Cassette Corner" TG + TC - "Untitled"

Thibault Gondard + Thomas Charmetant
(2009 Stochastic Releases)

The element of surprise has always been one of the aspects of the cassette scene that draws me to the subculture, and I believe it might be a sort of nostalgic attachment to my childhood love of baseball cards. Plucking a Topps 12-pack from a protruding rod that flanked the checkout conveyor belt at Target; reading the fine print beneath the foil wrapper's middle fold, which listed the probability of opening up a rare 'gold' edition card, or one that held a small swatch of a game-used jersey; peeling that wrapper away to behold a starting lineup's worth of all-stars and misfits; studying statistics and summaries printed on the back of each. To purchase a tape that I know nothing about gives me that same feeling I had with a new pack of cards in my hand. There's so much to examine on the way home in hopes of striking DIY gold. Though I may never have opened up a rare baseball card as a kid, yesterday I found what you might consider the cassette equivalent of one.

I made a trip to Newport Kentucky's Torn Light Records after receiving a message from the store's owner, Alex York, notifying me of a box of cassettes that had just arrived at the store that he thought might interest me. He was certainly right, as I arrived to a briefcase of tapes that nobody in the building was able to identify. York told me that they were a donation from Art Damage, a small space that used to function as Cincinnati's premier spot for experimental music performances. I took home three of the tapes from the box, including a rather peculiar-looking selection: the cover was simply a square of printer paper adorned with the initials "TG + TC" scrawled all across its surface as if it were the front page of a notebook belonging to a lovestruck middleschooler. The tape itself was Mountain Dew yellow with small star sticker affixed to the center, the kind placed next to perfect spelling test scores. Popping the tape into my brand-new walkman when I got home, I discovered that the childlike innocence of the tape's design is reflected by the music it contains. It's a masterpiece of art brut, a raw art form that exists only partially rooted in reality; it's not quite abstract, but it channels the quixotic aim of a child artist who lacks the motor skills to deliver his thoughts to paper. By means of minimalist, free form instrumental noodling (with the addition of some psychedelic sampling) French artists Thibault Gondard and Thomas Charmetant create beautiful soundscapes that transcend reality without doing anything technically impressive. 

The A-side of the cassette opens rather startlingly, an unaccompanied male voice speaks a sentence in french, ceasing to talk as soon as you've realized what you're hearing. It is quickly replaced by the somber wheeze of an organ, looping three trumpeting notes ad infinitum. These are supported by a subtle, yet omnipresent synthesizer chord, always passing through but never moving, as if the neck of a stream were stationed in the background of this living soundscape. Voices re-appear, and it becomes evident that we're eavesdropping on a conversation between a man and a woman. For twenty resplendent seconds, all these elements converge into one, each instrumental track travelling in its own direction, like a single vein in a body of many. The second half of this side of the tape consists of a minimalist composition for solo guitar, variations on a simple loop fleshed out by the bubble of manipulated feedback.

The B-Side is the highlight of the tape for me, though, opening with spacious bass chords, vaguely jazzy, that accompany a clumsily played cello. It's a rather ominous sounding improvised piece that actually has a few chill-inducing moments. Then comes the album's grand finale. A melancholy acoustic arpeggio gallops along as a chord organ swells and tumbles like one of Van Gogh's swirling night skies. A spoken word vocal, wonderfully mellow, eases into the tune. It's been said that French is the language of romance, and the beauty of a song like this is all the proof I need that it's true.


Review: Meryl Streaker - "Sky Burial"

Meryl Streaker - Sky Burial
(Driftwood/Ronald 2014)

Often, bands are praised for their ability to fluctuate, be it in tone, mood or instrumentation, but rarely will you come across acclaim for an act whose output is wholly monolithic. It takes meticulous attention to detail and production to create an album that maintains a static sense of emotion and flows seamlessly throughout, and it's even more difficult to do so without sacrificing the interest of the listener. Sky Burial, the new tape offering by San-Diego emoviolence trio Meryl Streaker, provides a great example of a release that stretches a moment's worth of unadulterated emotion into an expanse of influence. The mood in question here is one of rage and frustration, a subject that no member of the band is a stranger to, as each is connected to the project Flowers Taped To Pens, a post-hardcore 4-piece that brings an often fast and blistering intensity to the warm twinkle of 90's midwestern emo. Meryl Streaker brings that same intensity to the table, but from a different source of sonic inspiration: dark, growling guitar, slathered in reverb, calling to mind the eerie drone of black metal, or the sinister atonality of early Sonic Youth. The vocals are indecipherable screams, nearly as high-pitched as a dog-whistle, a great contrast against the melancholic, bassy instrumentation beneath. Tracks like "My Ishmael" balance melodicism with aggression, leading up to the grand finale, "Insignificant Steps and Shallow Breath", in which delicate guitar notes spiral downwards like the dimly lit staircase of a haunted house, weeping beneath banshee like screams. It may, initially, be difficult to cull beauty from the grim depths of Meryl Streaker's bleak delivery, but there are actually gobs of it buried within, to those in the right mindset.


