Sunday, March 22, 2009

Monthly Cassette Reviews-March Edition

Another edition of my adjective abusing, rambling, inane reviews on the cassette underground. Sweet batch of punk, bedroom-pop, space-drone, and sonic blech this month...

Teepee “Voodoo” (Jerkwave)
Starting off this month's edition are two great art-punk recordings from the burgeoning Jerkwaves Tape label. So far, recent releases on the label have included Pink Noise's "Dream Code" album (re-released on vinyl by Sacred Bones), awesome bedroom-punk from Nice Face (who also had a vinyl release on SB), and, of course, a Dead Luke cassette. For those not in the know, Jerkwave is run by the man behind Dead Luke, which, apparently, has been retired so he can work on other projects (more on the below). Anyways, Jerkwave's description of this Florida band as being drone punk is pretty darn accurate. Intense and phased-out guitar rays ride underneath lo-fi punk anthems. Kinda of like if Spacemen 3 started up now and listened to the Intelligence rather than the Velvets. The listen here is pretty intense, however, there are a few moments of respite, particularly in 'Glad I Never', a gloomy lo-fi little number that shows these cats can turn down the drone every once in a while to let their pop muscles shine.

Rodent Plague “Evacutations” (Jerkwave)
Next up in the Jerkwave army is another blackened comet in the A-Frames/Intelligence/AFCGT sphere, Rodent Plague is the main vehicle of Erin Sullivan, who has spent some time with the above mentioned circle of bands, but has also played with the Dipers and Climax Golden Twins. So, when the man goes solo, it is definitely time to pay attention. The tracks here range from A-Frames-style clunker-punk to industrial bliss waves and even veering into loose ragas-- with about a half dozen overdubbed guitars. Quite the juxtaposition, but, it all works quite well together.

Absinthe Minds “The Song Of Returning Night” (Not Not Fun)
So this is what the "retired" Dead Luke has been up to since abandoning his own moniker to work with others. His other here being the incredibly talented Zola Jesus, who dropped one of last years best 7"s on Sacred Bones. The combo of these two was not quite what I expected (uhhh, bedroom weirdo's making strange love to their four tracks and birthing some sort of goth-pop baby...maybe), instead we get to hear the actual recording of the birthing process of said goth-pop baby. Low moans and high wails emanate from these two, while heavily reverbed keyboards, cryptic guitar lines, and outta control echoed FX puddle together to make for one intense cavernous romp through the backwater lanes of these two youngin's maze-like minds. Phew!

Antique Brothers “Season’s Feast” (NNF)
This next jam from the newest batch of Not Not Fun cassettes comes from the Connecticut-bred brothers Cy and Ged Gengras, who have been, apparently, playing together as the Antique Bros for four years, but you coulda' fooled me cuz this is my first encounter with them. Actually, I guess I have heard Ged play before-- the man has, on occasion, drummed in Pocahaunted, Robedoor, and Vibes. So he's pretty much the official drummer of the Not Not Fun stable. And, much like his work with the above mentioned, Antique Bros are mining the same slow-building psych/drone terrain. These fellers, however, seem to have a deep appreciation of eastern-styled drone (think Taj Mahal Travellers, people), which is usually accompanied with hard-plucked acoustic guitar. These moments of somewhat calmer reflection tend not too last long before they break into Sun Ra-esque freakouts and mountainous psych runs. There are also a few moments here that remind me of the heyday of the heavier end of post-rock, kinda like the more crushing moments on those early Mogwai singles. Even though I've missed the boat on these guys before, I will hereby be paying closer attention and passing off the details. Here's to pressing something to wax! Oh yeah, great packaging on this one from those kids over at Not Not Fun. Brilliant psych-o-delic cover by Amanda of NNF/Pocahaunted infamy.

N. 213 "Vexation" (Digitalis Limited)
Now on to some local action..."Vexation" is another great distorted and demented take on pop. N. 213 (lead singer and axe slasher in Shearing Pinx) has been steadily pumping out solo releases on his Isolated Now Waves label for years now, but this time around Digitalis gets a chance to release a cassette, which apparently sold out so fast it was never even listed on the Digitalis site. The first side showcases Nic's penchant for cheaply recorded but incredibly infectious weirdo-pop, and, admittedly, this has been some of my favorite material of his to listen to. Up at the front of the mix is his signature cheap warbled keyboards, drum machines, and a myriad of found sounds that find their way into each track. Some of the tracks here flit between bouncy, sing-a-long anthems to garbled fits of noise. N. 213, in many of his previous releases, and shown to extremes here, has been battling his inner demon to make either some frightful noise or seriously giddy thrash-pop. This cassette is a shining example of both. The flip is a little darker than the previous set of tracks and features long multi-layered blasts of echoed trumpet, creating an eerie vacuum of lost-in-space atmospheres. Sadly, OOP, though I have posted a track below. Try hitting up Nic at a Shearing Pinx show, as he just may have a copy left...

