Blithe Field Face Always Toward the Sun

[Orchid Tapes; 2016]

Styles: ambient, tape collage, “bedroom pop,” sound art
Others: Spencer Radcliffe, Ricky Eat Acid, Alex G., Foxes in Fiction

Throughout our ambient tradition, there’s been a long line of importance placed upon localism. Satie, with his “furniture music,” Pierre Schaeffer with his field recordings: an inseparable part of the genre tradition has made notions of “the space” eternally present in the work. Sure, the specifics change — Eno, with his Music for Airports swelling up to embody the narrative in full force; Cage, with his cheeky concert hall disruptions lampooning notions of classical formalism — but much stays the same. Sound art is to be designed with specific physical locale in mind, a tailored experience built around a room, a stream of thought, a Dream House of an experience, growing and evolving around a limited set of constraints often determined only by hardware limitations and the landscape beneath our feet.

But somewhere along this history, the internet happened. For all its global, socio-cultural disruptions and accelerationist cultures, the internet allowed localism a new birth. From helping foster new, purely web-based scenes to unifying artists around software cracks and “net-concrete,” a new sense of bottom-up democracy has been felt in full force, as the same “crowdsourced economy” that gave us Rap Genius and has now given us countless, readymade communities online, all forever one tab over in a torrent of eternal data.

Nowhere is this force more felt than with Bandcamp. The site’s utilitarian layout and allowance of physical media sales has become something of a template for DIY online, with labels like 1080p, Patient Sounds, Dream Catalogue, Beer on the Rug, etc. launching to massive acclaim, in part due to the site’s straightforward name-your-price option. In an era where the value of digital audio duplication is virtually worthless, Bandcamp’s name-your-price option, which allows a few hundred free downloads before charging nominal, artist-determined fees, has helped independent artists and labels everywhere get their feet wet in a mediated form of readymade digital retail, sometimes to huge acclaim.

One label often left out of that conversation (at least on this site) is Orchid Tapes. Started in 2010 by Foxes in Fiction’s Warren Hildebrand, the label has facilitated a coveted collective of cassette and limited vinyl releases from artists like Alex G, Coma Cinema, Infinity Crush, R.L. Kelly, and Ricky Eat Acid, utilizing Bandcamp’s name-your-price template and physical media platform to reach out to the depths of the internet, growing beyond the bedroom into a booming label, complete with sold-out releases and middle american reviews drenched in clunky language and slapped across with a quick numerical value.

The latest offering from the label, Blithe Field’s Face Always Toward the Sun, continues the ambient musings of Spencer Radcliffe, whose Brown Horse cassette split with R.L. Kelly for the label was a killer collection of sharp songwriting and rolling sonic chaos. His other, more emo-leaning work as California Furniture in 2013 further affirmed his songwriting chops, but Blithe Field remains Radcliffe’s solely instrumental effort. From his phenomenal split with Ricky Eat Acid in 2012 to a rich string of incredible tape collages, the Chicago musician has built something masterful through the years, looped euphoria in hazy, flattened bliss.

On Face Always Toward the Sun, the localism is overwhelming. With track titles like “Scaling Alden at Night,” “Secret Soda Machine,” and “Endless Days at Strouds,” the album feels like a crisp, forested exploration though Athens, Ohio, the small southeastern college town in the shadow of the Ohio University where Radcliffe and co. attended. It’s no secret that the city has a strong DIY presence, and here, Radcliffe, like many other collage compilers, makes the landscape central to the art itself, layering tracks with floor creaks, cricket chirps, and dog barks — wooded floors and cohesive, shuffling electronics that ease the works together. It’s an aural portrait of stretching out, sleeping bags in a row, drunk on cheap beer and drive-in milkshakes beneath the stars, a glossy reel of Brooklyn roadtrips on MDMA, Chia Seeds & Apple Juice in the passenger seat. It’s a harrowing ode to youth and togetherness, college friends and old show houses — paint chipping beneath the loose porch swing as the sun sets and bands start their soundchecks before the show. Like the infamous suburban home of American Football’s 1999 self-titled album, Face Always Toward the Sun finds beauty in the suburbs, in kids basking in the wide-eyed, splotchy patches of life between youth and the real world.

Pairing the localized ambient tradition with that special Orchid Tapes blend of lush bedroom amateurism, Blithe Field builds its own stunning, hazy world within the Ohio town, crafting a heartbreaking collage of youth, family, intimacy, and togetherness from the ground up. Like James Joyce’s Dublin or Lou Reed’s New York, Radcliffe’s Athens is its own universe, a collegiate utopia in art, vibrant and overflowing, foam-drenched and howling on the lawn, the first big weekend of the year.

Links: Orchid Tapes

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