Stoked Casual [CS; MJMJ]
Shakin’ Babies is one of those bands that leaves a writer wordless. Writers like to be clever. They like to write things no one else would write. And bands or artists that inspire these kinds of flowery-adjective narratives from us folks generally occupy those hyper-bizarre zones of cassette culture - stuff from the far reaches of the outer-cosmos, etc. We like words like “ethereal” and “prismatic.” But Shakin’ Babies? Shit, this band is from planet Earth. Planet Earth circa 1961. Although Stoked Casual doesn’t have the glossy sheen of an old Onyx cut, what with the drums sounding like sticks on cardboard boxes in spots, it still feels like it came right out of the garage of a Doo-wop someone lost in time. It’s just got that sound: snappy rhythms, sweet vocal harmonies, 6/8 sways, tremolo tones wound through curly-cued guitar cables, and that damned amazing voice from a singer called Jess Oleson (write that name down, people). It’s pulled together and snapped like a Polaroid shot in your parents’ scrapbook from prom night. Sticky dance floors, malt shops, drive-ins, poodle skirts… I could go on, but I don’t think I have to at this point. You already know that you love this.Links: Shakin’ Babies - MJMJ
Swim Tape [CS]
Elevator hell ride down the gaping mouth of pop. From a warped Minnie Riperton sample to magnetic field recordings in moments of odd tranquility, Josh Abramovici takes on the avant persona of Teddy Riley. Swim Tape is a soothing (but not TOO soothing) challenge of the mind and body. Abramovici provides the soul, heaping Afrocentric helpings of it. I find myself pressing all the buttons on the long trip, making sure to stop at each floor to browse before jumping back on the lift just as the doors threaten to trap me on the 7 1/2 floor. It’s my head, Abramovici, but I rarely travel inside it. I’d rather live the moment. So as I take one last deep breath to meet the devil, turns out that’s it’s just Tim Curry in a bitching outfit as Mia Sara seduces us both to the docile re-imaginings of 80s neo-soul. Is it Sade or Snacs – who gives a damn? The weather’s warm, the view is splendid, and I have an eternal mixtape to remember what it was like to have a soul before Abramovici stole it and used it as music.
High Aura’d / Blood Brightstar
split [7-inch; Anti-Matter]
With such immaculate presentation I would have afforded this split b/n High Aura’d and Blood Brightstar some leeway, but it wasn’t needed. At all. Both bands present a unique piece bold enough to justify the lavish jacket and doublemint-green wax (vinyl color the exclusive property of Anti-Matter Inc.), the audio lending energy to the visual accompaniment and vice versa. High Aura’d slip right into a drone coma the minute you lay needle to wax, and it’ll take you down with it until an unexpected locked-groove conclusion (when are they ever expected though?) seizes your nosehairs and demands you flip the record. Blood Brightstar await your proper-blackened ears on the other end, their Earth-y, filmic ruminations echoing loudly across the desert. I catch myself waiting for a King Dude vocal that never comes; remix? Not a rowdy release by any means and that’s the charm of it, as darkness comes in many forms. Don’t turn on the light if you want to see the true shape of the moon. Two-hundred-and-50 copies; get at least one.Links: Anti-Matter
Soft Erase [12-inch; Emerald Cocoon]
Metal Rouge says that they are “Punk, in the spiritual sense of the term,” and I like that insofar as it makes me want to describe the band’s sound as this: Spiritual punk. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out in my head, but I think it describes the way the group has a grimy, prickly, frustrated bent to it while at the same time having the beautiful psychedelic lucidity of Spacemen 3. You’ve got Helga Fassonaki, the noise-crooner otherwise known as Yek Koo, and you’ve got Andrew Scott, who copilots the operations at New Zealand-gone-LA weirdo label Emerald Cocoon along with her. And quite the pairing they make together here on this new LP, which mines the depths of despair to launch the band like a rocket ship into a scorching squall of guitar feedback and distortion. I mean… good GOD, it’s a hurricane in the grooves of this record. Where minimalism has the muscle to be maximalism is where Metal Rouge finds its sweet spot, setting up soft, paper templates of song with looped melodic lines and thrumming beats for guitar amps to tear apart piece by piece. Meanwhile, Fassonaki’s multi-prismatic voice floats on top in its spooky way, chanting incessant lyrics and swarming the mix like a militia of ghosts. The whole thing is at once hazy, disorienting, and opaque, while at the same making room for moments of sheer gorgeousness that are presented with breath-of-fresh-air clarity. That the improvisational method and single-take approach of the band can produce works of such obvious emotional weight is the real selling point here, making way for Soft Erase to be in the running for best noise-related release of the year.Links: Metal Rouge - Emerald Cocoon
Effigy [CS; VAALD]
The triangular relationship between creator, created and consumer can be a troubled one. Artists have fan bases, blind followers; the kind of person who will defend any piece of music that has a specific name attached to it. But take away that creators identity and the whole system gets uncomfortably imbalanced; trepidation suddenly seems a necessity as we expose ourselves to something without knowing how it will affect our body.
