FAVOURITE TAPES OF 2013

besttapes13

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
Little Shrine
No Kings

spw_tape

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.

Bruff Superior
Bruff Superior
Major Crimes

bruff_tape

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.

Cousins
Bathhouse
Bridgetown Records

cousins_tape

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.

FWY!
No Exit
Moon Glyph

fwy_tape

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.

Circuit Rider
Unit Holds
Jehu and Chinaman

circuit_tape

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.

Julie’s Haircut
Ashram Equinox
Crash Symbols

julies_tape

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 
Cosmic Winnetou

fselves_tape

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
Rural Pain
Pour Le Corps Records

eyes_tape

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
Container Ship
Patient Sounds

kcsp_tape

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.

Mirror Parties
Bear Vomit
United Trash Records

mirror_tape

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.

FAVOURITE VINYL OF 2013

bestvinyl13

My vinyl collection expanded considerably in 2013; it remains my format of choice for the music that means the most to me. Many of these records were acquired through mail order, I find it to be the most convenient way of sourcing my music. I’ll always love hitting record shops however and want to give a shout out to Tommy Gun Records (where the Native Cats album was purchased), Polyester, Round and Round, and my local store Thornbury Records for providing excellent service and superior product range in 2013. Drop that needle…

Dirty Beaches
Drifters / Love Is The Devil
Zoo Music

beachesvinyl

Alex Zhang Hungtai’s triumphant nocturnal opus earned plenty of accolades in 2013 and rightfully so. Drifters / Love Is The Devil sounded like both an arrival and a departure for Dirty Beaches, taking the no-wave noise of previous releases to a more expansive, unsettling realm. From the distorted groove of opener Night Walk through to intense sonic saturation of Mirage Halls, first half Drifters makes for gripping listening. These are distinctly cinematic songs, suggesting seedy noir action and tragic love stories mixed up with deals gone wrong. The minimal atmospherics of second half Love Is The Devil were also stirring but in quite a different way. If Drifters is the whiplash motorbike ride through downtown Bangkok at 2am then Love Is The Devil is watching the sun bleed out of the Mekong through an amphetamine come-down haze, a slightly concussed set of instrumental pieces that explore murky depths greater than any lyrics can hope to describe. It’s wonderful when an album not only surpasses your expectations but offers a totally unexpected and challenging listening experience. Drifters / Love Is The Devil shattered all expectations, in the most thrilling of ways.

Ensemble Economique / Heroin in Tahiti
No Highway – Black Vacation
Sound of Cobra Records

ensemblevinyl

What a pairing. Italian label Sound of Cobra Records did a great service to the world of music when they combined the talents of Ensemble Economique and Heroin in Tahiti, artists who share a flare for the sinister and surreal. Brian Pyle continues to astound with his output as Ensemble Economique, and while I also thoroughly enjoyed his release with Not Not Fun, this was my favourite release of his for 2013. Opener I light my cigarette, I see YOU there is, as I will blog about elsewhere, the best song I heard all year. I was instantly hooked by the combination of sexy rhythms and dread filled drones that characterise this track, as was everyone else I played it for. A big sauntering beast of a song. EE’s remaining tracks on this side are great too, sitting together cohesively with the opener to create a troubling, magnificent whole. I wasn’t familiar with Heroin In Tahiti before listening to this record but am very glad to be have been taken on their Black Vacation, a terrific expedition into pulverising “death surf”, as they call it. A great achievement, issued with an apt note of caution by Sound of Cobra: The music that springs from having experienced these horror trips is as seductive as Lisa Bonet drinking a little red rooster’s blood! Be warned: This is a one-way ticket, no refunds, no exorcism included. 

Sonny and The Sunsets
Antenna To The Afterworld
Polyvinyl

sonnyvinyl

Ah Sonny. I’ve got so much affection for your music, it fills me with such giddy joy. I’ve been aboard the good ship Sonny and The Sunset since the get-go though I did feel previous album Longtime Companion slightly missed the mark with it’s existential country ramblings. It was good, but Antenna To The Afterworld was great. It’s a record that’s got everything I dig so much about Sonny’s music – warped humour, subtle shadings of darkness, tears-streaming-down-your-cheeks love songs and straight up good time party tunes. It’s really hard for me to single out highlights, I just adore this whole album so much, but MutilatorPath of Orbit and the interstellar romance of Green Blood seem to be thesongs that plant the biggest grins on my face. It was a total gas to see Sonny perform these songs and older hits as part of Melbourne Music Week earlier in the year, he’s a fantastic performer with a super tight band backing him. If I could see him every night, I would.

The Native Cats
Dallas
R.I.P. Society / Ride The Snake

catsvinyl

Native Cats were a band that I was only vaguely aware of before this year. I found their oblique synth pop somewhat evasive, I just never had that moment of clarity with their sound. Dallas provided me with a full album of clarity. Julian Teakle and Peter Escott achieve innovation through minimalism in their music, combining spare electronics and insistent bass lines with non-suquitor lyrics to create a compelling, singular sound. I Remember Everyone is one of my favourite Australian songs of 2013, an uncompromising reflection on existence that crackles with a defiant post punk attitude. Like all of Dallas, it’s a tense listening experience that disorientates in the unexpected twists and turns it takes, both lyrically and sonically. The production is superb and with a final sheen applied by the omnipresent Mikey Young, Dallas is an aural treat to listen to on vinyl nice and loud. There’s a terrific sense of space to these songs; though minimal they achieve great weight in the precision of the performances and in the power of the lyrics. Sure to linger long on the Australian musical landscape, and beyond.

