#013: Monotone Troughs
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.
Bad Timing Vol. 1
I look askance at albums that ask me to max the volume. It’s one thing if the recording demands it, but usually the ploy compensates for deficiencies in the music, as if sheer amplitude could overcome tepid output. On Bad Timing, Jazzfinger makes such a request. It’s not required. While their form of stretched drone begs for a certain aural totality, a balls-out knob twist would wreck the ear canals. Luckily, Bad Timing’s subtleties can be appreciated without a sense-endangering trial.
Side-long opener “Purple Dawn/Honey” provides a cautionary example. Beneath a dominant wave of Ur-feedback, metallophonic percussion, and snaky electronics vie for second banana. Though the overpowering drone creates an illusion of stasis, closer listening reveals a ponderous interplay between its slow pulse and the ruminations of the lowercase sounds along for the ride. Marked by dual-voiced crests and monotone troughs, “Purple Dawn/Honey” unfurls in a stately, austere fashion suiting its original venue: the Newcastle Arts Centre. Compulsory seating and barred exits impel the patience necessary for the nuances that make Jazzfinger a cut above. Forty minutes in a dark, locked room would do the trick too.
The flip side finds Jazzfinger playing…erm…folk songs. Lashed to ghostly-troubadour locked grooves, the first two tracks empty the Jazzfinger closet. Prepared strings are abused, objects are dropped and prodded, and primitive whirrs and whistles caterwaul over the patient, lonesome string-slinger. Later, wheezing melodicas (maybe) and drugged pianos stew in the churning currents of a thick syrup, never free to grasp for a complete melody. While the B-side eases some accessibility into the tape, it sacrifices the extreme subtlety that made “Purple Dawn/Honey” a knit-brow, immersive treat.
No strangers to length, Jazzfinger bests themselves and most of their audience with this one. Though their pieces can’t be pop songs, one could ask for shorter fade outs and occasional edits, if only to make Bad Timing a little less exhausting. But the bang for buck factor overrides the caveat. Fast forward a bit if you must, just be aware of what you’re missing.
Medroxy Progesterone Acetate
The Worm in the Womb of the World
[Medroxy Progesterone Acetate, 2006]
Ouch. Psychedelic noise at its most damaged. Could be heard a hundred times and not heard. I lucked out. You have to sink into this. Let consciousness go offline. WWW has layers that don’t click unless the album is allowed to breathe. Like an audio Magic Eye, Worm in the Womb of the World reveals its pattern only after the static has been accepted.
One hyphen away from a form of birth control, Medroxy Progesterone Acetate delineates barren ground indeed, infested only by spiky, parched plants and horned lizards with sandpaper tongues and a taste for human flesh. Dry winds bring dusty whirlwinds bearing decaying wreckage from homesteads long since abandoned. But still, there’s a rhythm to this wasteland, one that sustains the foul creatures lying therein. A feral voice, buried deep in the tracks’ layers, ranting indecipherable instructions. A tonal wellspring, whose succor is only implied, never granted.
Though noise usually beams from Michigan or Brooklyn or some such hotbed of musical connectivity, Medroxy Progesterone Acetate works alone. From Iowa. Yes, Iowa, land of corn and meth, and the more I think about it, the more it fits. Endless stretches of rural monotony and utter isolation inspire such unmoored fits. Informed by mysterious, crackly AM radio transmissions and cicada song, croaking preachers and occult arcana, MPA has crafted a personal mythology I am unlikely to decode anytime soon.
While this form of madness has become oddly chic in niche circles, MPA certainly is not capitalizing. For one, these recordings date back years. For another, his singularity of vision would scare off those looking for a cheap, scene-riding high. Genuine terror lurks in WWW. Somewhere below the sounds, between the sounds, away from and around the tape itself. Totally baffling and incredible.
Jan Anderzen is better known as the lynchpin of foundational Finnish freak-folk groups Kemialliset Ystavat and Avarus, but his new project finds him evading the folk label completely, leaving only the freak standing loud and lurid. Kemialliset Ystavat translates as chemical children, a perfect encapsulation of the dilated, doe-eyed forest sensibility informing those records; Tomutonttu translates to nothing as far as I can tell, again a perfect fit for the dada sensibility informing Triplapuisto.
The translation services weren’t at top form, but even if Tomutonttu meant a shade of beige the gonzo sounds of Triplapuisto would beg to differ. Eliminating all trace of spectral guitar, recognizable vocals, or hand drums, the tape finds Anderzen at his most ADD, pulling tape like tinsel over a room and jamming on garage sales finds like accordions, xylophones, and corroded synths. In its calmer moments, Tomutonttu assumes a regularity almost soothing despite the squeaky cartoon splatter gobbed about. At its most manic, Triplapuisto prompts stunned laughter and sugar shakes.
The only link remaining between Kemialliset Ystavat, Avarus, and Tomutonttu, is Anderzen’s musical bravura, his unswerving desire to bring something different to the table. I’d call it conviction if it didn’t seem like so much fun. Triplapuisto is another worthy addition to the eclectic catalogue undaunted by convention. Great art too…
[Fag Tapes, 2006]
Anyone beginning to feel comfortable with the Graveyards trio set-up will be in for a rude awakening with Fuck Marks. This is not saxophonist John Olson, cellist Hans Buetow, and drummer Ben Hall as we have known them. There is a possibility that you can still hear their instruments in the mix, but the inclusion of other elements makes it difficult to swear on a stack Tom Waits discs that it’s just them. With this group it’s complicated enough at their most conventional to tell who is doing what—here it’s damn near impossible. The bile-coloured surrealist hacksaw artwork only adds to the confusion.
These sounds are spat out in mangled Tagliatelli gobbets. It’s also far more processed than usual, but this doesn’t mean you’ll be blinded in a producer’s sheen. The filtering here has left everything wrecked and brutalised, the cello and percussion sound especially like they've been dipped in a honey pot of tumour formaldehyde. The stretches of repeating rhythm—here trapped for six blinks in rotting amber—spasm and tic identically for a brief filch at a time. The only clear playing is on the opener, which has Olson's sax appearing as if beamed in direct from the 1950s. Taking a playful and uncharacteristic spotlight, this clarity only makes the mud around it look bleaker. It’s still a strictly trio affair, but it really seems like they've recruited someone on live production or electronics. Whoever doubled up on this release needs to stand up and take a bow.
The attempt to root the second side with a metronome beat is bucked straight away by swaying gong sounds. The horn hums in a low sounding stomach grind and lasts for as long as Olson can hold it—and then two seconds more. Buetow, on the other hand, takes a selection of string notes that sounds like he’s taken a left hand step away from a conventionality, but it never sinks into complete abstraction. He skillfully liberates a familiar, easily understood melody from this unconnected selection of weird subliminal choices. As the players die down, the air is left to the click of the metronome, a thickly atmospheric and smoky ending. This tape takes the phrase “far out, man” to a new extreme.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-05-26