Tape Hiss
#009: Spurs and Ten-Gallons

we have not entered the tape renaissance. Tapes have never gone away. Long abandoned by the recording industry, its status as preferred portable usurped by CDs and MP3s, the cassette still marches forward, championed by the tiniest of the tiny start-up labels and, increasingly, those looking for an alternative to digitalization and the tyranny of flat formats. The recording technology is dirt cheap, reproduction is a breeze, and packaging is a blast. Cassettes elicit a fervor of fandom rivaled only by top-shelf vinyl.

Herein, cassettes shall have their day. Unfortunately, only a few will. Try as I might, I can’t cover nearly as many as I’d like. So if you run a label or know someone who does, and you’d like to submit tapes for review, please e-mail me.

Addiction for Slumber
[Imvated, 2006]

There must’ve been something in George Herriman’s coffee during the golden age of Krazy Kat. The man produced lush, classic cartoons daily. The formula helped: Krazy (cat) loves Ignatz (mouse), who hates Krazy. Offasa Pup loves Krazy, often imprisons Ignatz. Repeat ensuing hijinks ad infinitum.

The scenario sounds simple, but Herriman imbued it with a beauty and metaphysical depth rarely found in funnies. As a comic book artist, Bram Devens adored Herriman, and he’s translated his surreal world of meditative love and pain into sound. Named after the mouse, Ignatz relies on basic equipment: guitar, effects, sampler, and voice. His sound is saturated with tape sludge and spiked racket—realized with talent nurtured through years of splicing and warping cassettes—that nearly consumes his lonesome finger picking.

We all know the Fahey reference comes next, but this time it doesn’t mean a rehash of Appalachian raga norms. Devens takes his cues from the later Fahey catalogue; Addiction for Slumber sounds more like a poor man’s Womblife minus Jim O’Rourke than an unsung Takoma record.

The poor man statement is no insult, just an acknowledgement of Devens’ love of the cheap and gritty. Ignatz could never sound clean. The rust and dust pluming from Addiction for Slumber adds an interesting temporal dimension. Alternately sounding like a wax cylinder caked in dried mud and a salvaged disc from a 22nd century junk heap, Ignatz rightly relies on his broke-down effects as much as his guitar.

Though Ignatz is the superior name, Krazy fits the project better. Addiction for Slumber is the aftermath of a brick hitting, a confusion of red throbs, from both heart and head, spiced with the taste of iron filings. With the dirt under his nails and the landscape of Coconino shifting snake-like around him, Devens’ refuses to lift himself from the ground to sift and separate the emotions on his tracks.

Recommended. If the tape sells out, at least check out his self-titled debut on K-raa-k.
[Bryan Berge]

Knit Witch
[Fuck It Tapes, 2006]

Lose the eccentricity, Faust, chew on that pure primal pulse. Lose the artiness, Sonic Youth, rock the noise direct to four-track. Go back in time, Black Flag, and ditch Henry Rollins for Raymond Pettibon. Let him free-associate about his art over yr piss-punk. Become Knit Witch.

Clocking in at WAY too short, Witchycraft is a sudden contender for tape of the year, if the category existed. Maybe I’ll wrap a cracked saucer in duct tape and send off an award. Never mind. It’ll only end up on the Knit Witch rehearsal floor anyway, splattered with errant spray paint and surrounded by old seeds and stems. During the first minute or so of each song, the medal would sit stationary, unmolested as the drums hitch onto a sloppy proto-Neu! rhythm and the feedback builds from grumpy guitar attacks. But when the songs break into all-out bombast, as they do, invariably yet…uh…AWESOMELY, the baseboards would bulge and the shag shake, propelling the sad trophy over Manda’s mangled keys and Britt’s spit-soaked mic to a new resting place.

Highlights are many and red-eyed high. “Dawn of Swords” rides a snarling, low-slung guitar line and piercing keys to fuzzy, serotonin-sapping explosions, made all the more badass by raspy, unintelligible vocals. “Bell Book and Candle” sets Manda’s urgent Kim-Gordon-esque vocals against a noisier backdrop, in which rock impulses are almost abandoned in favor of shrill winds and bone crunch. And even the most ardent Thurston Moore fellator would agree that the Knit Witch cover of “Making the Nature Scene” matches the Sonic Youth original.

