Emergency Group – Inspection of Cruelty
11.16.2023 by Ryan Masteller
I honestly came into this one blind – I had no idea what I was getting into with “Emergency Group” or “Inspection of Cruelty,” no sense of where the Play button could possibly take me. Were they a moonlighting band of EMT professionals? Were they gumshoes on the lookout for human rights violations? Were they masked vigilantes? None of these questions would be answered for me, but Inspection of Cruelty, on the New York label Island House (whose enviable catalog also includes releases from Joseph Allred, Seawind of Battery, and rootless, meaning I have to pay attention to another tape imprint now), answered probably the most important one: Is this thing going to be awesome or what?
Two sides, two halves of a forty-five minute composition called “Inspection of Cruelty,” and the first thing outta my brain as I immediately jammed out was, “Oh my gosh, this sounds like it’s coming right out of Miles Davis’s fusion period.” There’s definitely a Corea/McLaughlin vibe all over the place, and while there’s not horn to be found on this thing (does that mean it’s even jazz??), the guitar, keys, and bass melodically interlock and play off each other in such profound ways that it doesn’t matter. So I got hooked immediately, drawn in – gotta do some research now, or else I’m going to be woefully underprepared if end up writing about it. (We’ll see if this actually posts.) Good news on that front: the Bandcamp (RIP) description pretty much says, “Miles Davis fusion period,” “Chick Corea,” “no horns.” I’m either psychic, incredibly intuitive, or good at spoiling myself.
Don’t be an idiot when choosing which one of those to believe.
One thing I did learn is that the band’s name is a riff on the Tony Williams Lifetime’s Emergency! album, which featured Davis players Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, and Larry Young, so really the circle is fully complete. The Emergency Group allows this amazing history to seep into their playing, while perfecting their own brand of psychedelic jazz-rock. The quartet – Robert Boston on keys, Andreas Brade on drums, Jonathan Byerley on guitar, and Dave Mandl on bass – reaches out telepathically to connect on far-out vibrations, somehow warping in and out of nebulae in one moment and hooking into cryo-stasis tubes in others, always in perfect sync, always up for exploration, always of one mind. But the playing is also intensely grounded – it’s one thing to drift off into space metaphors and quite another to appreciate the astounding musicianship on display. It’s almost like we don’t expect this anymore, as if it’s of a time long past, a movement no longer worth getting angry about.
But you’d be dead wrong about that. The time is always now.
Inspection of Cruelty blazes new paths in your mind, leaving fiery trails in its wake. It’s a massive live-take dopamine rush that is endlessly relistenable – that’s why it’s on tape, so it can auto-flip and play constantly to soundtrack your entire day. Sadly the edition of 75 tapes is sold out from the source, but you can still set digital files on repeat, right? Also, and I don’t think this is hyperbole, but I have an inkling this thing’s going to place high on the Tabs Out Top 200 Tapes list, the most important year-end list you can peruse. Check back in December.
Navel – Im Norden
11.13.2023 by Ryan Masteller
Astral ambient folk duo Navel has been around longer than you probably realize, dropping a self-released CDr called Neill back in 1998, when most of you were still wearing short pants and stumbling over your stumpy toddler legs. (I was in college.) Of course, all that time’s just allowed them to marinate and perfect their imaginative stargazey meditations, and in 2023 we’re lucky to have a new tape, Im Norden, out on the massively excellent Stuttgart label Cosmic Winnetou, run by one of my favorite ambient artists going, Günter Schlienz. And while “Gage” and “Floyd” are the driving forces behind Navel’s guitar/piano/synth krautrock experiments, decidedly on the mellow tip, those aren’t their real names. Without spoiling the secret, I’ll give you a hint about one of them: Im Norden is out on Cosmic Winnetou. The rest is up to you.
Navel itself had taken a little break, with its last releases Ambient 2 (2019) and Gnome’s Pond (2018) predating the pandemic. The time, then, for Navel is NOW. And it couldn’t have come at a better moment for me, personally, as I needed the great reminder that I could throw on a pair of headphones and get lost in something whose motto is “there’s more space in northern nights, you can even see it in the flaring lights.” I don’t know what that means, but I love it! The keywords, surely optimized for search engines – “space,” “north,” “night,” “light” – strike all the right epic post-band chords, predicting the cavernous sounds and extended notes Navel traffic in. Take “Tune Into the Nautical Dawn,” for instance, a fully ambient-ized atmospheric creation with wooden creaks and staticky spoken samples interrupting hazy tonal drift prior to light breaking in the predawn east.
