The Skywriters

Skywriter Blue (1998-2000)

[CS; Lost Sound]

My name is Justin and I am stuck in the 90s. Pay no mind to my obligations to this sub-section of Tiny Mix Tapes, where I toil neck deep in all sorts of belches, screams, and telepathic microwaves. It’s all a front. Sure, my flannels are a bit more tailored, my jeans nowhere as baggy, and my hair much more tame but I still spend waking hours in front of a computer living out a 9-to-5 fantasy propped up by a lengthy (and ever-growing) playlist of 90s alterna-hits and has-beens. And it’s a fight that I hope someday warrants Gumball or Drop Nineteens a 10 cent royalty after 1,000 plays. It’s not a pay-it-forward I can pass onto defunct Philadelphia outfit The Skywriters, who find themselves out of place and time with the retrospective cassette, Skywriter Blue. But so what? I still have a stash of mid-90s CMJ mix CDs and I can’t help but think fondly of how well The Skywriters would have snuggled up next to Sun 60 or Jen Trynin. But the look back of this cassette is between 1998 and 2000, a two year stretch that signaled the decline of the always cloudy grunge forecast for bubblegum droplets and blooming foliage. And though the attitude of the late 90s pop scene is reflected throughout, The Skywriters were a few years too late to be anything more than a footnote. But considering we stand 15 years removed from that rose-colored decade, it was for the best. Hearing Skywriter Blue now is a much needed reminder that there was something left unsaid at the end of the 90s. The asteroid crash that killed off grunge all-too-soon meant a different species emerged, even if it’s taken too long for us to notice.

Links: Lost Sound

The Charles Ives Singers

The Unbuilt

[CS; Alberts Basement]

I had to pick one last 2013 tape to review out of a pile of Albert’s Basement goodies and came up with this convincingly caffeinated, ‘caw’ing cassette of cacophany and mind-crags. The Charles Ives Singers (please let that be a nod to Burl Ives, the singing-snowman guy) blow like Smegma, layer like Avarus, and can even synth-up a bit in a fashion I’m not used to hearing. It’s all fun and/or games until the two sets of keys open disparate doors and wander off on their own, never to be retrieved. Then the horns come in again and we’re in skronk territory, which, when applied directly to a wound… will cause the wound to bleed more. That’s GOOd. That’s SIck but GOOd. Now, break out that auctioneer’s cap and start breakin’ out some numbers; that’s it, boy. From here you already know if you’re gonna head this way or not so I’ll spare you the shenanigans. Kiwi-for-life, bitches.

Ninni Morgia / Silvia Kastel / Ultrillo Kushner

Live at Hemlock, San Francisco

[CS; Ultramarine]

Live at Hemlock, San Francisco might be the best release yet from Ultramarine, a well-respected label that sticks with its artists rather than releasing one-offs from raw-doggin’ randoms. Ninni Morgia and Silvia Kastel are longtime label staples, while Ultrillo Kushner used to drum for Cerberus-approved Comets On Fire. Obviously the stakes were high on this one and the trio catch fire relatively quicky in a manner resembling Mystical Weapons fronted by Yoko Ono in screech mode (and I’m not talkin’ about fuckin’ Dustin Diamond here) and mellowed out by bouts of solo guitar and improv-noise tangents. Sounds real nice for a cassette of a live recording, all three members coming through crystal clear. The squiggle session that erupts at the beginning of Side B is exemplary if you still value Feeding Tube-style nowave that can’t be contained by time signatures or melody. I’ve been tempted all review to mention AIDS Wolf and even Aa, so please allow me to do so without judging me. Sixty hand-numbered reasons to live, not die.