Kevin Greenspon / Former Selves
Betrayed by the Angels / Apropos of Golden Dreams
Bridgetown Records

greensponvinyl

Release #100 for the great Bridgetown Records was a superb split between label founder Kevin Greenspon and the prolific Paul Skomsvold, aka Former Selves. I regularly took to playing this record in the mornings as I started my day, I found the serene synthesizers of most tracks to be a fine way to settle my mind for the coming day. As such the album has grown to have a reassuring power over me, and I’m still discovering its subtleties. Betrayed by the Angels / Apropos of Golden Dreams could lazily be slotted in the “ambient” genre but it’s not all blissful minimalism, with some of the Greenspon tracks (From Concrete to CarelessnessTruth and Falling) exploring more abrasive sonic textures. The tone of the Former Selves tracks is well described by song titles Watercourse Way and Golden Dreams. With it’s graceful piano part and gentle layers of synth, the latter is simply immaculate. A transfixing piece of music that ranks with Skomsvold’s finest achievements, and that’s saying something. As a whole the album works brilliantly, an ingenious paring of two artists gifted in crafting sounds to drift away with. An album that has become a fine friend of mine.

Lee Noble
Ruiner
Bathetic

leenoblevinyl

I remember receiving this LP on a wet Melbourne night earlier in the year. I remember listening to it for the first time. That sort of record. To say I’d been looking forward to Ruiner is an understatement, in recent years I’ve become slightly obsessed with the music of Lee Noble. Listening to his music remains for me a deeply personal experience. Mostly I listen at night and on my own, mostly with headphones. Often while walking through empty streets. Ruiner is instantly identifiable as a Noble record in the slow melt of Covers and the disconnected haze of December ∞. However each album from Noble is markedly different, each has it’s own character, and this is true of Ruiner. Noble’s vocals are sometimes much more coherent on this album than previous releases, with the less emphasis on noise. The largely acoustic Wring the Rag is disarmingly spare – it’s both pleasant and somewhat jolting to be hearing Noble’s voice so clearly. This said there are still dense sonic textures at work in every moment of Ruiner, it’s a beautiful headphone experience. Centrepiece Demon Pond traverses a great expanse of musical styles in it’s fascinating nine minutes, while Disintegrate Ideas provides perhaps the most beautiful song on the album with its combining of other worldly organ, ghostly voices and shimmering beats. I could go on forever but I will not. Another triumph from one of my favourite music makers.

Michael Beach
Golden Theft
Twin Lake Records

mbeachvinyl

It was wonderful to sit back and absorb this full length from Michael Beach after closely following his progress in recent times. Here were songs that I had grown deeply fond of from previous EPs and 7 inches (There Is No Edge Of The World To Run To, Straight Spines, Mountains + Valleys) placed alongside several new exciting songs. Along with Chad VanGaalen, Beach is one of my absolute favourite modern songwriters. As a lyricist he is a craftsman – able to tell a compelling tale while slowly building tension in his words that often muse on love, sometimes evoke biblical beings and always resonate with honesty. There’s great variety in these songs too, whether it be the jolting punk mayhem of Straight Spines or the bluesy grit of Dirt or the west coast feel of Static, Golden Theft is a surprising and constantly engaging rock and roll album. It ends on a grand note with the epic Eve, an unholy vaunt along the highways of America with Jesus and a whole cast of misfits in tow. It’s great ride, right through to to the bitter end.

Parading
Swallowing A Sunflower
Birds Love Fighting

paradingvinyl

Just recently I took a detailed look at this album from Melbourne’s Parading, a fine record that I’m obviously very fond of. Not much I can add to what I’ve already said really, you can read the review here. An excerpt:

Heartache and hardships come and go in this town, just like any other place. The Great Constant in Melbourne is the music – guitars to get lost in. Noise that bleeds the pain away. Great bands releasing great albums that become your closest of friends. Parading are a Melbourne band.

Mountains
Centralia
Thrill Jockey

mountainsvinyl

Experimental overlords return with their finest hour (and a bit). Is Centralia a place? A mystical land that this album explores? Perhaps. I certainly felt as if I was leaving this dimension as this album resonated throughout my home. The transcendent soundscapes of Centralia do indeed seem to suggest geological formations though not through brute force, rather these pieces evoke the subtle processes of nature – the gradual corrosion of rock by water, the shaping of land by wind, the complex contours of – yes – mountains. Processes of great power of course, though you cannot see them happening. They are subtle. For me this is what Mountains achieved on the grand Centralia – earth shifting power through restrained and supremely skilled music making. Synthesisers feature heavily throughout but so does acoustic instrumentation – to label Centralia electroacoustic seems woefully inadequate. It defies description. A deep listening experience, and a beautiful place to visit.

Trouble Books
Love At Dusk
MIE Records

troublebooks

Another superb album of pristine, slightly disconnected electronic pop from Trouble Books, released on UK label MIE. What I’ve always liked about the Ohio duo is their ability to elicit a certain natural warmth from cold, synthetic sources, and Love At Dusk was perhaps their most coherent realisation of this sound. It’s also a fine advertisement for the album as an art form. Stacking Spheres is a wonderful song but being paired alongside the off-kilter piano paean of Unfolded results in both songs becoming imbued with a great lasting resonance. The contrast between the cacophonous conclusion of Fake Fern Shadows and the heart melting The Very End, Again is also genius, I recall being profoundly moved when I first heard it. Love At Dusk is that kind of listening experience. A brilliantly arranged album, best experienced by listening devotedly from beginning to end. Trouble Books are the pulsing electric flame. They are lovely lost moments in the analogue/digital divide. They’re a thousand beautiful moments beneath the shimmering pixelated sunset.