“How Does Kevin Costner Keep Getting Work?”

Out now via Hooker Vision (HT to Steve Smith for mentioning it), a new tape from Kevin Costner Suicide Pact. And yes, this is much better than the band’s name might suggest!

Long Distance Poison: Ancient Analogues (SoundCloud)

Long Distance Poison
Ancient Analogues
VCO Records cassette 005

Brooklyn based analog synth performers Long Distance Poison craft two side length drone-based compositions on this cassette out on VCO (buy via Discogs).

Both “The Meadow” and “Aethelred” contain drones with an edge – no mushy ambience here. What’s more, the static connotation one can associate with the term ‘drone’ gives little idea of the pliability and motility of the held tones here. Overtones abound, gradually accumulating; but the group holds off on punctuating the sound environment with melodic or noise-based interjections until a sense of the spaciousness of the grounding material is firmly established. The belated arrival of contrasting elements, many in the treble register, creates pointed interjections and a rousing response to the already rich sheen that has accrued. This is music that one is glad to have linger in the air and sad, at its conclusion, to have evaporate all too soon.

Those who think that, in our digital rich age, cassette must be a compromised medium with which to share audio need to hear this: it will likely disabuse them of that notion. Analog synths thrive in this analog medium. Long Distance Poison proves that their gear and its method of distribution needn’t, despite this tape’s title, seem ancient. What is old makes decidedly new sounds on Ancient Analogues.

Daw Nusk: “Hunter Gatherer” via Koppklys

Daw Nusk
Hunter Gatherer
Koppklys #010 (cassette run of 60)

Dynamic instrumental music replete with warm synths as a pervasive grounding, long spun drones, field recorded additions, notably cawing gulls, and finally, surging crescendos and Mellotron-like strings pushing the levels higher towards red. If the old saw about ambient music is that it is dull or, at the very least, useful only as background listening on a yoga mat, Daw Nusk proves it wrong. Luxuriating in sound need never be a static experience and, on Hunter Gatherer it is quite the contrary; a pleasing aural journey that is nevertheless filled with a number of surprises and shifts of demeanor along the way. A generous collection of six compositions: recommended.


RJ Valeo visits Philly (cassette review)




The Philadelphia Recordings
RJ Valeo , synths, electronics; Justin Gibbon, drums, Justin Miller, bass and percussion
Digitalis Ltd. cassette #229

For a two day marathon of one-take recordings, Brooklyn/Atlanta electronic musician RJ Valeo joined bandmates Justin Gibbon and Justin Miller at SINergy Art Space, a 4000 square foot loft in Philadelphia. The result of their efforts is a cassette filled with reverberant soundscapes, populated by resilient grooves with swaths of bleary, effects laden live electronics. The B-side inexorably pulls you away from the toe-tapping ambience of the earlier music into a lush and leisurely paced sound world. It is a visceral pullback into the exhaustion of an adrenaline dump, signifying the end of an action packed weekend of music-making.




I can’t decide whether I prefer the trio at the effusive beginning of the session or during its hazy winding down. Fortunately, I don’t have to decide: one can just flip the tape over and enjoy it all again.
MBR>

The Aloha Spirit: “This is Water” (Bandcamp embed)




One of the reasons why recording buffs may be leaping onto the tape bandwagon: the “scavenger hunt” factor. Let’s face it, there are fewer and fewer “brick and mortar” places to browse for music. Where’s a record head to go to experience the thrill of the chase? Instead of browsing the stacks, are we consoling ourselves with searching the internet far and wide for that elusive short-run cassette (1 of only 30 or 40!)?

In the case of the Aloha Spirit’s “This is Water,” their debut release, the music is a hefty part of the equation too: an ambient mix of analog synths, field recordings, and loops aplenty. I’m still in the hunt for a physical copy, but in the meantime, the stream on their Bandcamp page has whetted my appetite for more from this Austin-based project.


Caldera Lakes: “arranged” on Ecstatic Peace (cassette review)

Caldera Lakes

Arranged

Ecstatic Peace e#110c cassette (edition of 100)

Rolling waves of white noise, feedback, and even mic noise wash over the clarion singing and drone-based ambience of Caldera Lakes (Eva Aguila and Brittany Gould) on their “arranged” cassette (out now on Ecstatic Peace). In the midst of this deliberately lo-fi and noise distressed ambience lies a primeval aesthetic that contrasts clangorous stabs, bleary utterances, and muscular cries with delicate arpeggios and strummed guitars.