Witchycraft is pump-up music for passing the bottle around the backseat on the way to a bonfire. Or head-butting music for teeth-grinders. If your rock needs polish, professionalism, and orchestral instrumentation, Knit Witch won’t work for you. Knit Witch will also sneer at you and kick your ass. It’s for your own good. Don’t ignore something so fun in the future.
[Bryan Berge]

The End Springs / The Wolf Tracks
Peace Paws
[Not Not Fun, 2006]

Once upon a time, when Shrimper headed up the inland empire, cassettes boasted more than their share of indie-rock acts. Now that indie means a ninety-nine cent fast-food-style song snack at the corporate megashop, cassettes are reserved for luddites and lunatics, the noisy and profane. But hurry back, the past is always there for you. Heart bared and flannel clad, this cassette is perfectly tailored for early-90s enjoyment, if the hearty nostalgia trippers can handle heroic doses of grainy analogue FX.

Considering split tapes as a couple, these two are lovely and dysfunctional, a crew better off with each other than with anyone else. The End Springs is the more stable of the two, whispering rainy-day string plucks over soft field recordings and a hefty load of delay. Though some experimental trappings persist, the End Springs play pop, and succeed when conscious of the fact.

Opener “Samantha’s Song” shines like a waxy apple, with perfectly placed electric guitar bursts and sunshine acoustic loops. “Round the Western” and the “The Hunting (Part II)” slip into spurs and ten-gallons, with spaced-out oscillations and codeine-laced murmurs setting a dusky backdrop for anti-heroes set to square off over five count of rustled cattle. “…It was lost…Did You Find It?” returns the cassette to whimsical strum-alongs, with a chunky bassline replacing the coterie of cheap machinery. Running through each track with the same charming laziness, ES defines bedroom four-track loner-pop.

The Wolf Tracks are the more gregarious of the pair, dragging shy ES to gatherings only to get drunk and belligerent and pass out over the toilet. Here to remind us that a low-end Tascam can only record two tracks simultaneously, WT play two broken songs at once, one a mud-in-yr-eye ballad, the other a riotous percussive jamboree. Combined, the two sound like a less coherent Don’t Wake Me Up-era Microphones. The speak-sing existential musings of “Being a Child is Being the Earth” is vintage Elvrum, simultaneously awkward, cheesy, and beautifully wide-eyed. “Commander in the Fields” emphasizes the scattered, disjoined beats that dominate the side and throw the tracks permanently out of sync. The lyrics are forced around, between, and under a barrage of creaks and bangs. The guitars and keys falter and fall from their initial melodies, befuddled by the surrounding mess. When entropy takes hold, it doesn’t relent. Which is for the best. Everyone’s heard their share of competent folk-pop, but we can use more intentional wreckage. The cruder, the better, says I.
[Bryan Berge]

Alvars Orkester
[White Tapes, 2006]

The Swedish synth duo Alvars Orkester has festered for nearly twenty years, but 2006 saw their first widely distributed release, Interference on Ash International. Their earlier material remains mostly unreleased, save for a CD (packed in a wooden box) on Sweden’s Kningdisk and a couple tapes on the tiny Borft imprint, all of which demands a hefty price outside of Europe. In fact, 1993 represents the best chance for North Americans to get a hold on the cold, slimy fish that is the Orkester. In the eponymous year, original members Joachim Nordwall and Jan Svennsson teamed up with saxophonist Bosse Johannsson for this ugly, assertive set, a study in post-industrial machine hum and fucked, epileptic jazz.

Nordwall also operates the iDEAL label and curates the festival of the same name, which this year brought Wolf Eyes, Sunn 0))), and Earth—among other noise and drone luminaries—to Sweden. Anyone familiar with those names, or any of the output on iDEAL, will have a sense of Nordwall’s sadomasochistic patience, a virtue shown in abundance on 1993. Nordwall and Svennsson confine themselves to backup duty on this record, allowing Johannsson’s aural heartburn to take center stage. The saxophonist exhumes the skeleton of jazz and drinks from the skull, abusing even the freest sense of tonality and structure.

