Interview: Ricardo Stacey of Memory Number 36 Recordings

Ricardo Stacey - Founder of Memory No. 36

Your Bandcamp-based label, Memory No. 36 Recordings, has been brimming with new material as of late. What has inspired this resurgence of activity? Give us the scoop on some of the recent output! Is anything planned for the near future?

Yeah there’s been lots of new material coming out and much more is on the way for 2016. Due to various ideological and financial factors activity on Mem36 had simmered down quite a bit, but because of artists and labels that I’ve been exposed to lately I was hit by a wave of inspiration which got me to talking with wonderful people and putting out their work. A big part of this was the process of curating our second compilation album Traditions, Vol. II so while navigating Bandcamp and SoundCloud in order to assemble a team of artists I stumbled upon so many gems and began reaching out to them and inviting them to be a part of the label. Recently we’ve put out fantastic albums by Tominaga, sé luné, Airport and Lamusa just to name a few and on the way we’ve got new stuff from Maxwell Sterling, .ESC., Pregnant, Five Star Hotel, RAW SILVER and dozens more which I won’t disclose just yet haha. 

How would you define the label’s overall aesthetic? Has it evolved since its genesis in 2013? How has the sort of music you regularly consume changed since then?

From the beginning I didn’t have a clear vision for a specific aesthetic or genre which I wanted to work within so I’d say the label has been evolving over the years. The overarching theme has aimed at a shimmering, dreamy, hypnagogic type of atmosphere. The music itself has explored different territories but the main consistent characteristic has been synths and catchy beats working together in a pop-oriented fashion. See, the labels with which I was associating myself before starting Memory No. 36 such as Sunup Recordings, Ailanthus Recordings, Holy Page, and Lava Church didn’t seem to have a particular aim, they were just putting out what felt right to them in the moment and that’s the method I chose to adopt for my own label. Lately I’ve been consuming a lot more experimental electronic music and want that to be the main focus in the foreseeable future of the label. So I definitely plan on narrowing down the intentions of what Mem36 stands for. There will still be hints of catchy beats and dreamy synths here and there which I’m sure will please those who have been following us since 2013. I’d just like to expand the horizon and showcase some forward thinking innovators.

I first encountered Memory No. 36 through your bedroom-pop project Cassida Pax - have you worked on any music under other aliases? Which artists have influenced your sound the most?

I think that was the main audience for Mem36 in the early stages. People who were familiar with and appreciated my work as Cassida Pax who then decided to check out the label when I first announced it. During and after CP I’ve had several of my own projects most of which have been released on the label including .bleech, Brother & Noise, Fe Mora, Atlas Moan and Reality TV. I’ve set aside my own creative output for a while to focus on other things but I’m currently in the plotting stages of a new project called Pneda which I’m very excited about. I want it to be dancy/clubby but also highly experimental with a lot of samples strewn about. I’ve always had a wide range of influences. Everything from Throbbing Gristle to The Strokes, from Juan Atkins to Geneva Jacuzzi, from Blank Banshee to Lou Reed. I’d say right now what’s influencing me a lot is Yearning Kru, Fatima Al Qadiri, Arca, and in general artists that come from labels like Planet Mu, Software Recording Co., Fade to Mind, NAAFI and Houndstooth.

Your visual art is rad too, very post-human. What sort of ideas and motifs are blended into your work?

Post-Human is a very good way of labeling it. The concept behind my work has for the most part been to illustrate a future where humans are fully entrenched in virtual reality living and the joys and horrors which come with the ability of creating personalized synthetic environments, situations and sensations for our still terrestrial-based animalistic brain. And a big part of my work has also simply been to show people the marvelous imagery that can be created with 3D rendering software. In other words, allowing the artwork to exist for the sake of representing the technology which enabled the possibility of its creation in the first place without there being a higher concept behind it. And I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to inspire many to begin their own ventures in 3D art and they’ve gone on to surpass my own abilities and create really mesmerizing, breathtaking worlds. What I plan to focus on this year is showing an idealistic utopian sort of future where we’ve gone “clean and green” so there will be many abstract bio-mechanical life forms interacting with grass and trees and flowers. I’m also considering getting into video game design.

