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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Vegan Butcher-self titled, via Bancamp; 2016

                   ".....these ones are all stretched out and bifurcated...."

So go the lyrics to opening tune Bifurcated on Vegan Butcher's eponymous release, their first as far as Disaster Amnesiac can tell.
A fitting description of their method, too. The songs on the disc do indeed stretch out, led by guitarist John Shiurba's lead guitar runs and musings. His guitar voices run from the twangy, Country Gentleman sound of Fundamental to Post Punk tonality, albeit clearly fused with lots of pre-Punk influence on Fish Barrel; dig those leads during the vocal passage of Bifurcated! They display a lot of really great melodic flare before giving the hammer. Also exemplary are the fuzzy tones within Toast. Shiurba really shines on guitar throughout Vegan Butcher.
Structurally, Vegan Butcher's songs generally start out with these guitar intros that last for several measures as Shiurba, bassist Will Hendricks, and drummer Suki O'Kane play off the stated guitar themes, building up moody passages around, under and over their tonalities.
Within these generally "dark" moods, Hendricks's pacing is really good. His bass playing leaves lots of room for the guitar strings' resonances, but when bigger riffs kick in, such as happens on Toast, he's right there, active within the instrumental mix as he puts down the low end rumblings.
Drummer O'Kane has a similar approach to the bass parts. Quieter cymbal tapping and snare accents are utilized as the disc's themes are built up within the instrumental ramp ups, quite a Jazz feel really; when Vegan Butcher's moody power trio is ready to drive the riffs home, she switches to great tom tom accenting and a more Bill Ward-styled method of riding the cymbals and thereby those same riffs.
All of the early instrumental interplay of the songs on Vegan Butcher lead up to the lyrical delivery from vocalist Val Esway. As Disaster Amnesiac has come to understand them, they're culled from the somniloquent musings of Shiurba, and, as such their odd, lateral meaning frames put the listener into a surreal mental state. Esway's clear alto is especially great on Fish Barrel as it soars above the melee of the rhythm section before segueing into a cool Musique Concrete tape passage.
Vegans still seem to get a lot of grief within our society. People want their meat, I guess. Somehow, Disaster Amnesiac doubts that Vegan Butcher care what their audience put into their bellies, as long their music gets into their ears. Plenty of aural protein to be had from that!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Youth Chairs-Everything; Self released via Bandcamp, 2016

You just have to love the way that things can come full circle. Right around the turning of the New Year, Disaster Amnesiac contacted drummer David Winogrand after being out of contact for several years. More significantly for David, he mentioned that he'd re-connected with his musical compatriot from the early 1980's, Larry Jacobson, in a chance meeting in Los Angeles in 2015.
Larry and David, along with bassist John Richey and singers Kim Lori Dart and Gabriele Morgan, and keyboard player Bruce Wagner, played together in the band Youth Chairs. The group, which lasted from 1979 until 1981, came to fruition during an immensely creative time for music in Los Angeles. Disaster Amnesiac needn't rehash those particular details, but suffice it to say that Youth Chairs sound is full of  the energy that was flying around the country generally and in Los Angeles specifically at that time.
That sound is a Punk Rock infused Pop Rock. As Disaster Amnesiac has listened to Everything, last year's digital release of the collected demo recordings from Youth Chairs, I've marveled at the strength of their songs' hooks. Jacobson, the main music writer for Youth Chairs, sounds as if he was a student of earlier masters such as Lennon/McCartney, Brian Jones, and, most pointedly, Pete Townsend. Tunes on this collection such as Everything and I See Lisa, and You Is Time move with guitar-driven melodies rooted within the Rock 'n Roll eras previous to Punk Rock, but are driven by the energetic crackle of that then-current force in musical culture. It's to his credit that he shaped these influences into a really fine personal approach that shines in these songs. It's really a pleasure to hear and feel his hooks bouncing around the mind, during and after listening to Youth Chairs. Why these melodic skills did not propel a tune such as You Break Hearts to the Pop charts of that time is beyond me.
To bolster the creative melodies and hook emanating from Jacobson's guitar, Youth Chairs rhythm section shows some seriously snappy interaction with it. Bassist John Richey and drummer David Winogrand (or Tom Brown on four early tracks) provide solid sonic ballasts upon which the songs' changes cruise quite effectively. Dig on the liquid low end bass action on Grownups and Beautiful Music, paired with stompin' tom toms and crisp cymbals, their tight tandem on a cool cover of Paint It Black, and their alternating chugging and tight moves on Army Army for evidence of their simpatico. Their playing is perfect for this type of material.  Bruce Wagner fleshes out certain gaps within the treble registers, accenting 1960's-style with chiming keys on Girls In Cages and solid chords playing on Everything. Again, with playing like this, within this type of Pop matrix, it's puzzling as to why Youth Chairs made such little headway, especially as they were positioned so near to the heart of major label economy. Is Disaster Amnesiac just being naive here?
In the vocal department, Youth Chairs featured Kim Lori Dart to start with, later switching to Gabriele Morgan. Dart seems to have written the bulk of her lyrics, which are delivered in an energetic, somewhat "naive" manner; they strike Disaster Amnesiac as being Garage-sounding in their timbre, sort of "first band" in tone, if that makes any sense. This delivery fits well within the group's energetic framework. Even at my well-into middle age state, they're very compelling in their early adulthood concerns: jobs, post-high school angst, weird people and their issues are all dealt with in tunes such as All Things To All Men and Grownups. Morgan's voice sounds a bit more trained and formal than her predecessor's within the group. Disaster Amnesiac hears less naivety and more "history" from her vocals. She sounds as if she'd been singing longer and had more time to know where to add her own unique inflections into the lyrics, as in I See Lisa and her take on You Is Time. Although somewhat different, they both work well within Youth Chairs sound.
Ruminations upon the passing of time featured pretty heavily in the closing statements of Disaster Amnesiac's last post, and I am loathe to repeat myself too much, but damned if it isn't the case that as the years go by, certain actions show their value. It's so important for groups to document their work. Youth Chairs initial story may have ended somewhat lackluster, but I'm thinking Winogrand, Jacobson, Richey, Dart, Morgan, Wagner and Brown are happy that there are tapes extant. All these years later, their tight, hooky Punk Rock Pop songs can be heard. No doubt there's and audience out there for them within the 'net-scaped world of the 21st Century. Browse on over to their Bandcamp page and hear Everything that they had to offer as a working band!