Links: Ultramarine

Jeremy Bible


[CS; False]

New high bar set here with Jeremy Bible’s physical issues of his once digital-only Collisions album; both the cassette version (which I have on hand), and the CD version of this release are top-notch. Look at that! Mirror-metallic print on a glossy box with bellyband? Shit, seriously good. Sonically, Bible’s never sounded more in control, precise, and sharp than on this one. A friend of mine likened it to birds, and the frantic, fast-paced and high-pitched nature of that animal fits this record’s trajectory quite well. You can also just hear what sound like genuine field recordings of them throughout the length of the recording – the flapping of wings, their worm-wanting chirps, etc., all of it pieced together with synths and tape samples, and whatever all else you won’t be able to place in your imagination. Instead of approaching a noise-collagist’s oft-used technique of mashing textures together, smearing things into a pasty pastiche of blended “harsh,” Bible puts things together with a care that almost feels obsessive, giving each and every individual sound he creates edges that are refined and defined. It is designed music. Bible adds and subtracts elements as if building a sculpture out of Jenga blocks, and while the architecture is built to feel like it should be teetering on the brink of collapse at any moment with sounds swooping in and crashing into one another with blind and aggressive accents, wavering on unsteady waves of dynamic shifts, Bible’s foundations are still strong enough to keep the sound remarkably sturdy. And though he can also be tender, finding the softer side of his instrumental array as the album makes its way toward the end, even his quietest moments (completely dead, negative spaces) are used in ways that could leave many white-knuckled and squeamish. Also this: Album of the year.

Links: Jeremy Bible - False

Orange Claw Hammer


[CS; Ambivalent Soap]

Teleportation technology has come. As I step inside the cassette from Orange Claw Hammer, I’m whisked away to the time of steely, droned strings plucked from their earthen bridge with wanton skill. The axis recoils with the historical ragas of yore. I see epochs pass on the crest of a reverberation. Orange Claw Hammer may not possess the engineering skill to transport my physical being to the past but the transcendental echoes herein recall a passing musical world where guitar playing was an organic, cosmic experience where heaven and hell joined into a metaphysical realm where we questioned when dinosaurs evolved and man devolved. Of course, it’s just a good two-sided jam that also reminds us all that good music still has a place in modern society free from commercial goals and critical expectations. Which is why we listen and allow ourselves the freedom of imagination to go where the music takes us – be it the physical or spiritual plane.

Links: Ambivalent Soap

The Insults

Population Zero / Zombie Lover

[7-inch; Last Laugh]

The Insults, truly a discovery to be celebrated, rise above most of the late-70s unknowns because their propulsive punk sound is so unique yet indentured to its era. The porcupine guitar leads pop like tarts all over the place, more reckless than even those of Epic Soundtracks, yet frenzied enough to bring a young punk’s blood to a boil. You gotta love the fact that there’s only bass and drums left when Richard Sikk rips into one of his laughably unconvincing solo leads. That might be the one weakness of The Insults on paper, yet they don’t detract from the momentum of the songs enough to slow them down because the riffs ream major BUtt. Wire is the first band I think as far as influencing the vocals, with a lot of stacatto bursts and yelps and yips. There’s just nothing like the enthusiasm of early punk, so fresh and exclusive as it was, and even if you’re picky about the genre I suggest spinning either tune on offer here.

Links: Last Laugh

Black Umbrellas

vol. 1

[CS; Moon Magnet]

“Ariel Pink,” they screamed, “Neon Indian,” they cried, and I didn’t listen or care, the beat bumping big in my headphones, finding a crack in the sheets of tape hiss to wrap around my mind, close my eyes and raise my eyebrows. The umbrella above my brain deflecting the spring rains and beneath it casting shadows of sunshine all over me; a darkness that glows, that beams intently in streaks of thick intimidating black. Then off in the corner the voice appears, and it is frail and I have not a single clue what it’s singing to me, whispering of mellow mellows and mallows. Some dreamer mumbling his dreams to me, maybe, and even if I can’t figure it all out, it’s the hushed mood and the euphoric aura of twinkling melodies that keep my eyes firmly crossed. And the rhythms, too, the back beat pushed out to the ‘and’ instead of landing on the downbeat – little tricks like that to trigger a deep and buoyant response. By no means polished or refined, but nice as hell and an early reminder of (and necessary companion to) the heat of summer that lies just ahead, Derrick Bozich’s debut comes highly commended and recommended from your friends at camp-Strauss.

