Without further ado, the last three tapes from DNT Records:
Digital Natives – Long Homesweetened Entry
First off we have another tape from the overwhelmingly prolific Jeff Astin, aka Digital Natives. Long Homesweetened Entry focuses more on this artist’s late sample- and loop-based practice, culling sounds from old funk, soul, jazz, pop, etc. Each side of the tape is made up of one long-form piece, but they’re really collections of ideas all cut together. With its looped samples, it actually plays much like a hip-hop producer’s mixtape. Astin finds the juiciest groove of his source material and extends them to delicious revery. He does integrate some abstraction and experimentation to break down (pun intended) otherwise straightforward funky beats. Some manipulated voice samples are scattered and layered here and there. Even though it comes from outside the scene, many moments in this tape beg the question: is this hip-hop? I would actually love to hear some of the weirder rappers out there spit over parts of this tape. Some moments even remind me of Madlib, especially his work as Quasimoto, though Astin is certainly less crate-digger erudite than that beat master. Side B sprawls out into some of the more unusual excursions on the tape, and it’s all the better for it. The rhythm samples are looser on this side; the great voice samples are more frequent. It gives Side B more energy and a distinct quality that sets the music apart from other similar artists. A really solid, enjoyable listen. Makes me want to take on the daunting task of looking at Digital Natives’ stupidly vast back catalogue.
Bobb Bruno – Black Gel/Years 2
This is the second Bobb Bruno tape of the lot, and this one has new material, instead of being a reissue. Side A starts with some heavy gritty drones that build up to heady undulations, until some cosmic synth stab and echo in to add even more texture. The first drones fade out a little to make room for some analogue Kosmische noodling and layering. It’s a classic synth exploration, too classic maybe. But it definitely holds up as deep, dark and heavy. The second half of “Black Gel,” with a simple monophonic bass-synth line, gets especially into a good groove. Side B, “Years 2,” continues in the same direction. Quiet moments are interrupted by blasts of noisy grit. Abstract drumming, from Sheridan Riley (from Avi Buffalo) comes in to give some rhythm, but rarely stays on one beat pattern too long, giving a nice improvisational feel. When a guitar comes in with heavy effects, the whole thing starts to feel more like a real song, and it’s all the better for it. I was not surprised to find out that Cameron Stallones, the man behind Sun Araw, is the one jamming on guitar, and his style shines through on this track. I was also not surprised to read that this tape started out as some bedroom experimentation and was only later refined for release. It all has that improv/dicking-around feel to it. Pretty good, but still lacks something to really set it apart.
Uton – Kun Korallit Puhuvat Pilville
Another tape from long-standing Finnish Cosmic Drone lords, Uton. The title roughly translate to “when corals are talking about clouds” (or “when corals are talking about marijuana”), either way one can glean the kind of headspace one should be in to get maximum appreciation out of this release. Side A begins with ethereal, droning abstractions. And, well, it stays that way. Each side is split up into several tracks, so it comes off as a collection of quiet, cosmic snapshots. Any of the “songs” could persist forever, it seems, and instead of having any kind of direction or momentum they wander and meander around the spaces that they create. Underlying melody drones make the backbone, complimented by arhythmic analogue synths. Usually one or two more elements, acoustical or electronic in nature, make up the foreground. Abstract. Heavy. Contemplative. Space-out music supreme.
Overall, this was a good collection of tapes. The artwork and packaging is unique and lovingly made for each of them. The music, while not following the most current trends, definitely feels authentic, and it’s enjoyable for fans of the abstract, cosmic, perhaps-best-appreciated-stoned areas of underground music.
After a three year hiatus, a personal favorite label of mine Doris Nordic Tribute (DNT Records)—part of the recent American tradition of handicraft tapes and micro-releases—came back this year with a spate of new releases and reissues. I jumped on the opportunity and picked up six(!) of their new tapes, and boy am I glad they’re back.