I sank most completely into side B, whose “Point Sirius Observatory at Mornings” – seriously, the language of the track titles! – pairs energizing synth billows with strummed acoustic guitar to fully encapsulate the exact aural accompaniment to anything called “Point Sirius Observatory at Mornings.” And observe I did, my own mind and aura, as “The Lighthouse Fair” and “Tenebris Lux” (darkness light) expanded upon these feelings and transcended me to somewhere I could only float, touch nothing, and expand from within. It had me thinking to myself stuff like, “Ah, of course, breathing is easy!” as if I’d never put that concept together before in my life. I don’t even think about breathing normally!
Chalk it up then as another win for Navel, as another slam dunk for Cosmic Winnetou, as another grand slam for my soul. Ferro tape, home-dubbed in real time, edition of 50.
Computer – Koy Pond
11.08.2023 by Ryan Masteller
You might assume that the artist behind a solo guitar endeavor would be the kind of person to regularly hop atop their Marshall amp and flash the devil horns before ripping off solo after righteously technical solo as pyrotechnics erupt around the circular stage they’re clearly performing on in front of thousands of admiring fans. But no number of metal faces flashed or tongues wagged in defiance of the rules will matter if the music is all flash, no substance. It’s easy to judge a guitar hero based on the surface characteristics, but what happens when you get beneath the façade? What happens when you expose the gaping void at the center of their being, when you hold a mirror up to their true self to show them how empty their gestures are? That double middle finger to the establishment is reflected right back at them, and it can be rude awakening.
I know. I’ve lived it.
But there’s a flip side to this, where the guitar hero looks not to accumulate outward accolades but to search inward to find their true self at the center of their being. This is more along the lines of what Zona Zanjeros has done here with Koy Pond, an experimental guitar mediation gone nuclear, its blast radius extending far beyond Zanjeros physical presence and out into the wider Brooklyn neighborhood in which this was recorded in a single session, likely leveling a few blocks in the process. (Sorry, everyone!) Yes, this is just Zanjeros and a guitar (and Ableton). Yes, this is released under the moniker “Computer,” suggesting deep technical programming and orderly execution. And yes, I imagine myself peacefully looking at fish at first. But then it gets weird, and wild, and finally, I think Zanjeros ends up on top of a Marshall amplifier, flipping two birds at whoever’s closest.
Because who’s to say this is really a guitar at all? It’s amazingly varied, with Zanjeros virtually following every whim available clouding the instrument in effects, recording it at all kinds of levels, sending the notes/sounds/patterns careening in all sorts of directions, sometimes off cliffs. Where “Computer” becomes a proper moniker is in the processing, as it’s clearly fussed with, much to the delight of all zoner freaks who want nothing more than their minds melted or crispily fried like shorting-out effects pedals. Wait a minute – Zona, zoners? Not coincidental. As these passages stretch past reasonable runtimes and into contemplative headspace, we’re left to ponder the internal, the meeting of technology and human interaction with it, blanketing ourselves in silver sheens of static and ducking from phased pings of freaky fretwork. Getting to the heart of ourselves. Peering into the heart of Computer.
You are a mere six dollars away from this trip yourself – and only three copies of the original run of sixty-five are available from Drongo Tapes! You know what to do.
Induced Geometry – self-titled
10.30.2023 by Ryan Masteller
Sometimes you need an outlet. A way to blow off steam. An activity where you can let your guard down, be a little more vulnerable, do something a little different. When you’re Daniel Provenzano, bass slinger extraordinaire for Philly wild things Writhing Squares, whose main gig lets him blow off plenty of steam through an unending stream of psychedelic skronk alongside partner-in-craziness Kevin Nickles, and whose records are unending blasts of fist-pumping agitation aimed directly at the heart of convention, that outlet is less a feral pouring out of adrenaline and more an inward grasp toward solitude, a scrabbling at the door to the outer world to slam it shut in the face of constant stimulation. And when you call Philly home (and trust me, I know Philly), sometimes that self-imposed peace and quiet can be a life preserver.