'Hair Respect'

WWHITE CLOUDSS "Before and After Everything" (Smoke Filled Casket)
This just may be the best damn thing I've heard from the Smoke Filled Casket label. I'm pretty sure this is another moniker of SFC's head honcho Michael Piercey (who also damages ears under Seagull and Crotch), if it is, this is a major leap from the white-out blasts under his other pseudonyms. Indeed this is just as heavy and sonically assaultive, but rather than just a relentless blast we have hypnotic head-nodding waves that teeter between sheer terror and aural delight. Reminiscent of those salad days of Burning Star Core.

gr8-2000/Stamina Mantis split (Thankless)
Fans of Suicide, Black Moth Super Rainbow, and sugar rushs will definitely be all over this gr8-2000 flip. Tom, the man behind gr8-2000, is probably the most infectious guy in Vancouver making music right now, on and off the stage. This release relies a little less on the 8-bit beats that can dominate his live show, which, I have to admit, is a bit of a relief, as it’s just being done to death right now. I spent so many of my formative years of my life in front of video games that I can't help but think of all those wasted hours whenever I hear those blips and bleeps. My nostalgia for those sounds have run their course. Moving on, Tom has implemented boom-clap drum machines, candy-eyed keys, and swaying synths, all of which roll together perfectly in this tooth-decaying mix of dance-floor ready beats. Anyone remotely young at heart when it comes to electronic music will be sure to love this. Jaded assholes oughta just steer clear. Only thing missing here is Tom’s Alan Vega-esque yelps, which only make one appearance here. The Stamina Mantis side showcases the band's punk tendencies, and has one ripping thrasher after another. Seems as if these guys were as bummed on the Dark Knight as I was, they just took it one step further by writing 'Fuck You, Batman'. Much love goes out to Bill at Thankless, who dropped a giant pile of Thankless recordings into my lap recently, most of which I'm still combing through. The cassette in question is the newest release on the label and definitely worth picking up.

Blake “Mother” Strukof (Halved)
Debut release on local label Halved, started up by the man behind local drone outfit Empress, and he also runs this fantastic blog over here. Anyone who heard either of the Empress CDRs, which now have proper distribution here and here, should expect the same tidal drone cycles. Blake "Mother" Strukof, the newly adopted pseudonym of Empress, takes the slow encroaching drone rumbles of his previous project and litters the mix with a tide of scrap yard debris. The velocity is eventually increased, creating a menacing feel that I've never really heard in his music before. Perhaps that is what prompted the new recording name for this project, a way to distance Empress from this harsher end of his musical landscapes. Apparently this was entirely sourced from a thrift-store Christmas album, not sure I hear a lick of snow of merriment in there. Fine by me. Looks like Halved has a few upcoming releases by local space-drone-psych monsters solars and the mysterious Roger Mexico. Halved is a most welcome addition to Vancouver's already healthy cassette underground. Keep it coming...

Naked On The Vague “The Mickey Mouse Headache Tapes” (Near Tapes)
A collage of shows recorded during their 2008 North American takeover, "The Mickey Mouse Headache Tapes" showcases the Australian duo in a rawer form. Though this cassette is similar to their hypnotic Siltbreeze LP, the vibe is a bit more chaotic and a lot less refined. Droning organ, drum machines, real drums, rolling guitar lines, those signature disaffected vocals, and warped keyboards cycle towards a hypnotic nightmare/dream sequence that'll have you either clamoring for the stop button or keeping it on repeat. Their debut LP still stands as their best document, but anyone who caught their set at Pub 340 last year should be sure to try and cop this cassette from the fresh-on-the-scene Australian cassette label, Near Tapes. The memories will come flooding back. Try contacting them through their myspace or give fusetron a shot.

Sloow Road “s/t” (Sloow)
Sloow Road is a duo comprised of Sloow Tapes head Bart De Paepe and Matt Valentine, who has spent time in MV & EE and Tower Recordings, not to mention dozens of solo efforts. Anyone who has found themselves loving the fucked folk of Valentine and the "earth-psych" efforts of Sloow Tapes will definitely need to search out a copy of this sucker. The cassette starts off in a hypnotic raga, complete with buzzing strings, gently strummed guitar and hand percussion, which eventually melds into the next track. Now they enter the heavy end of psych; buzzed-out guitar stalks loudly behind cyclic crystalline guitar. Oscillating synths and panning electronics take the Sloow Tapes earth psych into a dream-like orbit.

Tyvek “Blunt Instrumental EP” (self released)
Thee mighty Tyvek kicked the shit out of the Peanut Gallery last month (was actually the second to last show ever at the PG), and, luckily for those with cash in hand, they had a few merch items up for grabs. I only had enough to snatch up this cassette and their last two OOP 7"s, and I had to pass on a handmade live cassette. "The Blunt Instrumental EP", which is not entirely instrumental, is a collection of demos of tracks that'll probably end up on a release or two somewhere down the line. The tracks here flip between demented surf and sketches of tracks with all the mistakes left in. Not for everybody, but definitely an interesting glimpse into the writing process of the band.