Cassette Corner: Reighnbeau - "Hands"

Reighnbeau - Hands
(Bridgetown Records 2014)

Though I've been a stalwart supporter of shoegaze ever since I first laid ears on the genre, it can, at times, be a rather polarizing scene. Most shoegaze bands could fit into one of two camps, each of which is identified by its own brew of instrumentation. Most populated these days is the dream-pop faction of shoegaze. Cloaked in a bubble of reverb, these bands possess a watery guitar tone that ripples and dissipates endlessly across its own surface area, strummed chords displacing shimmering crests in their wake as if a jet ski. The drums are often relegated to the background and vocals tend to be rather theatric, taking heavy influence from the Cocteau Twins. The other brand of 'gazing stems from My Bloody Valentine's guitar tone. While the dream-pop style focuses on lightness, MBV's sound is like a black hole, an infinitely dense point in space from which nothing can escape. To listen to these bands is to be consumed in droning noise, pounding percussion and gnarled feedback propelling you along. Each of these is great to listen to on its own, but for a new shoegaze release to catch my attention it must find a way to bridge the gap between elegance and abrasion. Hands, the newest cassette by New Mexico's Reighnbeau, does just that.

It's perhaps most evident on the opening track, "Splinters" in which frontman Bryce Hample and guest vocalist Emma Crane whisper over trebly guitar chords, kicking up residual twinkle that arcs and spirals above all else. This beauty is as fragile as a post-snooze button dream, shattered by a gale force pulse of dark guitar drone. In this way, Reighnbeau has two strategies to approach a hook. First, there's the traditional manner of doing so: a dramatic chord change, a captivating string of plucked notes. But there's also a tonal approach as well, lacing two contrasting textures and timbres together in an act of transitional crescendo. Could this principle be illustrated in the album's cover art, reminiscent of the yin-yang symbol? It certainly is bold, minimal, driven by contrast.


Cassette Corner: Zach Phillips - "Recorded In Hell"

Zach Phillips - Recorded In Hell
(2014 Lillerne)

Often, when I think of "avant-garde" music my mind instinctively wanders to the outskirts of sound, the natural habitat of extremophile artists. There are times when traditional songwriting can get boring, especially in recent years, when inventiveness and creativity can be overshadowed by production. When the three chord pop construction begins to tire me, I turn to the creations of these extremophiles. I call them this because the sonic worlds they reside in subject them and their listeners to extreme climates. On one end of the spectrum, there's noise music, often harsh and visceral, but therapeutically so. On the other end, brute minimalism, like William Basinki's Disintegration Loops, or Steve Reich's mind-numbingly repetitive compositions. Though these two extremes have their virtues, there can be a degree of parody in each. For something to be truly avant-garde or cutting edge, it takes a sort of strangeness that defies extremity to create something original. The artists on Chicago's Lillerne Tapes label do just that: each of them paints their own surrealist soundscapes from fairly common instruments in rather ordinary ways. Each of them holds the key to extract the inner eccentricity hidden in the everyday. For example, Gabe Holcombe's Vehicle Blues project concocts towering dream-pop epics from rudimentary drum loops and droning guitar chords, while Katrina Stonehart weaves 10-minute tapestries from loose fragments of crunchy surf-pop. Each of them, says Holcombe, who doubles as the label's owner, "makes a little out of a lot". The artist who I think exemplifies this principle the most, however, is Zach Phillips, who is just off the cusp of his sophomore Lillerne effort, Recorded in Hell.

Though his songwriting tools are bare and familiar, (voice and piano), Phillips' ingenuity allows for him to meld these elements into something both bizarre and satisfying. Phillips frantically hits piano keys while nearly whispering his spoken word vocals into his Tascam 488. The recording quality is extremely lo-fidelity, causing some songs to crunch and distort beneath the weight of tape hiss, while others force one to really focus on the track to detect any discernible sound at all. Though his piano playing can, at times, remind one of Erik Satie's Sports et Divertissements series of compositions, what ZP's recordings most sound like to me is trying to read a magazine while Mister Rogers plays on the TV in the other room, jaunty melodies pounded out on a keyboard as a good-natured vocalist smiles and delivers lines overtop of it. There's a voyeuristic quality as well, hearing Phillips' hushed intonations as if listening through a cup pressed against the outside of his bedroom wall. Recorded In Hell can be an uncomfortable listen at first, but is ultimately charming and undeniably original. If you're able to see the beauty in the music of Jandek and Daniel Johnston, you'll love this tape. 