Whether or not Dan truly needed to escape, he certainly receded in his work as Induced Geometry. On his self-titled tape for Trouble in Mind, Dan “began this project trying to make static, featureless music that was the same in all directions – isotropic, geometric, devoid of feeling.” Channeling “the minimalist composers” (while also apologizing to them, which he didn’t need to do at all but was a nice gesture nonetheless, just in case), Dan creates synthesizer patterns that repeat and fold, skimming and shivering soundwaves that conjure up primitive 3D computer graphics, or at least early attempts at MS Paint design. Hanging on tones and motifs until they merge with imagination and become decorative scaffolding on which more tones can be hung if they need to, Dan twiddles knobs and presses buttons and adjusts plugins and applies filters, all in the service of making sense of the inner workings of his private, non–Writing Squares existence.
But Dan is a total and complete failure. See, his initial attempts at “featureless” and “devoid of feeling” electronic experiments quickly became something else, and while there’s a bit of antisociality to the results, Dan himself has done a complete 180 on these tracks, calling them “some of the most personal [pieces of] music I’ve ever recorded.” They’re certainly labored over and well considered, and it’s easy to imagine the interiority of the process of crafting these works. Dan clearly turned inward and excavated a part of himself that he fashioned into the music, giving it a poignancy that perhaps he didn’t intend at first. But, fortunately for all of us, we’re left with a lot more than just “minimalist electronic synth music” for which its creator felt the need to (again, needlessly) apologize. Instead we have one person’s account of rejecting spazz and embracing personal calm, to our total selfish benefit as an audience. We should be so lucky to find such tranquility within ourselves.
This tape is Trouble in Mind’s Explorers Series vol. 31, and it comes housed in a lovely thick cardstock O-card that looks foil stamped – but isn’t! Great presentation.
Scott Solter & Rohner Segnitz – The Murals
10.25.2023 by Ryan Masteller
Scott Solter and I go way back. Well, maybe not in a traditional sense, meaning, I don’t know Scott Solter – I certainly don’t want to come off as creepy or anything. But I’ve been familiar with Scott’s material ever since he reworked a bunch of tunes by Pattern Is Movement, the delightfully wispy math-rock duo from Philadelphia. Staining their proclivities with studio trickery and mulching their stems to a wonderfully unrecognizable pulp, Solter repurposed the early PIM tracks until they barely resembled the originals, cementing himself as an inventive producer par excellence. This was 2006, closer to twenty years ago than I’d like.
Rohner Segnitz and I do not go as way far back, but that’s only because I didn’t engage his band Division Day – who released four records throughout the early aughts, if you didn’t know – in a meaningful way. (Nor did I really encounter Scott Solter’s bands Boxharp or The Balustrade Ensemble.) How can you blame me? The first decade of the 2000s was the blog decade, when music fans like me were inundated with basically anything we wanted to hear at the click of a download, and bands appeared and released music with an immediacy and ungodly speed that often proved to be their undoing. Not that Rohner Segnitz suffered this fate, mind you – I place all the blame for my ignorance squarely on myself. What else can I do?
Turns out there is something I can do, and that’s to rectify the decade plus in the desert of not listening to these artists, which is easily accomplished because of Solter and Segnitz’s April 2023 cassette release on Bathysphere Records, The Murals. And while we’re not getting anything here that I would have expected from either of these artists, I’m also delighted that what is here hits the old pleasure centers of my brain in just the right ways that I’ve come to hope for whenever I pop a new tape in the deck. (I almost always hit eject pretty quickly on any guitar-based indie band these days, which wasn’t the case in my formative years, but I think we’ve established that those formative years were pretty long ago.) Solter and Segnitz instead build their compositions from a “simple figure/gesture that grabs our interest” and work that figure/gesture into a “maximal” state, one that grips attention and twists and tweaks it until you’re left with a psychic red-armed “snakebite.”
The result in The Murals is eleven vibrant pieces that shift and redraw themselves as they unfold, routinely breaking from a haze of static or ambient gauze to puncture any boundary imposed upon them in the interest of mutation. This is what the duo means in their intent to go “maximal” from a minimal base – they establish the atmosphere through “instrument, tape, wire, module, filter, sample,” then, using the same methods, they disturb what could simply be an ambient groundwork with melody, noise, or more and more intense ambience, ratcheting up the tension of the tracks until they break back into silence, rarely resolving into an expected state.
