#014: Popped Bubonics
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.
Fresh off the completion of their enormous 3” CD-R quilt project, Nightpass needed a new concept to build releases around. What’s in: Static Rainbow, a tape series spanning the color spectrum, devoted to new directions in noise. The collision of rainbows—image of childhood splendor and unarguable beauty—with noise suggests wink-wink contrast, another jab of ipecac-pink morbid humor, but Static Rainbow is a ponderous, almost literary title inviting analysis, rather than a crass grin. Given that color perception is a matter of constant transmission between signal and interface, static rainbows obliterate themselves, but—at the same time—make the timeless from the ephemeral.
Taken as a comment on noise, the static rainbow implies an expansion of the boundaries of noise, even if that means the destruction of the current definition. As harsh noise rises in popularity—a trend derided by many (the hip line is noise = neo-Jock Rock) and championed by the fanatical few—the genre has achieved stylistic coherency at the risk of stultification. While there’s no shortage of artists pushing noise in new directions, an explicit call for diversity is welcome. With such reinvention, noise can remain vital, though identity may be lost in the process. Without it, harsh noise will crest, its fifteen minutes will pass, leaving warmed-over rehashes for the stubborn aficionados waiting for the sweep of nostalgia’s wave to dredge the muck up again.
Tawee didn’t need a warning. He started outside the conventional range of the noise community, fusing his cyclonic atmospheres with erratic beat patterns, violin-like dirges, and rock-like dynamics. His drum patterns range from the hollow galley-slave tom-tom, to skittering Arabesque hand drums and sloppy indie-informed mood-meter. Sci-fi synth swells and fizzing circuits shadow distant cymbals and bass pulses and slowly grow into wheezing, unsteady columns pelted by metallic hail. Forget the sudden switch; Tawee takes time to develop his tracks without forgetting about their development. Not one for the ADD generation, nor for sleeping slobberjaws, this installment bodes well for the remainder of the series.
Goliath Bird Eater / Robedoor
[Not Not Fun, 2006]
Named after a huge tarantula, Goliath Bird Eater is a many-legged beast indeed, dipping his hairy appendages into froth-mouthed metal drumming, heavy sludge noise coos, in-the-red feedback waves, glint-edge sacrificial ritual tone, and four other as-yet unspecified sound regions, each blacker and bleaker than the last (those legs need something to do). This set celebrates the great Denzel Washington in one of his not-so-great roles, and one can imagine this churner evolving in Bobb Bruno’s head as the hostage negotiations of gunplay of the tepid movie crawled along.
Not content with mere homage, Inside Men also salutes the life of the interior, from smoky walls and carpet stains to smoked-out synapses and shut, red-ringed eyes. With a sound oozed forth from recesses, Goliath Bird Eater elicits a claustrophobic response, a skin-crawling, neck-itching discomfort born of waiting. Waiting for the tension to break, and subsequently, waiting for the onslaught to end. Inside Men is an immersive debut recording that has me keenly awaiting the Goliath Bird Eater full-length on Not Not Fun later this year.
But wait, there’s more!
Robedoor should be a household name to the denizens of Tape Hiss, but for the uninitiated, the crew plays candle-lit drone ceremonies, ranging from full-doom groaned histrionics to glacial, apocalyptic sermons. Their contribution, “Draining Day” (har har), edges towards the latter, peaking just below the terror threshold. Rumbling and stumbling towards release, “Draining Day” maintains its weak rhythm like a feeble patient holds a pulse. Its every fluctuation is accompanied by a fluttering fear, a bated breath, that this moment marks the final decline into the abyss. The faint beat sticks around long enough to be snuffed out by the last whirl of the reel. Bummer.
Unfortunately this tape shuffled off the mortal coil recently, leaving potential buyers in the lurch. My only advice is to disappear into the distro rabbit hole. The search will be worth it.
Roxanne Jean Polise
Bottom of the Ocean, Bottom of the Ocean, Bottom of the Ocean. You’re Not Here
[American Grizzly, 2006]
Steev Thompson of Roxanne Jean Polise is so embedded into the cassette world that I look to his discography to see what tape labels have come into existence while my back was turned. American Grizzly was such a discovery, a pleasant one that’s only looking sunnier as the release schedule snaps into focus. While many of his blink-and-miss-it offerings (on Tapeworm, Rundownsun, Apop, and loads others) have eluded me, the density of Bottom of the Ocean provides material enough to keep the appetite sated.
Like many of his Michigan brethren, RJP flings that broken electronics shite, although the RJP recipe leaves much of the violence behind. Instead, the word harmbient has been applied—with a cringe from all involved, I’m sure—but the term does roughly fit. Combining the attitude of harsh noise, some of its sonics, and a healthy dose of horror movie pacing (creak, creak, creak, BOOM), RJP makes ambient sounds for paranoid delusionals. The layers in his tracks sound alternately and simultaneously like burning buildings, Frankenstein footsteps, Frankenstein’s victims crushed-glottis gurgles, and Antarctic radio wave interference, providing just the climate of moist breath and desolation to provoke one hell of a break down.
I’ve always been fond of the suffix “scape” in regards to music like this, so here goes. Roxanne Jean Polise spawns deathscapes, scrapescapes, and broken-metal-gratescapes, all the decrepit castles and missing persons that can fit on the rolling land of the average dronescape. RJP’s anger is muted, small of gesture and large of threat, and it makes for one hell of an escape.
[Alcoholic Narcolepsy, 2006]
As soon as I had begun my fixation on Steve Warwick’s Heatsick project, he turns around and starts another one: Hungover Breakfast. This debut one-sided C30 feels more like a strong jab than a first round KO, and could definitely do with being a hell of a lot longer. Running around ten minutes or so, this is a spluttering mass of viscous feedback clouds. Like Heatsick there are winks of recognisable guitar parts / sounds at the edges, but the focus is on frequency fucking. Patterns emerge as the choppy sounds begin to resemble Qbert-like scribbling; Warwick’s ill treatment outlines tentative images that are burned quickly into the head. Things go briefly haywire as a ZX breakdown almost brings the piece to a full halt before zipping back into and through higher micro frequencies. As enjoyable as it is, it’s still too damn short. Maybe my cassette is busted.
Jaws Part I / Part II
[Fag Tapes, 2006]
With a polluted orange juice coloured cassette and popped bubonic sleeve art, this is the most unhygienic looking release I’ve seen in a long while. This is John Olson’s tribute to Spielberg’s finest hour and within these two pieces are very brief and very murky snatches of that theme tune. The A side keeps it strictly hands-on, Olson charging through hysterical SOS loops and salt splattered noise. Clambering around a creaking deck, the left channel rises and falls, whilst the right contains streams of grisly field recorded sounds. As elements of wobbling Nurse With Wound style oddity meshes with soft corrugated grey waves, there are short-lived servings of broke rhythm that come and go in floods. The snippets are scratched in nasty acid, encrusted in scar tissue and a lo-fi dripping blurt.
“Part II” is a louder and denser ride, with less open analogue space and more digital terrorism. Binary spittle coats the electronics in a stick-and-move style, leaving everything here like a lukewarm corpse. There’s an ebb and flow that reveals details below the surface making this side more obvious and involving. The recurring elements don’t appear to be an actual loop, but more like coincidentally strung together random beads. Olson’s experimental and good-humoured side peeps out with tweaked throttle and neon open valve feedback. Together both sides form a kind of dredged theatrical symphony that floats bloated in briny non-conductive water. While this Waves release might not conjure images of great whites, it’s an interesting voyage.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-06-09