#007: Presidential Icemen
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.
[Folding Cassettes, 2005]
Thank God for friendly neighbors. The Netmen, John Dwyer of the Coachwhips and Brian Gibson of Lightning Bolt, must have lived adjacent to saints, pushovers, or a deaf collective, because the racket they kicked up in 1995 and 1996—collected in its entirety by San Francisco’s Folding Cassettes—was recorded at home. Whose home, I don’t know, but it must’ve been strewn with empty water bottles, its carpet more cigarette burns than shag, and its fridge stocked with Carlo Rossi and leftover pizza. While never reaching the spasmodic terror of their more notorious work—noise codes do exist, after all—the Netmen still rattled windows and spattered walls with hardcore spit.
This tape fits the chronology of the two well. Though Gibson plays bass in Lightning Bolt, his balls-to-the-wall drumming, while not as precise as Brian Chippendale’s, predicts his bandmate’s apoplectic fury. Dwyer handles guitars and vocals, and though his schizophrenic switches between drag-ass loner psych and all-out ax work occasionally jar on this tape, they later split into the piss-punk of the Coachwhips and the more subdued solo work of OCS. And the muffled grunt-scream vocals on the tracks—perhaps a product of limited technology—might have inspired Chippendale’s gag-mouthed antics.
While this is not merely an archival document, it’s not an album, either. Over the tape’s sixty-minute course, the lack of narrative flow leads to a few dry lapses. Considering these recordings were not intended for release, such a slippery and time-consuming factor was understandably ignored. Heard individually, however, nearly every track has moments that kill. These guys were headed towards something good. While they sound best in their hardcore mode, in which the differing styles of Dwyer and Gibson most nearly converge, their slow moments contain more intensity and tension than a barrel of coifed post-punks.
Few can look back ten years with too much pride. Be it ugly braces, bad sex, or dumb choices, immaturity struck us all. In 1996, the Netmen hadn’t yet come of age, but their formative years were far from embarrassing. Wish I could say the same…
For an assassin, Leon Czolgosz doesn’t get much attention. His crime certainly didn’t lack dramatic flair. In Buffalo in 1901, after standing in line for hours at the Pan-American Exposition, Czolgosz shot President William McKinley twice at close range. Yet Czolgosz is hardly the Rolls Royce of presidential icemen.
Perhaps McKinley needed more time in office to establish a legacy. Perhaps Leon was apprehended and killed too fast. It doesn’t help that his name paralyzes the tongue and lacks the grandeur of his three-worded cohorts, Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth. His blunt rhetoric certainly didn’t support the consipiratorial mythology necessary to keep his memory alive. But Clay Kolbinger saw something in the Detroit transplant, something that led him to create an obscure, compelling slice of noise-folk madness.
The first three tracks find Czolgosz back home in Michigan, surrounded by millstones a-grinding, rubber vulcanizing, and gears creakily turning. The steam-power hiss and foundry clamor of these tracks, while nicely textured and worth hearing, work best as a stage-setter for the folk ditty “You’ll be Sorry Then.” Featuring a give-that-man-some-moonshine fiddle and easy, foot-stomping rhythm, the song sounds convincingly turn of the century, odd only in its placement within a noise tape.
The final track “Chance Ramp in the Mutant Horsehouse” finds Kolbinger folding oblique folk chords into heavy drone. Far more unique than the noise heard prior, this track rightfully dominates the tape. Sounding like Czolgosz’s electrocution—with chest-caving crackles, squealing neurons, and foam-flecked gurgles—played over decomposed wax cylinders of murder ballads composed by the assassin’s contemporaries, “Horsehouse” reconciles styles that most would consider diametrically opposed.
Cry Blood Apache
Cry Blood Apache
[Blackk Wainbow, 2005]
I’ve lost touch with the rock touchstones. I’m sure Cry Blood Apache is aping someone, but I can’t pinpoint the group. Definitely Brits—these Americans even reference the Royal family for chrissakes—but beyond the obvious (New Order, the Smiths), I’m at a loss. The post-punk/new-wave cognosceti will peg Cry Blood Apache immediately, but to facilitate the process: basslines to make you pogo, brittle, basic drum machines, slurred, echoed vocals, and ennui aplenty.
This sound has probably been done to death, but I haven’t heard much of it, so this tape works fine for me. Even those exhausted by the formula can handle ten more minutes of it, especially since it’s done well, and it’s far too rough-hewn to reek of empty cash-grabbing.
Blue Smear Pocket Knife and Bonding Gloss Memory
[Matching Head Tapes, 2005]
There are definitely two tracks on this cassette here but I’m not sure if one is “Blue…” and one is “Bonding…” or they’re both “Blue…” (if you get what I mean) as the photocopied cut-up artwork doesn’t help much in the way of identification. I picked this tape up at random at a Keith Fullerton Whitman show (at which half of Bandril was supporting under the name of Culver) because I thought Bandril was a nice sounding word. Imagine my horror at discovering it’s not the name of a red-arsed monkey, but instead a race of Dr. Who villains.
The first thirty-minute piece is reminiscent of a much busier Basinski as the piece’s piano is covered in a lo-fi murky crust. A single Organ wavers through this piece, as tones play around it searching out melodies which they quickly find. As it moves on it, richer keyboard/piano sounds and either high end Rhodes or chiming xylophones find their way into the mix. Sub-melodies slide in and out and create layers, which move from instrument to instrument creating a very active meditative piece.
Some tinkling higher-end piano notes start out as harmonies, but soon move to dissonance and then take flight over the drones like a rain. These almost-Morse bleeps end up chopping the main thread of sound into another melody. A loose beat joined by taps helps to create a finale of sorts to the first piece.
The second track is less endearing than the first, consisting mostly of a tinny clanking while a cluster of notes poke above the mix to create a tune of sorts. This eternal tumble is slit with steely scratches of flutelike sounds. These little details ferret in and out of the main backing body, ringing out through the clanging overbearing and damaged clamour.
Hopefully, clubs in the UK operate differently than their American counterparts. If I showed up jammie-clad, pillow-in-hand to see Growing at some hip joint in Austin, I’d be jammed into a corner, unable to hear Growing’s tissue-paper noise over the chatter of the networking angular-banged. Growing demands a space to sit, if not one to lie down to gaze at unobstructed sky. If all went well in London, the club staff gently closed the doors to allow the audience to loll into a syrup-thick Growing-induced slumber.
The tape starts dynamically, with craggy vistas of feedback cloaking a sweet tonal center. Nothing too harsh here. Think a rugged mountain viewed through plate glass, with all the comforts of home and hot cocoa. With the introduction of birdsong (somewhat cliché, but effective nonetheless), the static recedes, as does all materiality, leaving a drooling, narco-haze blissout. Pre- and post-states are invoked—birth, death rebirth and the like—but though this tape is epic, no sound short of 70+ years of heartbeats slowly ebbing captures life. Thus sleep, that duplicitous imitation of both womb and grave, is the best referent. Cruelly cut to thirty minutes, this set is little more than a catnap, a brief tease for the red-eyed needing the upcoming Color Wheel to restore their circadian rhythm.
While this one is out of print, three more live set tapes are on the way, each as limited as this. Be advised—don’t sleep on ’em. Save that for the night the package arrives.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-02-17