remake these forgotten towns, perhaps the source material for some of what’s here. And yet, because of prices, because of aging, because of a changing world, those towns will never come back. Their echoes have found their way into this tape; perhaps this will one day be a cherished relic in some collector’s home, the last resting place of these voices of toil.

And, to the music specifically, perhaps you can imagine what you’ll find, though the impact only really occurs with regular, late night listening. Traditional instruments, ever so slightly pitch shifted now and then, sometimes seemingly looped, scratchy and distant with a healthy dose of echo and reverb. The source material itself seems familiar, but German Army have worked to alienate things – this touch of distance allows enough dissociation to hear this music as native American (not Native American).

This is a reverent, masterful set, one that transports you to different times and places, places that perhaps don’t quite exist in the ways we’re remembering them, places that might not be fully content in their absence. Hurry over and grab a copy.

Tabs Out | Noisegasm – Bad Trips & Chromosome Damage

Noisegasm – Bad Trips & Chromosome Damage
10.19.16 by Paul Banks


Brad Anderson and Greg Weber, under the name Noisegasm, have been playing in and around the Seattle scene since 2013. This album, their debut, was released in late September of this year, and it finds the duo in good form.

With Anderson on keyboards, and Weber on guitar, I was anticipating the electronics to modify the sounds ala Eric Copeland, and some of those textures are present on tracks like “Hegemon Stomp.” That particular track puts a simple, repetitive phrase, thick with processing and heavy on abrasion, to the point of approximating a chiptune texture, at its center, to mixed results. The motive here, in other words, just isn’t epic enough to warrant the increased volume and insistence towards the end of the track.

However, I’d contrast that track with the one that precedes it. “Cavity Search” is a darn good piece of noise. The guitar/keyboards/electronics stew is almost completely obscured, and Noisegasm deliver a heavy, vibrant slab of industrial noise that evokes menace while showing more than a snippet of compositional awareness. This tape here and there feels too insistent on phrases that might not hold up, but on “Cavity Search,” the duo keep things moving to great effect.

“Handgelenkermüdung” finds a middle point between these strengths and weaknesses. It puts a similarly repeated phrase in its middle and focuses on adjusting the dynamics to move things along. It wears thin to an extent, but it’s worth a listen because it does achieve a more epic atmosphere, and it’s frankly a superior composition. However, its place in the track order is what hurts it. While it fits next to other tracks, it’s preceded by “The March Foreboding,” a strong dark ambient track that shows the pair full capable of self-editing to dark, moving effect.

Ultimately, this felt like many debut recordings, especially within the tape scene. There are almost too many ideas and genres. “Indochine,” while a decent progressive electronic/ambient composition in its own right, feels out of place. My sense is that when Noisegasm keep things simple, or when they find a strong motive, they’re a very strong pair. When they’re trying to impress melodically, they don’t reach the same heights. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of promise here, and I’d readily suggest a listen.

Grab “Bad Trips & Chromosome Damage” here.

Tabs Out | A Bleaker Teen Lip – Downgraded Saved Arrow

A Bleaker Teen Lip – Downgraded Saved Arrow
9.14.16 by Paul Banks


This was my introduction to A Bleaker Teen Lip and the FTAM Productions label. That said, if you look down at the credits, you’ll notice the mastering was handled by the venerable Andrew Weathers, whose accelerating output is often a mark of quality. This holds true on this release.

“Downgraded Saved Arrow” is comprised of a live set on the first side, and reworkings of that set on the second side. This particular set isn’t especially groundbreaking, but it compensates in sheer energy and execution. Much of the album consists of what sounds like effects pedal worship, bursts of sounds, distortion, and squeals. For fans of this approach, the music often depends on urgency, a willingness to be extreme with respect to volume, and presenting ebbs and flows in the sound to avoid monotony. By that measure, the live set and the reworkings succeed.

A Bleaker Teen Lip also introduce little touches that I prefer in this sort of recording. There are sampled and sliced up vocals and sounds, hissing cuts through samples the sound like paper torn at hyper-speed. If you’ve heard a few John Wiese albums, you have the right idea. I found that these elements managed to positively accentuate what sounded like screams, yelps, and other vocal manipulations. The power violence-like yelps and yips just work against the sound manipulations and noise.

All this said, I find “Downgraded Saved Arrow” to be a good genre exercise more than anything. It’s probably safe to say that this hits the pleasure centers for me that are housed in my mid-00s NYC noise scene nostalgia. If you’re deep into this sound, I think there are moments where you’ll listen and feel A Bleaker Teen Lip know what they’re doing. On the other hand, if you’re deep into this sound, you should know what this is about already.

I think the conclusion is clear: this document of A Bleaker Teen Lip’s live show should be enough to convince you to go check them out. In a live setting, the power of this music is inescapable. As a standalone piece of art, you could get an interesting listen or two out of this, but probably nothing that will supplant some of your go-to noise records.