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Caught on Tape: the month's essential cassette releases, August 2013

Welcome to Caught On Tape – our new regular column digesting the best contemporary cassette releases. The cassette circuit is a wellspring of inventive and surprising music – and more often than not, the best releases get minimal-to-zero coverage. Join Brad Rose – boss of nonpareil cassette and vinyl label Digitalis Recordings – as picks out the cream of under-the-radar tape releases from the last month or so. 


This month we focus on the icy pop of Galaxius Mons, CHXFX going nuts, the sprawling Gareth Flowers, funk futurism in Devonwho, Tomaga’s weird free jazz/radiophonic mashups, and the soothing sounds of Rangefinder.

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GALAXIUS MONS
Galaxius Mons
(Kinnta)

This excellent tape is a collaboration between two projects I’ve never heard of (Chairs and EXPWY), but if Galaxius Mons is any indication they’re probably up to something good with their solo endeavors. This tape, though, is full of glazed-over, battery-powered pop confections. Everything here is bathed in icy melodies with the single monophonic synth they used put through every tonal challenge the duo can find. Even with the simple, understated rhythms, the entire album has a forward momentum that demands attention. At times reminiscent of a more stripped-down take on Magnetic Fields’ Holiday, Galaxius Mons make a lot of noise on their debut, all while getting lost inside the frigid crypts hiding beneath Montreal.

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CHXFX
Zoiks
(Self-Released)

Well look, this is just fucking nuts. Zoiks might only be a mixtape, but it’s a twisted, creepy soundworld that makes me question CHXFX’s mental state. Okay, not really, but man is this thing bonkers. Well-chosen samples sidle up to snarling bass and melancholic synth leads while, at other points, it all goes Morricone. At any given moment, Zoiks will change course on a dime, going from Italo-horror soundtrack to concrète meditations and back. Someone needs to get on the phone to LA, turn Zoiks into the weirdest flick of 2013 and stat. Also, give me more of this on a bloody, glitzed-out platter. Thanks.

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GARETH FLOWERS
A Beginner’s Guide To Lucid Dreaming
(Sunshine LTD)

Every time I think I’ve got this tape figured out, Flowers throws another curveball before forcing me to give up and just enjoy the ride. Scratchy electronics and hushed drones float through the scene like a boating party so far lost, they’re dead to the world. Horns paint rustic pictures of ugly scenery while barely-there beats glitch up the works. At a massive 60+ minutes, A Beginner’s Guide to Lucid Dreaming is unsurprisingly dense. Somehow, though, Flowers keeps it oddly accessible (well, as accessible as music like this can be) with a skillful hand to guide each piece of music through its rise and fall. Weird, beautiful tape.

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DEVONWHO
Perfect Strangers
(Dropping Gems)

I wasn’t even sure if I should include this since the digital versions have been out for a while, but I dig this album (or dual EPs as they were originally released) so much and am so happy to see a physical release, I had to keep it in. It’s not fair to call Devonwho a Dam-Funk disciple, but there’s an undeniable connective tissue that runs between their own funked-out jams. Perfect Strangers is dirtier, less polished, and it’s those rough edges that really make it so great. He’s got an incredible penchant for finding new melodies that flow down familiar slopes, making it seem as though this is something new yet has been heard before. This is a tape full of seriously deep grooves and if that’s one sonic kaleidoscope I want to drown in.

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TOMAGA
Sleepy Jazz For Tired Cats
(Bunkland / Negative Days)

One thing Tomaga wins this month is the (non-existent) award for best album title because come on. Luckily, the music is just as bizarre and, somehow, fits with the title. I know very little about this drum/synth duo (though I think drummer Valentina Magaletti appeared on Raime’s record last year), but if this first effort is any indication, I can’t wait to hear more. Mixing elements of junkyard percussion, modular synth weirdness, and general bass fuckere. At times it sounds like Ghost Box’s very distant, very ramshackle cousin, scaring out spirits that live underneath mountains of dust. But when Tomaga mix in free jazz with elements of stilted dub it becomes something else entirely. Strange days are ahead.

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RANGEFINDER
Night Ride
(Bun Tapes)

I keep returning to this tape and listening to it in the early morning hours after my daughter’s had her first feeding of the day and I can’t really explain why. Rangefinder makes deceptively simple music, usually grabbing onto one, maybe two ideas, and repeating them until they’ve become part of my brain’s architecture. I’m just as burnt out on “synth jams” as the next fella, but there’s something pure, almost naive about Night Ride that it’s infectious. Each piece is short and never overstays its welcome and acts as a quick glance into passing windows as you ride through and overcrowded city on an overcrowded train. Rangefinder creates brief moments of solace amongst the insanity and it’s oddly, wonderfully beautiful.

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