Sky Limousine “Telepresence” (Digitalis Limited)
Sky Limousine is the one man synth wizard known as Josh Burke, who also runs the Avocado Jungle cassette label. Most of the Sky Limo albums were released on his own label, but this one comes courtesy of the ever amazing Digitalis label. Burke weaves a dizzying mix of arpeggeated rainbow synths that bubble and swirl around the ears. The pieces here are fairly short, which suits these synthesizer work-outs quite well. Beautiful packaging from the ever consistent Digitalis Limited series.

Thurston Moore “Blindfold” (Destructive Industries)
This cassette oughta tide over any SY hardcores until the June 9th release of "The Eternal" (check out a pastiche of songs from "The Eternal" here), not that this anything like what their new album will sound like. Nope, this is an assaultive guitar crusher that intertwines 3 or 4 layers of shrill guitar drones and feedback to concoct a 30 minute tonal headache, and that's just the first side. The Richard Kern photograph on the front encapsulates the dread found here quite well. The flip is made up of 3 harsh blasts of white static and guitar squeals, not quite as forgiving as the other side. This may be one of the harshest piece of noise I've heard come from Moore, proving the man can still write amazing pop and bring the noise when the times call for it.

Prehistoric Blackout “Wake Up Dead” (Arbor)
Not as menacing as the title would suggest, "Wake Up Dead" appears to be the debut of Prehistoric Blackout, the moniker of one Taylor Richardson, who also makes up one half of the NYC synth-drone outfit Infinity Window. In the past he's also worked with Marcia Bassett in Purple Haze and even participated in The Boredoms' 88 Boadrums. Much like his work in Infinity Window (who just released an amazing LP on Arbor) Richardson piles up the synths until they create a criss-crossing tapestry of drone. Every once in a while he employs dreamy washes of warped fuzz guitar, creating dark soundscapes similar to the work of Fennesz circa "Live In Japan"-era. Not near as dark and concentrated as his work in Infinity Window, but wholly satisfying nonetheless.

Blank Realm “Street Bananas” (Digitalis Ltd. )
Australia's Blank Realm have about a dozen releases starting from 2005. Most have been impossible to track down due to them practically living on another planet. Luckily for us Western-living folk, labels like Digitalis and Not Not Fun have put out some cassettes so's the rest of us can hear the basement burbles of that strange continent. The three releases I have been able to warp my ears around have all been rather hard to pin down (read my inane scribblings on their first NNF cassette here), and their newest cassette on the ever wonderful Digitalis Ltd. series is just as confounding. The idea seems to be the same, just with entirely different demolished soundplanes being explored here. This one starts off with some overdriven slit-speaker bass squirts, bookended by dying keyboards and field recordings of, well, “street bananas”. The following track sounds as if it's to roll right off the tape, warbled, distant vocals, shaky keys, and a hiccuping, plodding guitar line. This cassette also slides into demented folk territory, just in case you don't find their sound varying enough. An amazing full length is coming from these cats, I can feel it...

Ducktails "Dreams In Mirror Field" (Future Sound Recordings)
This is actually new pressing of a Ducktails cassette released back in 2007 and appears to be his second release. Anyone after those pleasant summer vibes that Ducktails has been rocking lately will be sorely disappointed here. It seems that Matt Mondanile (who also plays in the superb Predator Vision and Real Estate) was still finding his footing at this point and the meandering found here is proof of that. This C30 veers between harsh vacuum drone, blasts of bubbling bass, and hoovered electronics. Underneath this heaviness the listener occasionally gets glimpses of his future in warbled pop when he employs warm Eno/Cluster synths, which are usually consumed by his noisier tendencies. You may still be able to get a copy of this from DNT.

Ducktails “Acres Of Shade” (Arbor)
Finally managed to track one of these down after they quickly vanished from the Arbor site. This isn't quite as pleasant as his 7" on Breaking World Records, but still features his trademark watery wah and crystallized synth. Matt utilizes some aspects of dub here by physically slowing down the track and speeding it up as it suits his mood. Plenty of echo-y drum drops and drips of wah to keep the tropical vibe going, it's just not as beach-ready as this track here.

That's it for this month. Please drop a comment if you need help finding any of these titles. I tried to keep this month's batch as new as possible so that curious readers could try and cop these.


Capt. Greencloud said...

Thanks for the great reviews Mark, really appreciated!

On another note, can you offer any clues to the mystery ( to me anyways ) of the tags attached to each Sloow Tapes release? Examples: Cold Moon,Snow Moon,Fir,Elder,Festival,Moon of the Worms,Vine,Hazel,Holly,Oak, Etc?

Mark E. Rich said...

I've never been too sure. It must just be part of the "earth-psych" vibe of the label. Never really noticed a difference in the music.

I should ask Bart, I've been wholesaling his tapes for awhile now.