If my vinyl collection expanded last year then my tape collection exploded. I heartily got aboard the tape resurgence, purchasing many cassettes through Bandcamp and label home pages. People buy tapes for different reasons. I’m sure some people do it for nostalgia but that’s not important to me, as a youth most of my pocket money was spent purchasing CDs. For me it’s really nice to receive a physical product to accompany a digital purchase. I get the digital album immediately from Bandcamp then a couple of weeks later I get a package in the mail with a beautifully packaged tape, often accompanied by a personal note and assorted paraphernalia from the sender (stickers, zines, badges, tea…). Having a decent tape deck helps too and I’ve been listening to a lot more of my cassettes since picking up a nice Technics deck on the cheap. Like listening to vinyl, I find it to be a nice escape from the digital realm and I do enjoy the aural textures of cassettes, particularly in more experimental recordings. Here’s the ten tapes that I cherish most from last year then, in no particular order.
Sparkling Wide Pressure
A remarkable year for Sparkling Wide Pressure with a load of great releases across multiple labels on a variety of formats. This tape on No Kings was particularly strong; indeed No Kings boss Lee Noble (who designed the brilliant art work) described it thus : “The best tape ever. End of tapes”. Frank Baugh’s explorations of noise, drone, folk psychedelic, and everything in between have developed a universe wholly of their own; each new release a startling addition to a deep, deep well of music that will reward for years to come. I talk about the futility of describing music a lot but it’s especially relevant when writing about Sparkling Wide Pressure’s music. It is dense art that you must experience on your own, and draw your own experiences from. I will say however that there is a sadness and beauty to Little Shrine that captures the sensation of melancholia unlike any other music that I’m aware of. I gain solace from this tape as I do from all of Sparking Wide Pressure’s music, but mostly I find it extremely interesting. Baugh’s music engages parts of my brain – and soul – like no other music does. I can only hope he is equally productive in 2014.
Released on top Adelaide label Major Crimes, this tape from Bruff Superior stood tall from the masses of other releases from slacker Australian guitar pop bands in 2013. I think to stand out in such a scene the personality of the band needs to come through, and it’s the friendly yet diffident attitude of Bruff Superior that provides their charm. The five tunes are repeated on both sides and it’s a pleasure to flip the tape after an initial run through but be warned: ear worms lurk within. All Alone gets you in off the bat with the its affected guitars and sweet harmonies, while the swaggering pulse of In The Dark recalls Melbourne guitar pop greats The Stevens. The sludgey oof of Can’t Explain is probably my favourite here, a rough edged thumper that nails that don’t-give-a-fuck demeanour of the band in the most delightful way. Bruff Superior aren’t out to reinvent anything – they’re taking their tools, getting to work and having a damn good time while they’re at it. Sounds that way, anyhow.
As thrilling as it is to listen to this tape from Cousins it’s a little sad to think this was their final release. The Milwaukee three piece called it a day back in August, leaving behind the magnificent epitaph of Bathhouses. A superbly recorded collection of post-punk infused rock songs that crackle with hope and defiance, Bathhouses absolutely must be played loud in order to experience to experience the concussive effect of those drums, to be overwhelmed by the maelstrom created by those guitars. I dig every moment of this tape but opener Abdicator is the track that still gives me goosebumps on every listen. Behind jet exhaust guitars and the sucking undertow of the killer rhythm section, frontman J. Wyatt intones my heart as simple as your heart,my heart as simple as your heart, my heart as simple as your heart and the effect is dizzying, disarming and a total thrill. Wyatt’s voice is central to the appeal of the Cousins sound – droning indifference at times, raw corrosive power at others – though it’s clear Cousins were very much a cohesive whole, three musicians combining to create a highly combustible sound that was well and truly ablaze on Bathhouses. Unfortunate that they are no more, but it really is better to burn out than to fade away.
What an intriguing project FWY! is. In creating these pulsating electronic soundscapes, San Francisco’s Edmund Xavier seeks to capture the essence of movement, the sensation of being transported. As Steve of Moon Glyph discussed with me, Xavier creates these works based on his own visual compositions (that double as the tapes artwork). Drawing on krautorck grooves and blissful layers of ambient sound, Xavier paints beautiful sonic vistas on No Exit that do indeed evoke slow moving landscapes and the gentle receding of a highway into the horizon. Pair it with twin Moon Glyph release HWY Trust you have your essential soundtrack to your next psychedelic adventure, on earth or beyond.
