Tape Hiss
#008: Fanatical Priests

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 me.

Religious Knives
[Heavy Tapes, 2005]

A simple equation: DL – 2 = RK. RK + 2(CS20) = RK3. RK3 is the longest statement to date from Religious Knives, yet another enigmatic offshoot of the enigmatic Double Leopards. The group features Maya Miller—creator of all the fine artwork for Heavy Tapes, who is given a VHS-sized cassette box to work with for this double release—and Mike Bernstein. Together, the two play narcoleptic midnight mass music for unrepentant penitents and pew-sniffing voyeurs.

The aforementioned simple equation would imply that Religious Knives sound like Double Leopards with two fewer contributors. On first blush, the charge seems fair enough. The mood and style sound familiar: both groups deliver suppressed tones of blistered electronics and putrid synth. But while Double Leopards live or die on the subtle interplay of a writhing mass of rotting sonics, demanding a submission of ego, Religious Knives employs a more restrained, focused vocabulary, thus affording considerably more individual latitude to Miller and Bernstein.

Which leads us to another simple equation, this one more useful than the last. Religious Knives sound quite a bit like the Miller and Bernstein’s solo projects, Black Quarter and Workbench, respectively. The incense-shrouded dead organ loops emanating from the bent, hooded head of Black Quarter surface in RK3, as liturgical and unearthly as ever, coaxing a faint shiver of religious terror in their void-opening passivity. Lest the proceedings venture too far to the cosmic, the perverse, terrestrial scrapings of Workbench slither below, sublimated but never forgotten.

Imagine a series of slow-motion Super-8 films of church scandals. Of organists with one heavy hand loping through a simple minor-key motif while the other gropes a choir boy. Of a fanatical priest biting his tongue over the sacrificial wine to add the real thing to the ceremony. Of fallen goblets clattering over a cheap wooden floor, clanging in time with distant bell towers.

Now imagine the film without the film. A swirl of heavy breathing; the incessant crunch of termites in old wood; slow, sinned-stained footsteps echoing through black corridors of regret. All concealed and amplified by the lifted, desperate drones of the music of the Saved, come hollow and threatening because nobody could ever earn the right to hear it.
[Bryan Berge]

Death Chants
Ether Works Vol. 1
[Self-Released, 2005]

Ether certainly does work, if one wants to be launched (with a single rag) into a supine, aquatic world of lead-heavy souls and slow, rolling laughter. But take too much and you’re dead. For safety’s sake, I’d prefer Ether Works to the eponymous substance any day, because the benefits stack up surprisingly well without the fatal costs.

A-Side: “Death Sequence.” On the strength of a buoyant keyboard line, rising like a series of bubbles through clear syrup, Death Chants descends into a deep, damp space of nodding heads and lingering overtones. Sinuous lines of electric guitar gilde through the viscous expanse, leaving a snaky trace nearly visible and oft-intersected by another trail unfurling over and redoubling upon the path of the last. “Death Sequences” strives for maximum stasis, for overpowering stillness, as far as these terms can be pushed without contradicting and slipping from existence to paradox. At high volumes, the track bludgeons the mind to blissful inactivity, the heart seeming to thump with the tone bubbles gurgling up towards an impossibly distant surface. At low volume, or as passive listening, “Death Sequence” becomes staid repetition, a farce of minimalism and a shadow of itself. Be a dear and treat the track right.

B-Side: “The Drowning Pool.” The undersea ambience remains, only now de-entered from instrument, forever circling the sound field like a sparking school of fish following an inscrutable hormonal signal. As static, but less repetitive, than “Death Sequence,” “The Drowning Pool” works by slow drift, as the listener, suspended and seemingly stationary, finds himself surprised by the changing depth and clarity of his medium and the slowly revolving cast of neighbors: shy acousticisms, woozy string-scrapes, and wobbly oscillations. An easy charmer and sure winner, “The Drowning Pool” needs no qualifications to prepare the listener. No matter how you start—low volume, high volume, listening intently, doing taxes—you’ll end up at the same point: smiling and lying on the floor with the lights out.
[Bryan Berge]

Hustler White / Weirdo Begeirdo
Deathbomb Arc Tape Club A
[Death Bomb Arc, 2005]

A brief blast of gas-huffing, tongue-in-cheek proto-punk rave-ups from deep in America’s silicone bosom, Los Angeles. Hustler White’s “Heat” unloads a pastiche of drunken covers, starting with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and ending with “What the World Needs Now.” The lyrics are slurred over a sludgy canvas of stomach-churning gutter-bass bulges with surprising fidelity to the original vocal melody but scant attention to the original songwriting. The cover fragments blend into a morass of croaked, wordless vocals and eyes-on-the-floor amp mutilation. These folks have the energy to nail their source material bleary-eyed and knock-kneed, but the formless gloom between the covers drags somewhat.

Weirdo Begeirdo’s “Tentacular” arrives dragging knuckles. Don’t let that catchy New Wave ascending organ line fool you, this is slobbering Cro-Mag fire music. A simple, propulsive beats prompts a spastic caterwaul of semi-lingual shrieks and rants, all intoned as if they made the most, obvious urgent sense. This track sends kids outdoors looking for bottles to smash. This track makes the neighbor’s dog find a mate in your leg. The amount of primitive impulses gleefully indulged on “Tentacular” should have fundamentalists announcing a fatwa on Weirdo Begeirdo. Hopefully they’ll sink underground like Salman Rushdie, emerging periodically with a few more platters of rollicking nonsense-rock.
[Bryan Berge]

Neil Campbell
Rock on Brain
[Gods of Tundra, 2005]

The cover of this C30 Gods of Tundra release is the usual spooky slasher flick affiliated thing—this time featuring the face of a young lady in obvious discomfort.

Side A begins with a leisurely churning sound and the electronic jiggling of taped damage. Special guest star John Olson makes his sax sound like the screams of a wayward pre-teen and it’s difficult to distinguish it from the seeping feedback. Cymbals are methodically GBH’d over extended horn lines. The whole thing ends satisfyingly in bleak, burning electric hum.

The first piece on the cassette’s flipside is a more rewarding piece of vintage Campbell. Containing some of his finest pre-Astral Social Club work, it’s a folk-styled buzzing string flummoxed howl—the kind of stuff that softly blisters and blows through the air. The second offering is a very different affair—a murkier dirtier thing. It doesn’t become clear why this was originally destined for an American Tapes release until its end, the piece begins with an ill-omened swirl glowering over a shakingshittingsquealing. But after a time, it moves on to creepy spoken word samples, seemingly dredged from the wreckage of a Wolf Eyes session and smeared onto the end of Campbell’s tape.
[Scott McKeating]

By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-03-03
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