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.

THIS MONTHS TAPE : RURAL PAIN – EYES WINGS AND MANY OTHER THINGS

Each month on Formless Fields I’ll review a favourite cassette and delve a little into it’s creation by explaining where the album is placed within the artists catalogue, examining the design of the package, and providing my impressions of each track. I’ll do the same for a stand out vinyl release.

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In a world of high definition – of constant definition – it’s not only pleasant but an absolutely necessity to become a little hazy now and again. To reduce the focus so that all forms become a singular mass, so that the eye and the ear are not seeking to interpret every incoming signal. I believe much psychedelic music is an expression of this idea. Ritualistic and hallucinatory elements aside, to me psychedelic music seeks to articulate the indescribable, more so than many other forms of music. The best psychedelic sounds combine introspection and outward wonder. This can be achieved through loud corrosive sounds or in a more downbeat, atmospheric manner. Dallas’s Eyes Wings and Many Other Things fall into the latter category, and their latest release “Rural Pain” is quite special.

I became acquainted with EWAMOT a couple of years ago, very much enjoying the druggy miasma of “Ice Age”. I was attracted to the way the songs gradually unfolded – softly developing psychedelic music that never resorted to grand theatrics but instead focused on illustrating an ambiguous, many coloured vision. Listening to older EWAMOT releases demonstrates the changes in their sound (not necessarily a progression or a regression, simply a change). I was tantalised by “Bad Powder” though I recall being somewhat disappointed with last album “Napalm Beach“.

 

These songs sounded a bit too polished, and I also felt they were somewhat curtailed, with many tracks clocking in at under three minutes. The music of EWAMOT – and indeed much psychedelic music of this ilk – is at its best when it’s given space to grow, for tendrils of guitar to intertwine with the snaking spine of the song while ideas emerge and are submerged and reemerge. For smoke to fully fill the room. “Rural Pain” inhales, exhales, inhales, then exhales again, and fills the room in a dense, grainy fog.

As fond as I am of those older releases, this new release sees the Dallas two piece (Sean French and Colin Arnold with many others contributing) takes their sound to different, fascinating places. Where “Napalm Beach” was a slight disappointment, getting to know “Rural Pain” has been a thrill. 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.

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Side one opens with “Water Flow”, a track that is indicative of the alterations to the bands sound. There is less definition present in the guitars and the sound is, yes, more liquid. It flows and feels voluminous,  with the disembodied chanting of the vocals reminding me a little the songs found on another of my favourite releases of this year, Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk. It has an almost hymnal quality, not something religious, but to use a word that gets tossed about haphazardly in the music world – it sounds devotional.

“Neighbours” takes a darker turn. It is night, and the neighbours are fast asleep. We lurk. Again, the intentions of the lyrics are ambiguous but the atmosphere is what’s important – ominous, mysterious, an undercurrent of dread. Synths have a stronger presence on this album than other EWAMOT releases, and here the instruments provide both the dark moments and the pretty respite towards the songs conclusion. It’s a clever song that’s markedly different to anything I’ve heard the band produce before.

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The title track is probably my favourite on the album, it too thick with menace.

Careful what you’re saying

Don’t you care for the game I’m playing?

There feels as if there is a bigger song bubbling under the surface here, maybe to do with the fact it is the most “traditionally” structured on the album. It sounds like a big psychedelic rock song that has been manipulated. Processed. Passed through molasses to become something much more interesting. The guitars are powerful though not dominant, licking at the edges of the entrancing psychedelic sounds that build. It’s a great song, demonstrating  one of the strengths of EWAMOT : restraint. Resist the temptation to want this song to break out into something bigger. Be taken by its hand. Ask no questions.

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The cover is a terrific representation of the sound and soul of “Rural Pain”. Two working class men by their vehicles isolated in a heavy grey fog. What is the rural pain? Is it what these men experience while striving to make a life in a time where agriculture is no longer the pursuit of the individual? Though I wouldn’t call these songs pastural by any means, these songs do evoke memories of my own childhood in a rural town. In particular I’m reminded of staying on friends farms in the winter months, of the mist on the dam in the early morning and the smell of wet soil. It was almost enough to get high on. Mostly though I remember the grey, the long expanses of grey.

“Somewhere” maybe the strongest invocation of fog on the album. It’s a song dense with textural noise, a heavy droner filtered through sonic static. The name of the song lends itself to the ambiguous feeling of stoicism that I feel is present in these songs and that cover. There’s hope in the fog, a way out from all of this. Somewhere. Somehow.

“Night” feels as if you have joined the song halfway along, as if you have stumbled upon a ritualistic gathering around a blue fire on a blackened hillside. It has a distinct jam quality though it isn’t messy – this sounds a lot like a band that are very comfortable moving within the structures of sound that they create, improvising beautifully. These circular rhythms and brooding guitar suggest hallucinatory moments, of gazing at the bark of a tree in an altered state and realising the great patterns that exist in nature, and in it all. The synthetic and organic melding in a beautiful dance.

“Still Waiting” has a Morning After atmosphere to it, or perhaps the moments just prior, as the sun makes it first attempts to cut through that fog. It’s ever present in this music, though behaves in different ways. Here it reveals itself gradually through layers of sound and a heavy space is built. A sad resigned space, perhaps one that those men inhabit. A steely, stoic space.

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Onto Side B, and “Lost at Sea” has an almost a tropical feel to it. If being marooned with nothing but ocean all around can be a beautiful experience then this is it. The interplay of guitars and more of those wordless vocals suggest a joy in being lost, in being adrift and wholly disconnected. Turn the focus down, turn the static up, and lets gets lost, this song says to me. Though I find the whole album to be an affirming listening experience, this song in particular shines with many blissful moments.

A song entitled “Bonglife” may suggest stoner vibes and you could probably make the case for this entire album (and indeed the entire EWAMOT catalogue) to be fuelled by THC – though this is hardly a druggy jam. It’s another darker piece on the album, contrasting the previous tracks breeziness. Grinding guitar and pulsing synth conjure an 80s sci-fi atmosphere in my minds eye. A city of steel and steam, teeming with humans and the inhuman. Red irises piercing the fog. It’s a cinematic song, and here’s hoping that EWAMOT do indeed one day score a film.

“Peppermints” is sonically dense, the fog here is heavy, almost opaque. The drone of this song is stifling – slightly suffocating in its repetitive fugue – before ending abruptly and giving way to the dissipation of “Neuce”. This track sounds like the album dissolving away as the sun burns through, the last of the condensation rolling down an empty main street. The song lingers, and in it’s final fading there is hope. There was no feeling of relief when that beautiful bed of static finally gave way, the density of this music is never oppressive. I wanted more. Turn that tape over. Press play. Roll on the fog.

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“Rural Pain” is released on Pour Le Corps Records, a great label that consistently releases brilliant psychedelic music. This album is not available to stream as of yet, though you can order it here and a digital copy will be sent to your inbox once formally released. Get yourself a tape though – I sure did enjoy engaging with this album without the distraction of all things digital and it sounded fantastic. Here’s a track from a recent EWAMOT release to close, I strongly recommend checking out the rest of their catalogue if you enjoy what they’re doing.