Torn Birch is just such an uncomfortable space. It’s an “anonymous” project, part of the first batch of tapes released months ago on Hooker Vision’s noisy bastard child VAALD. We don’t know who created the cold slivers of black and white noise or who’s screams are sprinkled among the guitar, electronics, and muffled field recordings of Effigy’s five tracks. The facelessness of it allows for an amount of displacement; they can be the listener’s screams, they can be internalized anguish given form on a black 30 minute cassette. The nebulous origin of the sounds allows us to personalize them; eliminate the names and faces and they become our own to play, absorb, rewind, mull over, masticate, flip-over, ponder, breathe and sleep to.
Finding out that Jim Haynes, Ryan McGill or Grant Evans himself is disgorging these primal growls would add it nicely to their oeuvre; put it next to one of their tapes on your shelf, it’s a comfortable enough place. But if it’s just a name and a title suddenly it does not fit so neatly; maybe it fits better on a bedside table or stacked, easily accessible, on the top of the bookcase. The simple design of the case becomes a puzzle and it seems to find its way back into your fingers, turned over and over, disassembled looking for clues to its origin or trajectory. Unable to compare it to other releases by the same artist, we are forced to listen with fresh ears, trying to pick up on stylistic tendencies or clues to whose hands are on the instruments. The mystery becomes part of the allure, and in that perhaps it is not worth solving.
Message from Era Ora [12-inch; Sound of Cobra]
Message From Era Ora is exactly what this column needs; a fresh aura, something to zone out to in an entirely different way. Embryo recorded this tight little son of a bitch in 1976 at various live venues, and while the group birthed 20 albums or in its heyday, if you haven’t been paying attention I don’t hear any reason you shouldn’t consider Message a decent Square One. It’s amazing to me that a recording from 1976 can sound so pummeling during a tom-tom rape while a lot of the records I spin from NOW don’t carry the same gut-sucking punch. Beyond that, if you get inside these compositions and stay with them from top to bottom it becomes apparent there are wicked forces at work here, and nothing short of a tractor-beam pull is required to put jammy jazz-prog, drenched in Fender Rhodes, like this across. They nail it, and have fun doing it. The solos don’t hitch up or anything, but I prefer the sections wherein the players lock horns together and thresh out intense clusters of activity together the most. I’m reminded most of fellow travelers like Sun Ra, Magma, Art Bears, Gong and the like, along with AMT and other psychedelic jamsters. There’s a shitload of other stuff that factors in, which I’ll let you suss out once you inject Embryo’s Message for yourself.Links: Sound of Cobra
Frozen In Time: Music to Accompany the Films of Ingmar Bergman [3XCS; Black Horizons]
Have you seen the lineup for the Frozen in Time: Music to Accompany the Films of Ingmar Bergman triple-cassette? Insane: Persistence In Mourning, Fear Konstruktor, Swamp Horse, Terence Hannum, Ryan Unks, and King Dude (retroactively scoring six Ingmar Bergman films, respectively: Persona, Face to Face, Wild Strawberries, From the Life of the Marionettes, The Serpent’s Egg, and Summer with Monika); if not even one of these names wrinkles your nose, you’re not reading the right column (and I’ll have you know there are penalties for that kind of thing). Quite an ambitious, illustrious project that pays off in spades if you’ve got the time to spend with it. Swamp-Ho (nom de plume of Husk Records dude Josh Lay) get the first at-bat and play things pretty safe, to these ears, but keep in mind I’m experiencing the audio without the visual accompaniment. Multiple layers of drone support what almost sounds like an impromptu choir singing through a synth, with guitar swipes eventually taking centerstage for the remainder of the production. A pounding, timpani-style instrument also makes a bold appearance, rounding out a fairly wondrous mixture of light-psych bliss and reverence for the material he’s creating a soundtrack for. Hannum’s contribution simmers peacefully at first before warping and boiling over into a dark-drone nightmare that mysteriously disappears down the drainpipes of your dreams. A throb kicks in soon after and we’re back where we started. Luckily, it wasn’t so bad in the first place. King Dude, if I may skip around a bit, turns in a side I wouldn’t have suspected he had in him, though he’s spewed a lot of releases I haven’t had the fortune of hearing. Very misty, cold, and