Mudboy/Ducktails – Split CS
First off, I have here is a reissue of the 2008 Mudboy/Ducktails split release Summer of Saucers. A little personal history to begin, I am big fan of Matt Mondanile aka Ducktails (and probably best known as guitarist for NJ psych-poppers Real Estate), and the wonderful side B of Summer of Saucers was the first time I heard any of his solo work, way back in the heady days of late last decade. It was an instant love affair, and I am quite glad that this long-forgotten release is getting some love in a reissue. But enough about me, what about the music? The untitled tracks that make up both sides of this cassette are quiet, personal affairs. Mudboy opens up the first side with the sounds of a summer night: crickets, cicadas maybe, other insects. Slowly analogue bleeps and bloops make their way into the track, always keeping a contemplative, abstract pace. It’s a nice little listen, if a bit one-directional, typical of the kind of bedroom electronic releases that were all the rage in 2007-2008. But hey, I’m not complaining. The Ducktails side, if nothing else, remains an important piece in the brief history of this artist’s development. One of the pre-self-titled debut (NNF, 2009) cassette releases for Mondanile, we can see the Ducktails sound taking form. Abstract synth and guitar noodling makes way for early examples of the psych-jamming that Ducktails is known for. In fact, parts of Ducktails’ side eventually made it onto his first LP in more fully fleshed-out iterations. An acoustic section recalls/foreshadows Real Estate’s quieter moments. The style all around is distinct Mondanile, but far looser than his more recent work, with even some experiments in tape editing it seems. This tape is an example of why bedroom experiments and cheap, handmade tape release are great: from the medium to the artwork to the sound you feel a connection with the people making it. This tape brings me back to high school, nothing to do but long evening drives through winter suburbia, toking on a shitty joint and listening to weird cassettes in my friend’s Volvo station wagon. Beautiful.
DJ DJ Tanner – Home Entertainment
Let me just get two terms out of the way: looped samples and hauntology. We good? Haven’t run away yet? Excellent, because Home Entertainment is a fantastic release from hitherto unknown to me DJ DJ Tanner. As his name suggests DJ DJ Tanner is indebted to the hip-hop tradition of vinyl sampling, but simultaneously brings to mind The Caretaker in his evocation of a ghostly, melancholic, nostalgic past. The cassette does not present songs as much as a series of sketches or sonic tableaux. Some of the songs seem to end even before they really begin. Constructed of looped vinyl samples of soul, funk, gospel, oldies, there are (albeit brief) moment that almost get down into a head bobbing groove. However, the warts and all presentation, pops and hisses, along with the light manipulation, echo, reverb and slowing down, give everything a slightly dark, ghostly vibe. It’s like flipping through the radio in a taxicab caught somewhere between decades. It’s as if at the end of The Shining we see instead Jack Torrence in a photo with Kool and the Gang. Home Entertainment does well to straddle the line between the intellectual and the proletarian. It makes you think about memory, the end of history, residual media, but it’s enjoyable to listen to and holds up as just good music, no thinking required.
Bobb Bruno – Clown’s Castle
I’ll close out this post with the other reissue, Clown’s Castle by Bobb Bruno. You might know him as the guitarist in Best Coast, but he’s been recording as a solo artist and in various groups for many years now (too many to list). 2008’s Clown’s Castle is actually a rather straightforward release, in a sense. The first side, “Snail’s Pace” starts with some analogue droning. Rhythm comes in and out, punctuating the drone somewhat. Eventually some overdriven guitar comes in to bring the songs to full form. It feels like a lot like Emeralds in its general structure, which is good company to be in. Side B “Clown’s Castle” is more guitar-driven, beginning with a doom-metal two-chord opening on a satisfyingly throaty electric guitar. Some noisy feedback starts coming into the mix overtaking the guitar with paranoid vibes, along with faint, diaphanous vocal hiding in the back of the class somewhere. Finally the drums come in to supply the slow-mo headbanging. The track then calms down to a quieter movement, let’s say, of bells (or synthesized bells) and glockenspiel playing a melodic little riff. Certainly a departure from side A, “Clown’s Castle” is actually a really enjoyable doom/stoner metal experiment. Both songs have solid pacing and a feeling of progression. It’s solid. It’s also not anything special. Like Summer of Saucers it feels like a product of its time (only a few years ago, but how fast things move), a piece of personal experimentation set out into the wild for the few who may be listening, and again that brings back good memories for me, even if Clown’s Castle isn’t particularly memorable.
Stay tuned, part 2 coming soon!