Review: Sketching - "Sketching"

Sketching - Sketching
(2014 Self-Released)

Warbling, chorus-laden guitar, gnarled drum machine strokes and trebly caresses of ethereal synthesizer congeal into something alien, yet somehow familiar on the self-titled debut release by Louisville new-wave project Sketching. Drawing from the distant, distorted brand of dream pop that accented late 00’s acts like Washed Out and Small Black, as well as from the nuanced, bouyant vibe of 80’s new wave. Though the album may initially seem a sea of viscous electronic noise, nearly impossible to navigate, there is an intense impressionistic layering to be discovered by those who plunge their heads beneath the surface. These songs, though formed from the most abstract of sounds, carry the empty weight of a quiet room, broken by the subtle shuffling of an antsy child seated on the couch, or the clatter of silverware in the kitchen. Silence throbs in the listener’s ears until it’s bent and warped by soluble synths that slowly seep into the virgin canvas of blank sound. A cover of Bruce Springsteen’s stellar 1984 single “I’m On Fire” sends a Tom Waits-esque drawl floating on a crest of reverb bubbles, while “Anita” buffets the listener with its gothic, liturgical repetition, reminiscent of the intro to the Cocteau Twins' "Sea Swallow Me". Perfect music for staring at kitchen appliances late at night, or reaching out to illuminated spacecrafts in a Spielberg film.


Interview: Big Booty Bill and Da Fish

An excerpt from a minizine I printed for Ephemera Fest, here we have an interview with Triple B, one half of the vapor-rap duo 'Big Booty Bill and Da Fish'. He also manages his own tape label, Kandahar Homedubs

How did Big Booty Bill and Da Fish get their start? What was the first song you recorded and how have you guys improved since then?

big booty bill and da fish was started as an inside joke. i was really involved with the vaporwave scene back when things were just starting to get big (i remember when the now-infamous dummy mag article came out), and i thought it was hilarious that a couple of people were trying to turn vaporwave into this online subversive/political movement about communism and radical politics and the like. i also find white rappers who do nothing but rap about being white really funny. i wanted to rap over vaporwave before anyone else did because i saw the entire "movement" as a huge joke. we had made a couple of rap songs in the past, just for fun. da fish had just gotten an ipad, and it came with garageband. we made "college song" on a car ride to new york, and that's also where we came up with our rap names. it wasn't until later that i threw that onto "very omnipotent swag corporation" and started really working on big booty bill and da fish.

What rappers do you particularly enjoy? Does Da Fish listen to rap? Besides that and Vaporwave, what do you dig?

i really like naughty by nature and danny brown, and i think the new drake album is good. i'm also getting into some bones/teamsesh stuff, i actually sent him a beat a few weeks ago. when we recorded the first two mixtapes, da fish had never heard any rap songs, but he's really into eminem now. he's really more into classic rock, like the beatles and the monkees. i don't listen to vaporwave that much anymore, aside from luxury elite. i've been exploring the carolinas' local music scene, so i'm gonna shoutout black santa and ivadell because i've been playing them a lot. i also like dean blunt and loumar.

Dude, Dean Blunt hits so hard!!!

so true. i know someone who is a hardcore hype williams fan, he's spent like hundreds of dollars on purchasing their entire discography. he gave me a copy of the narcissist on cd-r, it sounds amazing

Amen man. On a side note, what do you think is the all time dankest meme? Also how come the name of the label facebook changed from Don't Hate If You Get Memed On?

it changed because people were having issues finding us and also facebook kept seeing the word "meme" and assuming it meant "community page" which was messing with the settings on here so i changed it. also da fish is with my mom picking up dinner right now so i'll have to get back to u on the dank meme question.

No problem, what kinda food is he getting?

subs from which wich. yum yum yummy

ah, rad we just got one of those in our town. In the meantime, tell me a little about the Kandahar Homedubs label.

try the milkshakes! as for kandahar homedubs: i started it because i was tired of seeing my friends get screwed over by people who had no idea what they were doing. i know people who had to buy copies of their own release to give to their parents, and i also know people who got no profit at all from their tapes, which really bugged me. i also wanted to start a label like artist in residence, but make it so everyone could afford it. i always treat every aspect of each release as its own work of art, especially the packaging. i see a lot of really ambitious labels that put out great music, but it's boring to look at! i want to be the alternative to second-hand, individually-dubbed cassettes with "a" and "b" hastily written on them in sharpie.

How did you get in touch with Amy and Luxury Elite to put out releases? What's the background on those guys?

lux and i go way back. i knew her before she started the project, and she was totally down for putting something out through my label, so we just threw some ideas around and came up with 101.7 WAVE II. i met amy through a friend and instantly fell in love with how weird his music is, and also how he's only 15 and is basically making this music against the wishes of his parents. i think that's really cool

Do you have any Kandahar stuff lined up for the future? What about new Big Booty Bill and Da Fish material?

i got an account on datpiff so yeah we're putting out a new mixtape soon and it will be on cassette too. as for kandahar, we're repressing the lux tape and putting out some stuff from a few friends. also send me your demos!!!!!

