FAVOURITE TAPES OF 2013

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

FOUND MUSIC : BANDCAMP 17.11.13

For all that I’ve missed;
I just want to drift

*upper crust cracking riff*

This, friends, this is the sort of music that strikes me right in the solar plexus, leaves me exhilarated, brimming with joy, and utterly vindicated in my decision to spend day in, day out searching for the next piece of music that will make me feel this way. Staten Island band Colour have been around for some time and it’s fair to say they’ve approached Psych Rock Master status with their latest album, “Into The Mirror “. “I Just Want To Drift” is a magnificent conclusion to what is a triumphant album, it’s a colossal twenty minute psychedelic jam. The fuck-the world-let’s-dance sentiment of the lyrics perfectly match the euphoric sound of a great band simultaneously letting it all go and putting it all together, creating a beastly boss hog of a song and taking it to the open desert highway beneath a star spangled night sky, and just riding, on and on and on. Buckle up, you’re invited.

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A mysterious release this from Bois. I couldn’t find anymore info on them other than it’s the solo project of a guy named Brian Bo. And that’s quite ok. Stories of background and influences are irrelevant, the music speaks for itself. “Lost” is a gorgeous album of warped pop music, filtered through gentle static and wavering with a beautiful fragility. There’s a great feeling of solace to these songs (especially in the touches of that warm, reassuring horn)  and I really like the late night introspective atmosphere of these understated songs, particularly evident in “One Souls Only So Deep”. It’s a bittersweet song that quivers between resigned heartache and blissful wonder. Bo’s words  are reflective and yearning, searching for that solace and seemingly finding it by songs end:

“And I learned;
That space is all I need.”

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A melding of extraterrestrial elements and those of a more earthbound, tropical slant, the sound of Ecstatic Cosmic Union is delightfully adventurous. The husband and wife duo venture to outer reaches of slow burning celestial music on this beautiful tape, combining pulsing electronic krautrock with a minimal approach to the psychedelic sound, well represented in this track “X​=​C​=​U”. Tribal rhythms, whale song-esque synths and the understated presence of squalling guitar combine to create a lush, mind bending listening experience. It’s the sort of psychedelic music that succinctly captures the ethos of science fiction for me – richly imaginative art that reaches for the stars, while always gazing within.

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Uncompromising, idiosyncratic, sparse – these are all words that get thrown around when discussing Tasmanian music, and all are apt in describing the sound of Hobart’s Mess O’Reds. Their first release was a promising yet roughly recorded affair and this self titled EP sounds far more refined, perhaps due to the handy work of Everywhere Man Mikey Young in mastering. Better production has not lessened the cathartic nature of their sound however, each song here snarls with a defiant, bristling energy. “Sorry” is my favourite – an angry, angry break up song that cuts deep, pours salt in the wounds, then gets back to opening up more lacerations. The pain is tangible – at times too close to the bone – but I can’t get enough of it. A must see live band, obviously.

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Italian band Julie’s Haircut put together a fascinating collection of songs on “Ashram Equinox”, released on the great San Francisco label Crash Symbols. Listening to the bands older releases provides some context for this album and shows just how much of an adventurous progression it is. As the name of the album suggests this, again, is psychedelic music. It’s an ambitious concept album; perhaps having more of a spiritual, hallucinatory feel than other music featured in this post. I’ve loved listening to this album from beginning to end – it’s superbly produced and paced, each song transitioning beautifully to the next as the band take you on an techni-coloured ride down the rabbit hole. This track “John” stood out to me as being particularly good, the menacing synth providing a slight John Carpenter tone while a glorious kaleidoscope of sound unfurls all around it.