#011: Scuzz Gaps
e 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.
Let’s Glow in the Dark
The method has become familiar: take cheap sampling keyboard, feed through delay units, produce hypnotic looped racket. From the pictures of Orphan Fairytale I’ve come across, she’s rocking the Casio SK-5. This setup has become the noise/psych equivalent of the indie rock quartet, for good and ill. On the one hand, a load of derivative pablum sees the light of day only because of its resemblance to another, better act. On the other, the common template injects some welcome familiarity into a genre characterized by the alien and other, while remaining versatile.
Orphan Fairytale uses her keyboard for personal ends worlds away from the aggression normally spooling through my reels. Not to drag theories of gender difference into music, but she sounds gentler, perhaps more…MATERNAL. Well, maybe not, but this certainly isn’t harsh noise, and it’s dedicated to her dad for Chrissakes. It’s got a soft side.
But she’s out on the fringes, where soft doesn’t mean Celine Dion. “Brain Malfunction” harkens to pensive Double Leopards with its machine gurgle-trances and hovering, dead-angel key clouds. “The Dubious are Growing” drags sleep-walking, channel-skipping, double-tracked chime loops to their limit, which comes early enough. Thankfully the track cuts off right on time and segues into the highlight, “Accidents Soon Happen.” Drawing from the droopy-lids school of minimalism, Orphan Fairytale unwinds long threads of tone that slowly shift, overlap, and twine into a thick, comfy fabric.
Both soothing and unnerving, Orphan Fairytale evokes the original Grimm tales, where childish whimsy met murder, starvation, and cannibalism. Like those stories, the union of seeming opposites is surprisingly harmonious, and ultimately more unsettling than a slasher flick.
Better to approach the Futurians obliquely than head on. The New Zealand art-punk sludge screamers feature members of Dick the Phone and Armpit, as well as Clayton Noone, the fellow behind the venerable CJA project. While this list of names isn’t particularly revealing, it’s somewhat comforting, certainly better than confronting the Futurians’ wall of sound.
Over the course of “Hybrid Rock,” the distortion rarely abates, the vocals stay set on shriek, guitars meld with feedback, and ruined synthesizers devour the tape with their death throes. All the while, below the chaos, a damn good band is playing. The basslines routinely hook, the riffs drag cro-magnon-heavy, and savage, stoned Kraut-tinged beats blare. The structure eludes the standard song—instead stumbling or sleeping, unconcerned or hostile to form—but the punk inspiration remains. Of course, the punk ethos should lend itself to something like this: a recycling of broken machinery, a paean to obsolete machinery, a valorization of the left behind. Now that third graders sport Target-bought Green Day shirts, power chord chugging needs an overhaul.
The Futurians supply the missing link between punk rockers and noise kids. Most of the time, the rock standard lags behind the noise, as shouts barely surface through the din and fierce beats make mere ripples, but occasional gaps in the scuzz open. Then, as ringing ears await the return of havoc, the Futurians’s snarling rock sounds positively angelic, the eye of balladry in the storm. That’s relativity for you, and also conclusive proof that “Hybrid Rock” rules.
[Old Gold, 2006]
Evolution moves slow. It affects ugly, bottom-dwelling creatures. It results in slightly different ugly, bottom-dwelling creatures. Such thoughts come to mind during “Floorbored,” as decaying rhythmic static mutate into similar patterns of decaying rhythmic static. The slowness don’t hurt. When one begins to believe in stasis, in the impossibility of change, a slight shift feels like a revolution, and a transformation a miracle.
Though “Floorbored” credits bells, amplified roomsound, human breath, and an effects rack in its creation, I’d wager the effects rack is responsible for the majority of the gross, bleating sections dotting the c60. While gross and bleating don’t mean bad in this bizarro world, “Floorbored” demands endurance. Luckily, endurance is repaid, at least for the listener with the stomach for this sort of thing. For “Floorbored” occupies a niche within a niche: long-form death drone.
Don’t get the wrong impression: many of these grimy, glacial passages are well worth the effort. And each, despite the charcoal of the sound palate, sounds distinct. Avett delivers difference within his more-of-the-same. Plus not every passage is so unrelenting. Some breaks include: chimes warped into tinny, warbly grotesquerie and comatose room rumblings littered with lonely, water-drop bell tones.
But the tape hinges on long stretches of straight ugly. For fans of the more esoteric John Olson stuff and the entire Animal disguise catalogue, this should perk the ears. The rest of us need a smaller dose.
By: Bryan Berge
Published on: 2006-04-28