Who would you most like to put a tape out for one day?

dean blunt or saint pepsi. i was gonna put out something by him but he's dealing with label stuff with carpark so that's been put on hold

Where do you get your tapes/tape materials from?

way too many places. for packaging, i usually go to aliexpress or dhgate, since it's cheap. for tapes, i have a gigantic amount of maxell communicator c30s that i got off ebay, but i'm starting to buy off tapeline.co.uk for nicer, tabs-out tapes. i got the custom rubber stamper thing off ebay. it's really neat, you use a pair of tweezers to stick individual letters into the slots. that's how i made the 101.7 WAVE II labels. also, da fish is having a hard time figuring out what his favorite meme is.

I don't blame him, too many good ones out there

so true. i think my favorite meme is "symphony no 9: scherzo" aka the song that everyone used on their videos because it was the song that came with windows xp. is that a meme? if not then the dankest meme is bazinga. so true. i think my favorite meme is "symphony no 9: scherzo" aka the song that everyone used on their videos because it was the song that came with windows xp. is that a meme? if not then the dankest meme is bazinga. da fish says "that's 65 percent more bullet per bullet" is the dankest meme

What do you like to do that's not music related?

hang out with friends, take weird instagrams, and sometimes i read comics. da fish likes to play video games and "swag all night"
i think looking for weird stuff on ebay is my most destructive habit

What's the weirdest thing you've found?

i bought a guitar from the ukraine. it was made at the height of the soviet union. the guy sent it to me in a cloth bag and by the time i got it, the neck was almost entirely snapped off. it's getting repaired right now. and i'm gonna use the refund money to pay for it.

Dude that's awesome!

da fish says he likes to go on the "totally bizarre" category on ebay from time to time. he just found a preserved turkey heart.

That's pretty bizarre.

"is that even legal?" -da fish


Half-Gifts @ Ephemera Fest in Lexington, Ky

Had a super rad time trading and talking zines at Ephemera Fest with my pals from Tobacco Magazine! Thanks to Chuck Clenney for inviting me to do a reading.


Review: Mecha Yuri - "Anime Murder"

Mecha Yuri - Anime Murder Compilation
(Mecha Yuri 2014)

For the past year and a half, I've been casually observing the evolution of Mecha Yuri (formerly Harmonicanadian Reckords), a collective of lo-fi artists who happen to be major fans of anime and shows on Cartoon Network. Upon my discovery of their bandcamp in late 2012, each of the artists was in a sort of embryonic phase, creating short, goofy concept releases that sounded like re-issues of Sebadoh demos and rarities: warbly acoustic noodling, spacey electronic/drone compositions and the occasional twangy garage rocker. Almost each album or single warranted a new project title, and each member of the collective featured would be credited under a monosyllabic pseudonym. It made for a confusing discography to navigate, but that only gave it the sort of mysterious allure that I tend to enjoy. As time went by, and the collective changed names, some of these projects began to solidify and mature. As of now, there are four concrete projects who have put out albums as part of the Mecha Yuri collective. Their latest release, Anime Murder, brings these artists together for an extended listening experience. Each track is exclusive to the compilation, making for a stellar introduction to the world of Mecha Yuri.

The first band to appear is Radical McKickflip, an acoustic solo project that deals out peppy pop jingles with clever, often funny lyrics. I rather enjoyed the track, "He's Animal Crossed The Line", from his demo LP last winter, a fun little tune about becoming too attached to video game characters. His initial two tracks on the comp deliver his same winning formula, but he also offers up a 10-minute epic: "It's a Mystery", which initially starts out as being about a murder, but slowly morphs into a tragic love story, accompanied by a train whistle and melodica. It's his most beautiful track by leaps and bounds. Next up is oyasumi, the most prolific Mecha Yuri artist, formerly known as Death Punchies. His sound blends the droning rock guitaristry of the Velvet Underground with Animal Collective's dizzying psychedelia. Bordering on shoegaze, the sound of "Isabelle" is enormous. Cavernous reverb, chirping synths and swooning vocals all make up a creamy wall of rich sonic fluff. The OMNIPRESENCE also channels Animal Collective's sound, but draws more from their earlier work on Danse Manatee and Sung Tongs, freak-folky jams with gnarled, lo-fi vocals. He also whips up a gorgeous ambient track, "Inspiration Cycle". High Impact Sexual Violence, the collaboration between Radical McKickflip and oyasumi, throws in a garage rock cover of an already decently punky japanese tune from the anime K-ON. They even sing it in the original language! This compilation is chock-full of quirks and fun. Check it out below.