Jehu and Chinaman
One of the most anticipated tapes of 2013 became one of the most celebrated once these baby blue numbers made their way out into the world. The collaboration between Lee Noble and Derek Rogers is a beguiling set of analogue synthesiser improvisations, conjuring up atmospheric visions of alternate dimensions. There’s a tension in these pieces that suggests the paranoia of altered states; disorienting passages lead to glimpses of clarity before you are once again led down winding rabbit holes of sound. A potent concoction cooked up by two most adventurous artists, and a follow up is on it’s way in 2014. Clamp on a quality set of cans and choose your own adventure in this dazzling electronic cosmos.
Ashram Equinox was my introduction to Italian band Julie’s Haricut and I was smitten with the expansive psychedelic visions of this tape. Released on ace US label Crash Symbols, Ashram Equinox is a lush listening experience that revels more on each listen. This is dense psychedelic music that incorporates a myriad of genres into its swirling sound, drawing on krautrock and prog influences to shape these superb songs. Their winding maze-like structures create a feeling that the music is pushing beyond the limits of their time frame – engage with a song like Sator or the magnificent Tarazed and once you have returned from the voyage that they take you on I guarantee you will gaze upon the time passed with incredulity. It seems like so much more than mere minutes have passed. That, friends, is escapism. Beautiful escapism.
Former Selves | Aloonaluna
Our Air | Visitors
An ingenious pairing of two artists at the forefront of modern experimental music, this soul soothing tape was released on German label Cosmic Winnetou. The Former Selves side continues the amazing output of Paul Skomsvold, who released other fine tapes in 2013 on Patient Sounds, Lillerne Tapes and SicSic. All were great though the music on this tape is particularly beautiful, a set of transcendent electronic soundscapes that evoke the gentle passing of time amongst tranquil surrounds. Skomsvold uses field recordings to good effect on our air, infusing the warm pulse of the piece with recordings taken from Joshua Tree National Park. Aloonaluna has also been prolific over the last year and her side is an intriguing set of distorted electronic sounds. Disjointed drum machines crackle beneath layers of ghostly vocals while sparse electronics colour the canvas. It’s strange and slightly eerie stuff, though the atmosphere created is reassuring, not fearful. A gorgeous auditory experience, greatly enhanced by cassette listening.
Eyes, Wings and Many Other Things
Pour Le Corps Records
Perfectly suited to cassette, this hazed out album of psychedelic bliss was reviewed by yours truly just a little while back. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s an enigmatic and beautiful album, constructed not with thick outlines but composed of many blurred musical shapes. EWAMOT are the sort of band that may be unfairly labelled a “jam band” and those unwilling to engage may find this music meandering, too unstructured. The rest of us have an album to become submerged within, to be taken downstream by. Keep breathing.
The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact
Released on Colorado’s Patient Sounds, this sounded very much like the grand opus of drone masters The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact. The incredible cover art (probably my favourite of the year) perfectly captures the glacial power of this music – slow moving, icy and carrying a great weight beneath its berth. I was struck by the additional instrumentation on this KCSP release, there seems to be more of a focus on acoustic instruments and melodies compared to the other drone heavy releases of theirs I was familiar with. “Drone” is still what Container Ship is best described as however, and the slightly warped soundscapes offer the discovery of many beautiful sonic textures for the devoted listener. It really is a brilliantly composed tape. Iceberg. Dead ahead. A titanic album.
United Trash Records
I remember discovering Bear Vomit on Bandcamp not long after I recommenced blogging earlier in the year and being really taken with the Mirror Parties sound – noise rock tinged with pop smarts and plenty of weird shit going on. Bear Vomit gave me the buzz of excitement that I look for as a person who searches for music day in, day out. The Glasgow band sometimes remind me of Velvet Undergorund, sometimes of King Missile, sometimes of The Butthole Surfers, though these songs are so vital sounding that to mull over influences is an awful waste of time. Get your kool thing on with Cherry Pie. Get proper spooked out by Where Is Judy? Lose yourself in the inverted fuckery of Bodies. It’s mad dirty fun.