Tape Hiss
#018: Madness Methods

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.

At Rear House
[Fuck It, 2006]

A mere year after their auspicious debut, How to Survive / In the Woods, first turned my ears to the fineries of Fuck It, Woods—the duo of Jeremy Earl and Christian DeRoeck, proprietors of the label and members of indie-rock band Meneguar and acoustic-drone ensemble Shepherds—have returned with another satisfying handful of simple tunes.

Nevermind the sylvan moniker: At Rear House finds the band sitting comfy at home. Their strengths are those of the domestic: modesty, honesty, warmth. As the indie world lapses into symbolic solipsism, direct songs about walking the dog and being hungover resonate all the more. Woods never attempts to play a lifestyle game—their depictions are sparse, humble, wry in their banality, and tethered to terribly hummable melodies, delivered in Earl’s chirpy falsetto and DeRoeck’s affable grumble.

Simplicity isn’t the only order of the day, though. In fact, the band has expanded its sonic palette beyond the simple song-n-strum of their debut. Swathes of crunchy electric guitar and punchy drums immediately push the band closer to their output as Meneguar, while odd tape collage interludes and slices of serendipitous recordings add a textural component more akin to their work in Shepherds. For my money, Woods was already the most rewarding of the three projects, and now that the project has grown to absorb the best of the others, the distance between the two is all the greater.

This is a strangely all-American album, bringing to mind apple cheeks, dried leaves crunching under old boots, fresh bread, and warm mugs. Really, there’s no end to the golly-gee good will it generates. At Rear House leaves the back door open for travellers who feel like coming in from the cold.

Though both the Woods’ albums have disappeared on cassette (I think), the CD-buying public needn’t fret. Their debut remains in print on Sweden’s fine Release the Bats label, and their latest is coming soon on Shrimper. They both come highly recommended…

Birds of Delay/ Nackt Insecten
[Sick Head, 2006]

All this good-natured gabbing can make a fella uncomfortable, so it’s nice to return to the necrotic embrace of ol’ misanthropy. Many will know Birds of Delay from their recent releases on every reputable micro-label on the goddamned planet—including their own, Alcoholic Narcolepsy—but Nackt Insecten’s a rarer breed. To the best of my knowledge, Ruaraidh Sanachan’s appeared nowhere outside his native land, but he’s burrowed himself a nice little niche in the raw socket of the UK underground.

These two sides show a welcome diversity amongst their tracks. Sure the basic rules of the noise game apply: first one to fuzz-coma wins, don’t leave any pedals at home, feel free to moan, and—fer chrissakes—don’t let actual instruments be heard. But whatever, this is no more prescriptive a formula than that of any other genre. So onto the contestants themselves:

Nackt Insecten has a hard, shiny exoskeleton, a prickly exterior, sharp claws for gathering dung and warding off enemies, and goo-grey insides when crushed. His tracks are slow-flow, inside-the-hive jams, developing vertically rather than horizontally, as all good drones should. Consisting mostly (it would seem) of voice trapped and brutalized by a battalion of electronics, this massive slab of rotting harmonics apparently divides neatly into four tracks, but I certainly missed the breaks. Certainly nothing so dainty as movements interrupts the onslaught. Except for a brief excursion into oil-spill seashore sounds near the end of the side, Nack Insecten adds more to more. But, as the saying goes, there’s method. But madness too. Best not to forget the madness…

Birds of Delay’s piece, “Froo Turned Slit,” is a gentler sort. It unfurls like blue smoke. Over a crumbling, flat-line bass synth, curlicues of metallic tone wind into helixes, pushing to the edges of the tape, revealing the wide space more central to the piece than the sounds within it. Over time, the expanse slowly populates with a dense writhing of rolling steel, windows to other abandoned worlds of black-sun mesas and laughing white skulls. If matter is space, and space is matter, Birds of Delay are as good as any in illustrating how the two can create each other while denying themselves.

By: Bryan Berge
Published on: 2007-01-12
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