While getting ahold of these limited run artifacts is great fun – a scavenger hunt for adventurous music listeners (I found mine on a recent visit to one of my favorite haunts Downtown in NYC: Other Music) – it’s a pity that this release hasn’t gained wider currency – as yet! The band, like so many others, is going to SXSW this year. One hopes that they bring a bunch of their tapes, CDRs, and other releases along (may they need runs >100!), and that the resultant buzz yields anything but lo-fi results for their careers.

Long Distance Poison: Gamma Graves (Cassette Review)

Long Distance Poison

Gamma Graves

Ecstatic Peace Cassette

Gamma Graves is a prime example of the kind of release that has helped to fuel the cassette resurgence on the indie/experimental music scene. Produced by a variety of sources, from bedroom DIY collectives and small tape-only labels to established imprints like Ecstatic Peace, the audio cassette format, long thought extinct, is back. Tapes have been unassumingly encroaching their way onto the shelves of connoisseur collectors and music critics (no less than Steve Smith is a devotee): even record sellers such as Insound and Other Music have made room for them again.

The Brooklyn triumvirate of synthesizer performers Nathan Cearley and Erica Bradbury and prepared guitarist Casey Block comprise Long Distance Poison. Armed with vintage gear by Moog, Arp, and Roland, they create experimental soundscapes with a sense of history, referencing everyone from David Borden and early Philip Glass to Keith Rowe, Alva Noto, Ryoji Ikeda, and Derek Bailey. Drone-based foundations are overlaid with coruscating ostinato loops and distressed with pointed interjections.

Gamma Graves is the type of music that would have been just fine to distribute digitally (or via CD). Indeed, some purists might argue that cassette is an inherently inferior audio format to hi-res digital played through good equipment (by no means do most consumers play their MP3s through good equipment). So, why do I like having it on cassette? I find the noise imparted by tape and deck to do no harm to this music: in fact, it adds another, subtle, layer of drones to the proceedings that is consonant with the musical intentions of the work.

The tape as artifact yields something important too. Limited runs of handmade cassettes are often lovingly attired with artwork more expansive and, obviously, more tangible than any JPEG can provide. They are a reminder of a bygone era in which the physical release WAS the release, in which tape-trading and digging in bins for rarities was a hobby to enthusiastically pursue: not something simulated in online forums and furtively grasped at brick and mortar outposts now few and far between. Long Distance Poison (and Ecstatic Peace) acknowledge their debt to history not only via musical reference points, but through the resonances found in a cassette as relic and artwork. Try finding all that in a computer file.

Northern Spy’s Clandestine Cassette #1

Clandestine Series Cassette #1
V/A
Northern Spy Records

It wasn’t so long ago that people were counting out “hard copy” recording formats, prognosticating that digital would reign supreme and that vinyl and cassette tapes would be on the scrap heap or, at best, fodder for flea markets and garage sales. While the LP’s resurgence in recent years has been variously chalked up to increased attention to aesthetics, desire for higher fidelity, and a pop culture trend in its own right, many still assumed that cassettes were too sonically compromised and kitschy for a comeback in their own right. But then, lo-fi indie exploded, and the landscape changed.

While Northern Spy’s first in a projected series of Clandestine Cassettes isn’t just concerned with lo-fi aesthetics, one can see why the scrappy Brooklyn import, and others like it, embrace the cassette format. It’s inexpensive, easily portable, and yes, has its own nostalgic artifact qualities. But CC#1 isn’t a novelty item: it’s a fascinating mini-sampler of Northern Spy artists, revealing an EP length recording of avant rock drone-filled soundscapes by the likes of Zaimph and Messages. There’s also “August is All,” a beautiful track of slowly evolving, minimalist yet blues-inflected improvisation by guitarist Tom Carter. A little avant folk star power is in force on “Live at Union Pool,” a reverberant duet by Loren Connors and bassist Margarida Garcia. Garcia also contributes the cassette’s artwork, which recalls homemade mixes and tape trading.

Although you can still get MP3s or FLAC, this tape’s already sold out. But rest assured, there will be more cassettes to come: from Northern Spy and elsewhere on the scene.

Already got rid of your tape deck? No worries; for now, they’re not expensive to acquire. But be warned: I recently learned from Twitter that no less a tastemaker than Steve Smith has gotten a new Walkman. Can it be long before this microtrend explodes and cassette decks are the new iPad? Stay tuned.