dark until a fragile acoustic sound source emerges and a foghorn (or didgeridoo; or whatever) joins it. From there I’m not even sure where this is going any more, and that’s half the thrill. T.J. Cowgill whirls together a wind tunnel or two, blows on that horn, sets back in the gloom and pretty much owns shit. He claims he recorded his contribution with but an acoustic guitar, hand drum, two gazelle antlers, and a pen, but that’s… fuck brother, can we call the fifth instrument studio trickery then? Agreed. It would give me pleasure to recount the other three sides of music for you here, and yet I’ve already gone much longer than the Cerbs charter allows so we’ll have to part ways now. Frozen in Time is limited to 200 copies and replete with the aesthetic sense you expect from the lofty Black Horizons label.Links: Black Horizons
Fast Hits [CS; Teen River]
John Bellows is officially invited to all of my birthday parties from now on. I just think he’d make a good presence there, getting into the food and booze, goofing around with all kinds of funny voices and impressions, and making a general drunken mess of himself while causing a scene. And I’d want for him to do all that, because that is something that must be done at a birthday party. Because it was going to happen anyway. Someone has to be the asshole, screw things up a bit. It is as inevitable as rock and roll itself, and that’s why there’s Fast Hits. Fast Hits is a karate kick in the teeth. It’s a cartoon cat & mouse chase. It comes out of nowhere, it smarts like a motherfucker, and it is kind of a circus. There’s tastes of everything from Sebadoh to Kiss to Tom Waits on this highly enjoyable cassette tape, and more, and it’s all lined with a fuzzy notion of that word that is best when it exists as a noun, “gnarly.” Yes, John Bellows’ raging assault of power chord craziness is gnarly, but it is also a gnarly. It hasn’t showered in a while, it’s got patchy stubble all over its face. It just took six 5-Hour Energys, it is off to the races and you are in its way. And it will run you the fuck over. Even what is passed off for as a ballad here in “La La La La La” will kick your ass, and you’ll thank it for the favor.Links: John Bellows - Teen River
Men Of Bissau
Club Baraka [CS; Nostilevo]
Finally we get a Nostilevo release folded into the delicate belly of Cerberus, Men Of Bissau serving as the perfect entrypoint for the imprint’s unique black-on-gray-on-black aesthetic. Club Baraka deals in the best brand of drone, the variety that provokes the mind and somehow dazzles the ear despite what could be construed as fairly traditional ideas. Side A, comprised of “P.M.,” lays flat organ textures over harsh squealing then pulls the rug out, pairing coastguard Doppler blips with radio static, followed by super-slight synth gurgles. Lost at sea in the rain, the ear can do little but drift. “Club Baraka” is almost cruel as it slaps your face and throws you down the stairs without a word. CLUNK-dunk-dunk-dunk BANGSMASHHHHHHHH!>!!>!? Before you know what bull gored you, a feeble alien signal pleads for your attention as what sounds like a sampled xylophone tolls for unknown souls. Evil stuttering cricket chirps and a growling, unidentified source of bass join the fray and bring it all home. By the time the timpanis come in you’re already aware of your impending death, and you don’t care. Fucking righteous, man.Links: Nostilevo
Sam Gas Can
Baby, Am I Trippy? [CS; Singapore Sling]
Sam Gas Can might have written this album with just whistling. Maybe he used some hand-holding and possibly skipping. Saturday morning cartoons. Cookie Crisp® cereal crumbles on the corners of his lips and milk dribbling down his chin is how this album might have been created. But for as little-kid as all that sounds, Baby, Am I Trippy? is still PG-13, at least (for light drug-related humor and questionable language). He’s sort of grown up and he sort of knows exactly what he’s doing, forming drums, keyboards, and voices into a little gang of miscreant musicians. What Sam Gas Can’s actual voice sounds like, we’ll never know. Whether or not he’s a sane, rational human being - a mystery. We listen and wonder. We wonder how “fly off the handle” means interjecting a tune with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” as rendered on a Casio keyboard. We wonder about the weirdo rapping, and who this “Anthro Rex” person might be. How the soundtrack to an 80s sitcom managed to fit so well on this cassette. And we wonder how in the Sam-Gas-Can-hell Russian label Singapore Sling manages to continue its home-run derby year of almost entirely US-based artists with ace tapes like this one.Links: Sam Gas Can - Singapore Sling