Links: Black Umbrellas - Moon Magnet

Orchid Spangiafora

Flee Past’s Ape Elf

[2xLP; Feeding Tube]

I’m not sure why Flee Past’s Ape Elf works for me and so many other similar projects don’t. But it does, and this is going to be one of those records I reference/mention maybe a little too much, I predict. Orchid Spangiafora and this 1977 masterwork showed up on Nurse With Wound’s infamous list of underground artists, but outside of the relatively tightly knit sphere of NWW, certain open minds in the punk community (Devo, Pere Ubu), and like-minded artists like Negativland, it could be said that a lot of us, myself included, never heard this one. Well, it’s time to pay the piper. Orch-Spang, nee Robert Carey, didn’t mess around when it came to sound-splicing, and unlike a lot of provocateurs known for the technique, he didn’t have much else to offer. Yet that also was the strength of the project because Carey made his own myths (you might call his gift a doppelganger to Mincemeat Or Tenspeed’s mastery of effects pedals), using samples as rhythms as much as audio signposts and tweaking them out with a hyperactive hand. Jeff Keen comes to mind, as do others, but few records, of this experimental variety and otherwise, manage to stick to such an imaginative template exclusively and keep the material cohesive for such long stretches. Flee Past’s a daunting challenge for most people, and even for those versed in the no-verse/-chorus variety of music it will be exhausting to strap down through the entire double-album. But that’s, frankly, what you must do. Besides, think about all the work it took spicing these cut-up compositions with reel-to-reels; if Carey can spend hours in an audio dungeon meticulously crafting a masterwork that will largely go unheard, you can damn-sure afford to let this remarkable record work its magic on you for the duration.

Links: Orchid Spangiafora

Sneaky Pinks

I’m Punk / Punk Pudding

[7-inch; Almost Ready]

It’s extremely difficult to have as much fun as Sneaky Pinks do if you’re taking your music career seriously. I remember some dude in a recording studio telling me about how his shitty country band had to can its drummer because he wore shorts instead of jeans. My point being, a lot of musicians take themselves so seriously it’s completely within reason to dismiss them immediately. The trick with a song like “Puke Pudding” is that the Pinks actually do care about their music, they’re just smart enough to obey their instincts, which in this case result in a predilection for simple pogo-punk riffs, steady drum beats you can only hear during guitar/bass breaks, and lyrics/vocals with more of a garage-rock feel to them. The production of both songs swings wildly. You won’t even know the bassist is there, the suddenly his banana-handed lines sprawl out over the arrangements like fine-pudding’d puke. As usual with this band, the guitar is rock-steady and Ramones-y. Purple vinyl, and a limited number of servings of it, so dine or your hopes of being right with punk will be dashed.




The relentless need to create. Gotta hit record. Don’t care about the chords and words. We’ll play what we mean and say what we think. It’s the epitome of rock and roll spirit, which launched itself to death from the broken window of the Four Seasons or wasted away in the dankness of Chateau Marmont sometime in the 70s. Punk was a defibrillator but three chords and youthful exuberance was DOA. It was dressed in the finest Goodwill patchwork as 90s youth apathetically paid it tribute when its corpse was basically carried around by Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy for 97 minutes (equivalent to 5 years in alterna-years). But the past is now buried under the mounds of pop and celebrity. There is no phoenix rising, just a new breed rallying around a new cause under the fallen’s flag. How Victoria’s Fountain fit is still being discovered, but a band with familiar angularity attuned to fellow Canadians Women and the hip mental aptitude to get out of a song like so few have understood, there’s a sense of a new blood claiming salted earth. Maybe there is still a pulse to be found somewhere, or perhaps it’s time to remember rock was never dead, just in and out of rehab. It’s all rather cliched but the singular ray of light streaming from Fountain will light the way to that trunk full of barbiturates and moonshine that will fuel a new era of caring.

Links: Fountain

Cerberus seeks to document the spate of home recorders and backyard labels pressing limited-run LPs, 7-inches, cassettes, and objet d'art with unique packaging and unknown sound. We love everything about the overlooked or unappreciated. If you feel you fit such a category, email us here.