Thursday, January 26, 2017

Some Tapes Reviewed

It's pretty clear that the cassette tape, if it ever really left, is back as a choice of medium for certain types of musical producers. Think about it, the term "mix tape" always remained within  the American lexicon, even during the supposed Wilderness Years of the dreaded compact disc's delivery dominance. Recently, Mrs. Amnesiac was kind enough to hook her hubby up with a fine, functional cassette tape deck. Naturally, Disaster Amnesiac scurried to the garage in search of some tapes for listening and appreciating. Following are thoughts on a few of them....

Steve Kado-2003 (For Solo Drum Machine); Recondite Industries, 2012
Lately Disaster Amnesiac has been enjoying sounds that are effected or influenced by the Techno side of the musical spectrum, so when this tape tumbled out of the box, it made its way quickly into the deck. Starting with a simple, incessant pulse, 2003 builds up into some really great, cascading Minimalist zones, colored by electronic washes. It strikes me that one of the more compelling aspects of this type of music is its hypnotic effect. The listener must cede to patience as this type of approach unfolds for the mind. Kado paces the release really well, seeming to know exactly when the right time has been reached for these slight added sounds that twist the piece's movement into new atmospheres. Judging by the tape's cover, this is all done with the barest of setups, and 2003 really impresses for that. Plus, one can spend well over an hour dancing to its cool, driving energies.

Linekraft-Kikai Ningen; Nil By Mouth, 2013
As can be seen from the above pic, one really neat thing about this tape is the oversized file clip that holds it together, giving it a kind of dossier feel. Kikai Ningen's cover graphics are a pretty good portent to the sounds contained within this tape: abrasive, sometimes downright scary Power Violence. The tones, not so much coaxed as seized from metal "junks" and electronic devices are harsh and incredibly noisy. Linekraft is not dealing with subtleties on this one. Side A features four tracks pounded out in studio at various time over the course of a year. It must have been pretty jarring for the engineers involved. At times, it's almost too spooky for Disaster Amnesiac to continue listening. This is some seriously bent expression! Side B, recorded live at two different venues in Tokyo, has a bit more, not mellow (no fucking way for Linekraft, I'd imagine), but just somehow more easily digested thing going on. Chalk it up to its sounds emanating more from laptops and room ambience and less from the close-mic'd cacophony of its flip, maybe? Groove on Side A for a maximally violent skullfuck, and Side B for a bit more a Surrealist/Dada mood. 

Tom Djill-Cassette19; eh? Records #90, 2016
Extrapolating somewhat from Tom's eloquent liner notes, Cassette19 is a kind of exorcism for long-time musician and journalist Djill, along with being a rapprochement between "sound vs. structure" in abstract music. A tall order, but Tom's up to it. His trumpet playing on these tracks shows Miles-like finesse at times, at others sounding as if he's been 'shedding with Cosey Fanni Tutti. Disaster Amnesiac has had the pleasure of hearing him play his horn live, and it's not really hyperbole to say that he's mastered it. Really sweet to hear Mr. Djill on trumpet. Along with those brass tones, he gets all manner of warped, glitched, warble-ey, and often downright sick electronic tones from his seemingly considerable arsenal of synths, pedals, and other gadgets. At times thickly pressed, at others highly spaced out, but always raw and real, the songs on Cassette19 display tons about what is great with the underground music scene right now. Disaster Amnesiac hopes that Tom's sleeping better these days.

Eyes Like Helicopter-The Shift Of It All; Biological Radio #19, 2014
Last up for this edition of describing and enthusing we have this beautiful blue piece of plastic from Vermont's Eyes Like Helicopter. The flow of The Shift Of It All is a lot like its cover art,  in that it's sort of divided into two distinct landscapes. Side A has lots of really fine, ringing steel string solo guitar (for the most part) playing and a kind of Appalachian vibe throughout. Disaster Amnesiac keeps thinking "American Primitive", but then saying to myself, " screw that, this is American SOPHISTICATION, dammit..." The way that Darren Myers paces these songs makes them richly ambient and quite fascinating. Small drones and jaw harps seem to be used to embellish at times, along with a dog at one point. When Myers himself steps to the mic he utilizes a great, sloppy Punk Rock delivery, which fits in well with whole alone-er aesthetic of the tape. Side B veers more into a bit more of an experimental electronic zone at times, and while having a distinctly different vibe, it feels connected via the overriding rural pacing of its counter. Things get a bit more messy and psyched out, almost robotic at times, but the connection is still clear. Deeply gooey sounds from perennially (hopefully) Weird America.

As Disaster Amnesiac has ruminated and worked upon this post, I've realized that the cassette tape has never truly gone away. It has mostly become an affordable medium for small scale musicians and sound artists to document and distribute their work.
I'll bet some willing entrepreneur could make more than a few bucks with a quality cassette tape player production company. Somehow it seems unlikely that a vinyl-style revival is possible for the humble cassette tape, but, clearly, it has a niche market that remains stable. Just remember to push down those tabs on the top side if you want to keep your sounds intact, kids.

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