Bracing and ballsy as they are, Johannsson’s antics would grow tiresome without the tarry backdrop provided by the original Alvarians. Pinned to a dreary low-end murmur, Nordwall and Svennsson travel the frequency range—from hidden rat colony to boiling kettle to heavy footstep—with the dives, climbs, and swoops of the seasoned knob-twiddler. Uneasy and angry, their subtle sounds ultimately sustain the tape for its forty minutes, despite the prominence of the saxophonist.
[Bryan Berge]

Frozen Closure
[Imvated, 2006]

To simplify matters, two kinds of noise exist: the metric and the non-metric. Both defy social and musical norms, exposing the rotten dark spaces hidden by city lights and guitar shimmer. The non-metric comes off more punk rock: total sonic annihilation; any sound spit out, splattered, and shattered at any time. These folks speak the age-old anarchistic tongue. A liberated, dirty utopia hides beneath their sonic debris.

But with the world firmly ensnared by capitalism, only the most idealistic expect an overhaul. The discouraged discontents play metric noise instead. In it, conventional linear song-writing norms are perversely reaffirmed. Time is stretched stagnant, enslaved by a militaristic pulse leading a slow, sad march towards death. The control inherent in meter becomes a trap, a symbol of the oppressive economic and social networks that push us all into rigid rhythms.

Metric noise is rising. Wolf Eyes’ Nate Young headbangs over a drum machine, D Yellow Swans shudder as if each beat were a knife wound to the solar plexus, and Mammal tracks feature little more than the tick-tocks from the Grim Reaper’s deathwatch. Robedoor’s Frozen Closure fits within this lineage. The titles of its two tracks—“Glacier Graves” and “Solar Wombs, Polar Tombs”—center on entrapment, as does the music.

“Glacier Graves”: a groaning, droning voice plays the victim as shards of feedback, sheets of synth-junk, and feeble bell clinks condense around him and freeze. Driven by a slow slave drum, the process lurches forward until his lungs can no longer expand enough to exhale.

“Polar Tombs”: Strands of high-end sine-whine unfurl into repetitive gear-whirl while a distant click-clack becomes a present boom. Mundane hum-drone fogs the insistent beat, and high, shy electronic squiggles enter and fade, stifled by the dominant drums. The vocal oms, this time a muted accent, return to ride alongside, and the track lumbers to a deflated crescendo—noise and volume without catharsis.

Frozen Closure is long, slow and repetitive, as it must be. Its power accumulates with the time it swallows. It grows uglier, more menacing, and strangely enough, more rewarding, as it proves its endurance.
[Bryan Berge]

Dead Machines
Minister to a Mind Diseased
[Hanson, 2006]

When Dead Machines works, it sounds more like a machine with tumours than any subscribed notion of noise music. And apparently, brain tissue dragged across a wire-dreaded motherboard leaves a fleshy wet sound squirting out of the headphones. The Olson’s must have syphilis ingrained fingers to make these kinds of diseased machine noises at whim. Side One’s torturous wheezing and Tweety Bird feedback punctures a sludge of underground soil excavation. Stalled machinery with itchy ‘parts’ squelches out a cruel pulse. The brief loops of alarm clocks bleep out in unison “it’s time to change the sheets” on repeat.

Olson brings out his bent and dented Sax for a humpbacked loop, its fractured lines getting spat into the open mouth of some homemade abuse box. Someone hits the apocalypse dial and the whole thing implodes. Then it heads down again, as a smattering of comets make an acne pocked mess of the low black cloud cover.

As the output of Olson’s Spykes project gets more interesting, it seems that the more infamous Dead Machines can sometimes be caught napping. Where Side One barrels one legged across the finish line, Side Two stumbles around in soiled underwear. The defibrillated ghost train wheeze is the usual analogue buggering, a mere raspberry blowing session through rusty jacks. The whining lulls could be Dr. Pepper breaks rather than any solid forms ready to go anywhere. Finally something good happens with pinprick clicks lighting the room with static sparks. Sadly, it’s too little too late though, most of this release feels like cold leftovers.
[Scott McKeating]

By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-03-30
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