The Murals could be mentioned in the same breath as the more abstract works of Derek Piotr, whose recordings, especially Tempatempat, from which “Horror Vacui” utilizes “Slow March,” are invariably thrilling. Erik Friedlander, the cellist whose credits include collaborations with John Zorn, Wadada Leo Smith, and the Bar Kokhba Sextet, also lends a hand to “The Sea Breaks Over a Derelict,” and in doing so offers a wide-angle perspective on The Murals as a whole: if you cock your head to one side, at the correct angle, the song cycle in total resembles a Cubist interpretation of an actual cello, its entirety – body, strings, conception – an object of hyper-revision and composition. But maybe that’s just me – I see cellos everywhere for some reason. Whatever you get here, Solter and Regnitz are clearly painting outside the lines and making up their own rules, and it’s because of that that The Murals resoundingly succeeds.
Modern Lamps – Ruby Throated Wind
10.19.2023 by Ryan Masteller
I was on the Tabs Out Cassette Podcast a couple of weeks ago as a guest (I have to work on preparing material ahead of time it seems) during the Marc Masters interview segment about his book, High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape. I received this honor because Marc used some quotes of mine in his book (thank you, thank you, self-plug). But the tragedy of the event was that a good chunk of the interview, and any content that I contributed, was lost forever in a recording snafu – i.e., the Zoom call drifted into the ether instead of encoding itself in an audio file. So we tried a do over, but it just wasn’t the same. The energy was different. Plus I had to leave right when everything got sorted.
Imagine, then, an experimental duo, in this instance Rachel and Grant Evans, proprietors of the tape label Hooker Vision, playing a show for the first time since 2009 in April 2023 and not recording it, despite it being a triumphant success and a total vibe masterpiece surely inspiring the audience to go out and jam likewise. And while I wasn’t there to confirm, it’s hard not to imagine the truth of the show’s success because the Lamps decided they wanted to hit the studio, months later, and record what they did for posterity. I mean, isn’t that crazy? Wouldn’t distance and time have totally altered the feel of the pieces and rendered them completely unrecognizable from the original venture? Was this even a good idea – would it even sound OK? Would somebody have the wherewithal, the grit, the tenacity to hit the record button?
The answer to all those questions, surprisingly, is yes. First of all, we should probably not doubt the Hooker Vision folks in any way – Rachel and Grant have been letting the label cook for a long time, but they did go on hiatus for a bit, from November 2014 to October 2021, when they dropped a Modern Lamps / Motion Sickness of Time Travel (Rachel’s excellent solo gig) release, igniting the fuse on their triumphant return. (In fact, Twitter/X user Gremlins 2 Official responded to a “present listening” pic I took of Ruby Throated Wind with “great to see hooker vision in 2023,” typing out loud what we were all thinking.)
Second, somebody did hit record, though it likely wasn’t Tabs Out’s own Jamie Orlando. (Sorry, Jamie.)
And third – who cares if they did the exact same performance that they cranked out live? “Everything has changed but that’s OK!” they declare, as they blow into their clay flutes and whistles, the same ones (probably) they used for their performance. Rachel does her thing on bass, electric piano, and synthesizers. Grant zones a daunting clarinet, adding to the atmosphere with percussion and electronics. You feel like you’re in the room with them throughout Ruby Throated Wind.
And while that room is in Athens, Georgia, likely a humid one, sweltering in the summertime, Modern Lamps kick up a bit of a dust storm with side A, a cosmic pastiche of nighttime desert ambiance as sands shift and stars fall, the playing reverent to the universe as time and space zoom closer to the point of physical contact. Then the bass kicks in and the shamanic undulations ensue, a ritualistic otherworldly hoe-down whose rhythm, while abrupt at first, melts into the night and forms a spiritual core.
The Evanses contemplate the stars on side B, drifting in and out of meditation. The clarinet and piano flit seamlessly about each other, accentuating the most incredible moments with delightful interplay. The track fades out on an odd sing-songy choral sample – not sure of the source, but it’s weathered and (sounds) pitched, but it’s deceptively stirring. The whole thing probably serves to render that original performance moot. Well, probably not, especially for those who were there, but my imagination of what I’ve never heard pales in comparison to Ruby Throated Wind. This one’s a keeper.
The tape comes in an edition of 40 and is still available!
