Tape Hiss
#016: Tiny Paper Squares

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 us.

[Matching Head, 2006]

With a title like this I was expecting Culver (aka Lee Stokoe) to have gone all out on a folk/drone tip. Like a basement Six Organs, “The Desert Priest” is a simple circling acoustic guitar piece that utilises tiny paper square doses of FX to manipulate the source material. As the melody tries to progress, these little moments appear like cracked eggs of dissonance that keep it from becoming too straight. Little zips of reversed notes flit past giving the sway of backwards and forwards motion. The other track here, “Ziek,” is completely different. Culver might call it a “gentle rumble” but this hiss is more like a field recording at a station where the trains never get to, rather than an incoming wave. Whether the blips of sound and the little patterns that emerge are a contact mic being bumped—or some other movement—isn’t discernable. When cranked up it’s very easy to get lost in its shadows: the sense of unhurried movement and space is expertly left to create itself.

Various Artists
Green Gold
[Gold Soundz, 2006]

It’s a great pleasure to get a cassette like this through the post. Instead of spray-paint and glue on a bog standard plastic box, this is a gorgeous Kermit coloured cassette in an origami pocket of similarly colored paper. Opening the A side are Armpit who seem to be formed with the intent to weave noise and feedback to bordering-on-the-chaotic battered acoustic demos. A black creosote wash rolls over a male Magik Markers vocal trail that fades into coherence. Armpits are far from unpleasant though: this may be messy mauling but the explosions of noise running through it are cool in an adrenaline-fuelled sort of way. Beginning with a slow Earth-style build, Crush Junta’s “Book on the Back of the Neck” finds its feet unsteadily and starts off on a wintry trudge. The high-end note melody could have used a deeper low end to balance it out, but it’s a decent effort anyway.

The flipside begins with an unfairly short Jazzfinger cut, which is somehow instantly archaic and charmingly English. “Isolation Booth Blues” runs on the rails of a pendulum of gently picked/strummed guitar and ancient teletype printer noises, yet ends before it has a chance to grow. The following “Falling in Love with Your Surgeon” has an air of unpleasantness created by a children’s movie melody. The orchestra that strains to be heard through the shitty shortwave reception are more like the broken crackles of a wax encrusted music box than any real symphony. And all this before the cry of a baby comes through the mix.

Closing this short compilation are Coarsebanger with the drifty “Cosmic Kuts.” Sounding like a very solitary pursuit, repeated listens reveal a dainty droney soundworld. This experiment in wordless slurred singing brings images of Syd Barrett sitting in the smallest room in the house. This time, instead of composing whimsical odes to fairies, he’s eating spiders for dinner. I definitely need to hear more from this lot.

Full Scales
First Burning Skin
[American Tapes, 2006]

Wrapped in cut-up-close-up red eye art, this is another John Olson alias that tears holes into a new recording criterion. Keeping it strictly on an organ tip, Olson wanders along the notes unhindered by the constrictions of time or bodily functions. Notes waver carefully making mini-TG rhythms as combinations are investigated thoroughly. Signal test patterns of progressive train-like tempos hit on repetitions; waterwheel powered grinds prevent Olson from falling off the edge into King Arthur’s keyboard court. This is a hugely entertaining listen, constantly moving and seeking to map territories without going all Heart of Darkness.

Melodic ideas are hit repeatedly, especially on the note overlaps, creating wrong harmonies that sound right. There’s some really fine detail in the sound despite its lo-fi roots—like checking out cracked porcelain with an electron microscope. At this level the stretches of bass come horridly (and worryingly) through yards of backwards-sucking garbage bag fat. Forget that organ shit that Anton LaVey used to pump out; this is the sort of music gimps take a group Jacuzzi to.

I played the B-side first, as that was the one lined up to play, and I’m glad I did. The A-side is everything the other side is, but pummelled slow-motion style by a thug shaped cookie cutter. Electrical damage from spaced-out bass rumbles and faulty docking procedures hide the fact that there’s an organ down there somewhere.

Repulsion (Demo)
[Nihilist, 2006]

This is yet another ugly two-track spillage from Detroit’s one-man walking bummer. Those of a more receptive disposition are setting themselves up for a ruined day. The finished take of the title track, entitled “Repulsion 6-8,” is the cleaner of the two pieces here. Leaking a hobbled note that shifts itself ever so slowly into both channels, the song moves into a charred distended groove. As this pulse / squelch grows in volume, a lone bass note strum picks up the melodic end. Crackling falters of smoke fill out the screen as accompanying blasts stretch out into another jigsaw piece of a DIY pattern. As with most Mammal material, this is relentlessly heavy and oppressive in its single-mindedness.

No prize for guessing that the flipside’s “Repulsion (Demo)” is the equivalent to anal sex, compared to the A’s heavy petting. It’s possible to see the direct link between these twins but the demo comes out on top through sheer ugliness. Mammal seems to have a real gift for this vein of dreadfulness and the messy sonics of the cassette format match him perfectly. This example of the rougher demo being better than the finished effort will hopefully see even more degradation next time around.

By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2006-07-07
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