Could you name some other netlabels worth checking out?

Oh my god there are so many. Off the top of my head I’d say right now some of the ones to look out for are Visual Disturbances, Dream Disc Records, #weirdkids and Squiggle Dot. Those have really got my attention. VD and DDR put out some dark, challenging, conceptual works while #wk and SD are bright, energetic and effervescent. There’s just so much out there though. New labels pop up almost on a daily basis and most of them are incredible. 

Outside of your art and your label, how do you occupy your time? What are you into?

I’m trying to be healthier so I’m exercising a lot and while I exercise I watch videos on YouTube about philosophy and science. Also getting really into comic book mythology so I’m doing some research on that and buying a few comics which seem very interesting like Saga, The Wicked and The Divine and Sex Criminals. I’m also reading a book called Cyberspace: First Steps which came out in like 1993 and it’s a reflection on the capabilities of virtual reality for communication but also an examination of its logistics and architectural structure and how that affects the human psyche. Even though it’s over 20 years old it’s very informative and obviously very relevant to our world now.

Do you have a favorite emoji?

This is the hardest question by far haha. At this moment I’m obsessed with the eggplant lol.


Single Review: Ted Tyro - "Slow Country"

Ted Tyro - Slow Country/Strong Woman
(Sea Speak Recordings 2016)

Ted Tyro is perhaps Kentucky's most underappreciatedly weird fuzz-rock outfit, occupying musical territory that borders both the blown-out beach blanket riffage of Jovontaes and Ma Turner's ectoplasmic drone-folk tapestries. Though their sole official EP release, Quick Oats, presents the band as a Louisvillian twang-pop triad swaddled in wiry Mac Demarco melodies, Tyro takes its most compelling form as a set of four spookily intimate solo home demos recorded to a Tascam 4-track machine. "Slow Country" is the coziest of the demo tape quartet, its bassy drum machine kicks plodding against the listener's eardrums like half-hearted punches cushioned by a pair of foam Hulk gloves. Whispery vocals and spectral strands of bendy lead guitar barely push their way through this oppressive wall of percussion, much to the effect of Heavenly Beat's early Captured Tracks material. B-side "Strong Woman" is dipped in a funky smooth-jazz glaze, refracted against tape hiss. It reminds me as much of R. Stevie Moore as it does the soundtrack of The Political Machine, a United States general presidential election simulator I bought from Target back in 2008. Slow Country is aggressively muted: a swimming pool filled with Floam, K-Mart muzak played at a dangerous decibel level. 


Review: Naps - "Happy All The Time Forever Always"

Naps - Happy All The Time Forever Always
(Bridgetown Records 2016)

Save for a basement show, the Apple Store's playlist full of Plasticine chillwave or an unobtrusive stock tune layered beneath a dish detergent commercial, it's rare to interact with music in a way that doesn't envelop its listener in a tight, impenetrable plane of isolation. A car radio's speaker system creates a literal wall of sound on wheels that trembles at the force of its own bass pulse - a good pair of earbuds constricts its wearer's sense of sound to the inside of their head, as if each rubber-tipped bulb were plugged directly into consciousness itself. As important as physical space is to the active listening experience, it is a dimension of sound not visited as often as it should be, perhaps only considered when sending a lead guitar riff into the left speaker to widen the mix of a jangle-pop song. 

That's what makes Naps' new tape on Bridgetown Records so disorienting, so alien, despite the whispery minimalism of the compositions it houses. Glassy synth tones jump from bud to bud like little bolts of static shock tumbling through a laundry bin full of socks. Asthmatic peals of distortion are the distant grunts of a dial-up modem waking from sleep. Happy All The Time Forever Always feels like a trek through a wasteland inhabited only by obsolete consumer electronics, the sound of their whirring gears and tinny dial tones filling the desert air like the twittering of birds or the cries of nearby Pokemon. This cozy sense of digital desolation is actually quite reminiscent of Aphex Twin's and Squarepusher's contributions to the Marie Antoinette soundtrack - a meditiative throwback to IDM ambience, slap-chopped and scattered through all 360 degrees of one's field of hearing. Naps' music is understated, yet adventurous and exciting - it's a bubble of retro electronic dreaminess that is both translucent and impassable. 


