Aught (stylized “/\\Aught” or simply “/\\”) has been quietly releasing tapes since the middle of this year and has certainly done a good job of forging a consistent aesthetic across 4 tape releases so far. The transparent tapes and their clear ziplock packaging reveal nothing but the artist and release number, and the information provided online offers little more in terms of substantial background. Indeed the clear cassette and packaging draws most of its attention to the magnetic tape itself as if to say, “it’s about the music stupid.” Alright, fine, I’ll talk about the music.
Aught 04 seems to be by ACI_EDITS. I say seems to be, because I can find scant information about this artist. Throwing on the tape, you begin to see a pattern in the 5 tracks that make up this small but intriguing cassette. Each track is made up of more or less the same elements: short, simple loops of drums, synths and the occasional vocal sample, undulating in and out, lethargically competing for attention. Parts get squashed and accentuated seemingly without a larger structure. They are not so much songs as sketches or exercises with little development in any given track; they simply fade in at the beginning and fade out at the end. The simplicity and minimalism is alluring. There is just enough going on to draw you in and encourage you to pick everything apart in this strange, déjà-vu-familiar, uncanny music. Paradoxically, it feels like an enigma, but reveals itself to you willingly. This all is helped by a slightly lo-fi feel with just enough noise on every track. The first track’s beat is laid down by almost Caribbean-sounding drums, and a short but grooving bass line loop. Up top are a couple of brief, marginally intelligible vocal samples and an echoing synth stab or two. Track 2 follows a similar pattern with shuffling snares in the drums, and a more ambient low end. Track 3 is the brightest on the tape, foregoing the full low end of all the other tracks. The rhythm on this one is interesting with half-time, very noisy, midrange thumps driving it forward, while metallic sounding snares spice it up. It almost sounds like steel drums provide the “melody” (if you can even call it that). Track 4 breaks the mold a little bit. It’s the longest, starkest and most definitive statement of the release. Bass drums, hand claps and what very well may have once been a snare drum make up the most fleshed out beat on the tape. The rest is quiet but important noise that gives texture and fleshes out everything out to a needed fullness. A hypnotic, low-level ebb and flow sounds like a not-so-far away ocean, or perhaps the passing-by of cars over wet asphalt above ground or far below. The fifth and final track changes things slightly once again. What sounds like a track that could of fit comfortably on the tape in and of itself comes through with the most decisively lo-fi sound on the release. It sounds like a cell-phone recording out of a skeevy club in a basement somewhere. It’s the sound of a drunken haze; you can almost hear the tired feel shuffling, smell the stale alcohol and sweat, and see indistinct bodies move with end-of-the-night reluctance. It’s the cavernous sound of a near-empty club where the stragglers and DJ have been left to their lonely charade until everyone finally clears out. Certainly the most intriguing track. The final two tracks are my personal favorites, but I can’t decide if that is because the opening three are needed to build up to them. Perhaps the release is best taken as a whole.
As is obviously the intention, this tape leaves me with more questions than answers. Is this club music? Not really, but it’s indebted to club music. Okay, is this dance music? Certainly, but I can’t see myself putting this on at a party. Whatever it’s for, it worth a listen, coming out of out of left field and staying there but with a frankness and honesty I find lacking in a lot of other oblique tape releases of various genres. The cassette itself is pretty nice, but remember, it’s about the music stupid. You can find the tape or the digital files at Aught’s bandcamp here.
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!