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.
As a Westerner, an American, that is, an outsider, how do I make sense of EEK & Islam Chipsy’s Live at the Cairo High Cinema Institute? It would seem natural, to me at least, to put this music in the context of the recent political unrest in Egypt (a renaissance of grassroots, working-class music after the stagnant conservatism during Mubarak’s military regime), or perhaps as part of the late import of native musics from the Arab world packaged for a Western audience (Omar Souleyman remaining the most prominent artists in this trend). But neither strategy would crack the nut that is, to my ears, this album. Indeed, this album is far to vibrant, exuberant, visceral and immediate to be yolked to any narrative. It exists insistently as itself, and it’s simply damn fun to listen to. However, some background may still be due. This is the first release by Egyptian artists from the Algerian/Egyptian label Nashazphone, which has mostly been an outlet for Western noise groups up to this point. Islam Chipsy is fairly prominent within Chaabi circles, Chaabi being a traditional urban musical form used in many celebrations, e.g. weddings. However, Chipsy is far from traditional, using a keyboard and making music that feels fresh and forward-oriented. He is accompanied by two live drummers, Khaled Mando and Islam Tata, aka EEK. As the rather dryly descriptive title suggests, the album is a live recording of these three in action. The drums are untiringly kinetic and keep pushing the already breakneck BPM even faster. Over these Chipsy makes his maximalist attacks on the keyboards, sometimes running up and down in a melodic section, sometimes insisting the repetition of only a few notes. The music never stops or slows, not even a little, and the only dynamics are LOUD or LOUDER. It’s brilliant: completely different, yet instantly catchy. Dancing is the only answer to this barrage. You can’t help but feel the energy of the synths and drums flow through your body, and indeed we hear the cheering of the crowd and the equally enthusiastic Chipsy calling back. It makes you wish you were there. The recording quality could best be described as shitty, which leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the blown-out quality of the lo-fi recording adds to the visceral, loud nature of the music itself; it seems fitting. Yet the rapid-fire synth stabs and double-drumming beg for a clear treatment, not a muddy one. Yet, what would be lost in a sterile studio environment? Nevertheless, this album left a strong impression on me. Whatever its context, it is alive, addictive and simply a pleasure. Can’t ask for more than that.
Unwieldy name. Fantastic release. What we have here is simply essential rock music from Desmadrados Saldados de Ventura, a nebulous Manchester, UK group led by Nick Mitchell, consisting of no less than three guitars, two bassists and a drummer at any given time. While this might seem like too many voices at once, it all gels together into a focused, tight chaos, a wailing miasma driven forward by the impeccable rhythm section. Indeed, the doubled-up bass section seems necessary to provide the hefty spine for the three axe-wielders. The drums don’t so much keep things grounded but rather drive everything ever forward with consistent kinetic energy and an impressive sense of style. The guitars themselves veer into and out of noisy freak-outs and likewise into and out of technical shredding, and boy do they shred. The improvisation feels at once high-brow and low-brow, with the fullest measure of soul getting squeezed out of the guitars. It’s four sides of 20-minute long jams which have just enough structure to avoid feeling aimless, while playing fast and loose enough to be securely defined as jams. There are no verses, no choruses, no lyrics even, though vocals make it onto a couple of the tracks. These jams are just the good bits of heavy rock music, the gravy, the cream, the nougat, face-melting guitars wailing in your ears always and forever in reverential abandon, vacuum-tube bliss. My only complaint is that Interpenetrating Dimensional Express is exhausting, over 80-minutes of unrelenting shredding is not for the weak of heart. But too much of a good thing is hardly a complaint in this case. This is rock music as it should be: loud, muscular, soulful, esoteric, stupid, fun, sexy. You can pick up Interpenetrating Dimensional Express from Golden Lab Records or on Bandcamp.
I’ve never been one to listen to much in the way of field recording. I find most field recordings to be dry and academic in purpose or even worse, simply boring. But recently I came across a fascinating and enjoyable work of field recording by Ergot Records head Adrian Rew. So far, the work consists of two CD-Rs Slot Machine Music, and Slot Machine Music Vol. 2. As the name suggests these are recordings of the sonic environment created by modern slot machines in casinos. They have been recorded in a number of casinos in the Midwest. The CD-Rs come with a rigorous artists statement that points to the precisely controlled environments of casinos as the object of study. Architecture, sights, smells and, yes, sounds, are all engineered in the casino environment to make gamblers lose a sense of time and place and to be wholly engaged in playing for just a little bit longer. This state of suspended animation is called “The Zone,” and Slot Machine Music is an attempt to document the sonic qualities of the Zone. Casinos not taking kindly to any kind of recording, Rew had to make clandestine recording from within his jacket, and the songs across these two CD-Rs represent the most sonically interesting moments of the raw recordings. Okay, all this is intellectually interesting, and it opens up questions about the ethics of modern gambling, but what does it sound like? Well, it’s actually quite psychedelic, with a strong dose of hypnogogia a la James Ferraro circa 2008. The machines are mostly tuned to the key of C giving the cacophony of buzzes, dings, jingles, and fanfares an uncanny homogeny. The recordings have highs and lows, relatively empty spaces of ambience and spaces where machines go off all around creating a maximal, heady wave of sound. Bits and pieces of conversation are picked up and gamblers commiserate with and congratulate each other. The recording of the sound, as proposed by some theories of field recording, does not give the environment a new life. Rather, this recording captures the life that already exists, and what a very, very strange life it is. Most importantly, the recordings are quite enjoyable to listen to; the sounds have been precisely engineered to be as such. These CD-Rs have not sold me on field recording as a whole, but I can’t deny that they are both fun and challenging in the best ways.
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!
The past couple of years has seen Sapphire Slows release promising material via the idiosyncratic Not Not Fun records. Allegoria marks the first full-length release by this Tokyo-based artist. Like most releases on the Not Not Fun roster, Allegoria (and indeed all of Sapphire Slows small oeuvre) hints and nods to existing genres and forms without being beholden to clichés or strict formalism. The influences are obvious and probably unsurprising to anyone following contemporary underground buzzwords and jargon: house, italo-disco, dream pop. But Sapphire Slows retains a distinctive voice, and engages and synthesizes (pun intended) these forms and aesthetics without being more trite repetition. You hear Sapphire Slows’ airy vocals and fuzzy four-to-the-floor and you know that it is her airy vocals and fuzzy four-to-the-floor. This is certainly dance music, but it doesn’t seem to be made for any specific club scene. It’s house, undoubtedly, but it would take a brave DJ to play one of these tracks on the dance floor. Not because they are lacking, but because they eschew the safe formalism of most club-oriented dance music. At the same time, Allegoria works as a bedroom album. Sapphire Slows has invested enough in texture and pure aesthetics to make it more than utilitarian dance music and worthy of personal appreciation. In this way, Allegoria seems most similar to the releases on Not Not Fun’s 100% Silk imprint, which straddles the line between club and bedroom music. Allegoria isn’t perfect, however. Despite making a unique statement as a whole, none of the tracks stand out in particular from the others. Sure there are great tracks, but you could pick any one to play and probably achieve the same effect. It’s not that every track has to be a departure, but Sapphire Slows seems to have her own formula and strictly sticks to it. She’s still fairly early in her career, this being a debut LP after all, so I would love to hear how she departs from this album and mixes up her sound. Overall a great start. You can pick up the LP from Not Not Fun now.