Review: James Ferraro - "Human Story 3"

James Ferraro - Human Story 3

If Eno composed Music for Airports, then Los Angeles-based artist James Ferraro may well have penned the muzak that billows through Lego Island's heliport. Skimming the kitschier smooth-jazz elements off the foam of his signature hynagogic pop brew, Ferraro's latest consumer-dystopian soundscape looks to the symphony rather than elevator interiors or unexplored crannies of
Soundcloud for aesthetic inspiration; his cinematic score for Human Story 3 evokes the populist grandeur of Copland, Glassworks' futurist tumult and perhaps most notably, the sort of canned MIDI charm that soundtracked the CD-ROM copy of Reader Rabbit that I used to play on the library computer in grade school.

Opening movement "Ten Songs For Humanity" feels like a spiritual successor to Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man": a bombastic humanist statement smuggled into the post-human world, meant to be streamed and enjoyed from the comfort of a comment section. There are no musicians on the stage, no bodies in the seats - to listen through a pair of earbuds is to be in direct communion with the the composer himself, the distraction of others' presences eliminated. It is an intimate void. The fleshiest entities housed within Human Story are its ageless, sexless voices that resemble the fractured documentary interview clips that litter Reich's and Korot's Dolly - Ferraro's pitch-shifted vocals don't so much set a narrative for his piece as they do act as a means of conversation with the audience. Ferraro urges "millenials and boomers" alike to look beyond hyper-individualization via smartphone innovation and highly customize-able latte purchases as a means of progress, and to redirect such technological advancements towards the public sphere. The Human Story ahead is a personal struggle between technology and a sense of self, an exploration of the final frontier beyond space itself and into the intangible nuances of human interaction.

It's the 21st century's answer to Vangelis' space-age synth tapestries - science fiction music that's as ambient as it is brimming with potential energy. Trembling ripples of Hans Zimmer tension pool beneath new age piano condensation on "GPS and Cognition"; "Anthropoceniac" is an ant farm full of scuttling Rococo flute riffs that vaguely remind me of those that inhabit "Peter and the Wolf"; community college commercial minimalism pervades all. Whether an alternate universe counterpart to the final installment of Toy Story or the third version of a large scale MMORPG, Human Story 3 is an excitingly uncertain vision for the future that just so happens to make for a surprisingly pleasant listen.


Review: Kodiak Fur - "A Cool Machine"

Kodiak Fur - A Cool Machine
(2016 Self-Released)

If Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book is evidence of a shift towards gospel-influenced meta-modernist aesthetics in hip-hop, the latest 4-track EP by Miami's Kodiak Fur could be considered a similar omen of forthcoming sincerity in synth pop. A Cool Machine finds the quartet harvesting the ripest fruits from late aughts chillwave acts like Com Truise and Small Black, future funk's waviest timbral offerings and vaporwave's retro-futurist appropriation of elevator music tropes: the resulting bumper crop of influence is a polished retrospective of buzz-band era indie electronic acts stripped of their polaroid-filtered irony. 

The record's timeless sense of ambiguity is conveyed most effectively via "Right Now", equally evoking the pop melancholia of Pet Shop Boys, Washed Out's sultry wisps of silicone ambience and the occasional splash of smooth jazz riffage that might have frosted a late 90's INOJ single. The viscous blend of R+B dreaminess is solidified by a chunky bassline that wouldn't feel out of place on a DJ Mustard production, adding a bonus fourth panel to the tune's decade-spanning triptych of inspiration. "Run The Night", co-produced by fellow Floridian SKUFL, acts as the bombastic antithesis to "Right Now", layering spacey melodic pyrotechnics across the pitch darkness of the tune's consumptive bass while Albert Vargas' cozily muffled vocals pass by traffic heard through your bedroom window before drifting to sleep. It's the sound of distant combustion, as explosive as an M83 anthem,and as powerfully gloomy as a Travis Scott banger. A Cool Machine covers ambitious territory with few gimmicks employed; it's effortlessly cool, immediately resonant.