Premiere: Adam Gnade & Demetrius Francisco Antuña – Voice Mails From The Great Satan
1.25.18 by Ryan Durfee
“Voice Mails From The Great Satan” is broken up into two sections, Nighttime Suite / Daytime Suite, and explores living in America during Tr*mp’s presidency through the lens of Agnes, a character we were introduced to in Adam’s novella Locust House. Side A (Nighttime Suite) guides Agnes through the darkness of a heartbreak not known since businessmen threw themselves out of windows back in ’29. Ominous bowed guitars & clanging drums, at times sounding like a rough Sunn 0))) (wouldn’t a collab between Gnade & O’Malley be dreamy?) mesh with some gorgeously doomy post rock. It leads us to a question: Is this the society we want to be living in? One where profit motive is placed before the welfare of the have nots. One where greed lays waste to the last dying gasps of a beauty we are so desperately grasping onto. Makes you want to run to the hills. Side B (Daytime Suite) brings more gloom while spiraling further and further down the rabbit hole. The influence of Dean Hurley’s sound design on the latest season of Twin Peaks can absolutely be heard in the distorted field recordings and electrical hum that sound like the ground is being torn asunder.
“Voice Mails From The Great Satan” has a release date of February 16th. Preorders for the tape are open now.
Track 1: Nighttime Suite (11:48)
I Blood in the Parking Lot
II Voicemails From The Great Satan
Track 2: Daytime Suite (13:57)
V Sunday Afternoon in the Sun
VI Summers End/Summer’s End
Cloud Tangle – Pocket
10.17.17 by Ryan Durfee
Cloud Tangle is the recording project of Amber Ramsay, who released this gorgeous short EP through Valley Heat Records outta Brisbane. It also happens to me my introduction to both these Aussies, and what a pleasant treat both turned out to be!
I’m glad this tape appeared in my mail box when it did, when Seattle is getting cold and gray again for the next ten months. “Pocket” is perfect for sitting by the window while listening to the rain fall with a nice cup of tea. The A side of the tape, which the label lists as the feature of the EP, is absolutely fantastic. The first song, “Always Falling,” starts out with reverb’d out organ until Ramsay’s haunted vocals float in. With the appearance of drums, the song gently morphs into a beautiful post rock tune. This first side of the cassette is highlighted by “The Feeling Of You,” an exquisitely evocative song built off of dreamy guitar chords riding a hypnotic loping beat while Amber’s lyrics about missing someone just sends chills down the spine in the best way possible.
The B side is a collection of instrumentals (including “The Feeling Of You!”), an exclusive to the tape release. Unlike many a instrumental/remix/etc B side affairs, these are definitely not throwaway songs. Each compliment the flip side wonderfully, and I find myself rewinding it constantly to hear the track “The End Of You.” My only qualm with this EP is that, well, it’s an EP! Too dang short, it is! I’m really excited to see what Amber Ramsay does on her next album as Cloud Tangle.
This tape has been stuck in my player for about a week, so you can’t have my copy. But you may cop one of the other 49 copies here.
Adam Gnade And Planet B – Life Is The Meatgrinder That Sucks In All Things
7.10.17 by Ryan Durfee
“Life Is A Meatgrinder That Sucks In All Things,” a collaboration between prolific author Adam Gnade and Planet B, which consists of Justin Pearson (Struggle, Swing Kids, Crimson Curse, Locust, …) / Gabe Serbian (Cattle Decapitation, Holy Molar, …) / Luke Henshaw (producer extraordinaire), is a prequel to Gnade’s last book, Locust House. It documents a time and place which folks in my age range look back on very fondly; a golden era, pre 9/11, pre internet boom, when life seemed simpler, more primal, more dangerous. Being fed by oil stained hands into the maws of the military industrial complex fueled by late stage capitalism. Adam’s writing exudes a wholesomeness, a lightness of being, a way of cutting through the external bullshit to shed light on who people really are at the core of things.
This tape, in an edition of 100 copies, focuses on Joey from Gnade’s excellent Caveworld book and San Diego at the turn of the century. A time when one could catch The Plot To Blowup The Eiffel Tower playing with Terror at Che Cafe, people watch at Pokez, and go to a house party at the mythic Golden Hill House. He recites the story in a post-apocalyptic tone, reminding me of the best of the beats, while the music backing Adam is skronky, minimal synth jazz, like Delia Derbyshire jamming with Pharoah Sanders. The B side of the tape are songs that Adam recorded on his own with a homemade four string guitar at the Hard Fifty Farm, a small Kansas farm of rescue animals he works along with others at Pioneers Press.
I can’t say enough good things about this tape, how life affirming Adam’s stories are, how they buoy you up during dark times like that 45 you played over and over again during your first major heartbreak. Buy this tape and then go buy everything that Adam Gnade has released. You’ll be thankful that you did.