Welcome to Caught On Tape – our 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.
After dealing with the plague last month, we’re back to our regular excursions with the hazy dancefloor of Golden Donna, The Fun Years’ opiates, Gora Sou finding new age spaces, horror inklings from Andreas Brandal, Siavash Amini’s narratives, the underwater psychedelia of Naps, and more head-scratchers from WWC.
Note: to catch up on the finest tapes of last year that you might have missed, check out FACT’s 20 best cassette releases of 2013 rundown.
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The opening chords of ‘Remember’ let the listener know just what he or she is in for, or at least that’s the perception. As soon as the fonked-out bassline and smooth beat kick in, though, Golden Donna’s II takes a wonderfully unexpected turn. A sense of heavy nostalgia pervades, but Joel Shanahan (the Golden God himself) keeps everything in check with forward-thinking hooks and supremely modern touches. I quite enjoyed Golden Donna’s vinyl debut on Not Not Fun a few years back, but II is a massive step forward and shows a project just beginning to find its groove.
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THE FUN YEARS
One Quarter Descent
(Spring Break Tapes)
For the past few years, The Fun Years have been one of my favorite bands, and One Quarter Descent keeps that momentum going. There aren’t many (any?) turntable and baritone guitar duos out there, but the potential novelty of such a setup is utterly irrelevant in such capable hands. Bottom line is that these guys make incredibly smart and engaging music. The narcotic guitar loops, the lonesome vinyl crackle… it all melds together to become an endless series of soporific interludes, content on massaging out the last knot of tension from anyone willing to listen. Beautiful.
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I’ve been listening to the I Am The Center box set a lot lately so this new age-tinged tape from Gora Sou is right in my wheelhouse. Now, it’s hard to go wrong with an opening tune called ‘Catalina Golf Cart Rental’, but thankfully the rest of the album delivers. Subtle tonal shifts are taking place under the surface constantly here, massaging the listener’s brain into weird relaxation zones. There’s something of a more maximalist Dolphins Into The Future thing happening here as well that is just perfect for the early hints of spring.
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Norway’s Andreas Brandal has always been an artist I’ve been aware of, but only just. Past releases I’ve heard were nice enough yet didn’t leave a lasting mark. With his second release on the always-solid Tranquility Tapes, Hidden Rooms, he’s pushed his craft into new directions with exquisite results. All throughout the nine tracks that make up Hidden Rooms display a subtle touch. Brandal never shows too much, leaving everything here with an understated charm. Heavy horror soundtrack vibes permeate each track (with a serious nod to Goblin, never a bad thing) and the lush instrumentation makes Hidden Rooms an album I will be returning to regularly. It’s great to see an artist that’s always had a ton of promise reach these heights.
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Til Human Voices Wake Us
When I read “based on the works of T.S. Eliot,” I immediately roll my eyes. And even though Til Human Voices Wake Us is, apparently, based on as much, it’s a beautiful album that works as a great soundtrack to the dying days of winter. Amini works as a composer for theatre and film. Within each delicate melody and each earnest passage, those facts become obvious. This is not overly complex music, but the emotional depth and impact is the real attraction. Extra points for the stunning packaging and design.
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It’s serendipitous that the first tune on Hydrate is called ‘Swim Psychedelia’ since the entirety of this album sounds like some bizarre underwater trip. Everything about Hydrate is washed-out and clean. Sonic corridors come out of nowhere and eviscerate themselves while funk-infused beats and basslines emerge from the murk. Hydrate is expertly constructed and each idea is blurred into oblivion, proving, in the end, to be a laid back masterpiece. This is the kind of music you want to soundtrack your hammock afternoon. Blissed-out weirdness rarely sounds this good.
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WWC has graced these pages before so Alienself being included here is no surprise. The project continues to push forward and these four tunes go deep. The way opener ‘Understory Rai” is all blown-out and feels as though it’s about to fall apart at any second is almost more than I can handle. It’s so bleak and almost off-putting. Yet what really does my head in, and the way that WWC really shines, is the sharp swerve on the track that follows it, the acid-tinged ‘Threshold’. It’s mind-boggling to hear WWC flit between these different modes without flinching, but it’s that skill that makes him so intriguing. Add in a 21-minute meditative drone at the end and the only thing I can do is scratch my head and hit play again.
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