Review: Peaches Davenport - "The Ducks (A Snake In The Grass)

Peaches Davenport - The Ducks (A Snake In The Grass)
(Self-Released 2016)

Michigan's Peaches Davenport has proved a fixture on this blog since the 2014 release of THANK YOU JOB SQUAD - a patchwork effort of short, lo-fi vignettes ranging from itchy blankets of musique-concrete to the Elephant 6-inspired baroque pop of "Dog Hair Sweatpants", which topped my list of the year's best singles. The record was unstably dense, an infinite point of noise and compact melody threatening to implode, its glassy keyboard chords filling mixes like smoke rising to a ceiling while percussion clattered like dropped boxes of silverware. JOB SQUAD was dangerous, flammable and painfully pretty. 

Davenport's chosen successor to TYJS, titled The Ducks, is shockingly spacious in comparison, a pastoral landscape dotted with animal noises and delicate folk orchestration that forms a retroactive missing link between The Beach Boys' SMiLE Sessions and Animal Collective's Sung Tongs. "Frankie's Farm" acts as this album's version "Dog Hair Sweatpants", a frenetically played cut in the vein of Beirut around which the rest of the record orbits. Staccato staples of twangy acoustic guitar are fired into an overgrowth of poly-rhythmic percussion hammered out on laundry bins. Wordless vocal harmonies snake through the air like vines. It's a humid conservatory of abstract folk.

"Black Black Moon" is The Ducks' relatively conventional outlier. Peaches' vocals, (usually spookily similar to those of Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes), are pitched up to a phantasmically high octave, forming the eerie twee atmosphere that pervades much of Alex G's discography. It's like a haunted construction site, the whispers of this ghost choir echoing against a steely scaffold of acoustic fingerpicking that slowly crumbles into an outro of ambient ruins. Closing tune "Lemon Pink Bayou" might be the release's best, gloomily draping a veil of mandolin atop an amorphous piece for cello composed by Clark Pang. There's a cinematic sense of sense of despair that makes the song feel like a cliffhanger ending, leaving me wanting for yet another installment in the Peaches Davenport filmography. The Ducks is a polished follow-up to THANK YOU JOB SQUAD that holds firm to the project's fauvist pop ethos: whatever the opposite of a sophomore slump is, this is it.


Review: Lung - "Bottom of the Barrel"

Lung - Bottom of the Barrel
(Self-Released 2016)

I've always found bowed string instruments to be a welcome and underused supplement to an otherwise traditional punk roster of noisemakers: there's the gloomy fusion of mumbled basslines and fiddle wheeze on New Bloods' lone Kill Rock Stars effort The Secret Life, Los Campesinos' orchestral twee-pop squeals and the ectoplasmic melodies that float through Tattle Tale's "Glass Vase Cello Case". As much of a pleasant surprise the occasional viola riff can prove in such a context, it proves rarer that entire punk outfits are built entirely on a bowed foundation - Cincinnati-based duo Lung is a band that just does that: their debut demo tape, Bottom Of The Barrel, grates sandpaper drones of heavily distorted electric cello against a spare grindstone of motorik patterns and well-timed blast beats. Kate Wakefield's frenetic arrangements form bassy sheets of no-wave noise, filling out their soundscape with impressive depth despite their lack of instrumental support. The demo's title tune conflates a fragile weft of 50's doo-wop harmonies with a volcanic layer of sludgy bass tones that seem to scuffle with their adjacent bursts of percussion that accelerate and stop at will, It refuses to let its listener settle into any sort of groove, texturally, emotionally or rhythmically, and instead opts to send them rolling down a mound of sonic bricolage. It's by no means a comfortable listen, but it's an overwhelmingly exciting and intense collection of ideas hurled at the microphone at once. Equally energizing is closing cut "Peaches", a more straightforward hardcore track built upon sinuous chords and equally dizzying vocals. Lung's demo tape is fast-paced, disorienting and original - everything a good DIY punk record should be.