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Caught on Tape: the month’s essential cassette releases, February 2014

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. 

It’s been an impressive month as far as tape releases go – some real gems this time.  Get in with Randall McClellan’s new age mastery, the ecstatic recordings from Obenge, the sci-fi excursions of Lily, Scammers’ bizarre croons, My Panda Shall Fly’s textural electronics, the hellish landscapes of Bad User Experience, and straight acid from HOLOVR.

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 Healing Music of Rana
(Sun Ark)

While the recent new age revival has seen a number of mediocre works reissued & celebrated, last year saw the pinnacle of essential spiritual listening with the I Am the Center boxed set. While this collection from Randall McClellan isn’t quite on that level, it’s wonderful all the same. McClellan was a co-founder of the electronic music studio at the Eastman School of Music in 1967 and The Healing Music of Rana represents the entirety of his recorded works. These deeply meditative pieces are an expert take on how subtleties and concentrated listening go hand-in-hand. There is inherent beauty here, but it’s the deeper aspects that make the biggest impact.

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Obenge Recordings
(Ewe of Now)

Obenge Recordings (Ewe Of Now)

Two recordings made in the wattle-and-daub Protestant church of the Obenge are the perfect antidote to this endless winter even if the ongoing story here is the definition of ‘endless winter.’ From the label:

OBENGE RECORDINGS is a collection of field recordings by Roger Peet, recorded in the Congo in a now vanished village called “OBENGE”. It has since been burned to the ground by military. The village was very small, and unfortunately neighbor to a ruthless ivory warlord who terrorized them and put them in harms way. EWE OF NOW was fortunate enough to capture these songs on cassette for your listening enjoyment. They are full of life, from a place where life is more real than we are accustomed to. All proceeds from the sales of this cassette go to Roger’s relief work in the in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A very good cause and some very good music, on tape no less. Beautiful.

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Modern Malaise
(No Corner)

Modern Malaise is a beast of a tape. Now, I don’t know if this is yet another male producer working under a female moniker, but if so that’s a huge minus (seriously, stop this stupid shit). But anyway, musically Modern Malaise hits on all cylinders. Regressive sci-fi atmospherics are bleached out into sharp, memorable leads. Scuzz rhythms highlight the fluid bass grooves, propelling the entire album forward on a cloud of neon air. Big winner.

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A Song That Can Exist
(Jehu & Chinamen)

This is such a strange tape that I can’t stop listening to it, trying to unravel what the hell is going on. Comparisons to Angelo Badalamenti & Scott Walker might be stretching it, but at least provide a jumping off point. Scammers (aka Phil Diamond) lays everything out, getting personal to the point of making the listener uncomfortable. That is the greatest strength of A Song That Can Exist, though. Every time I listen to this it gets better. It’s an album full of ghosts and Phil Diamond is letting all of them go. Scammers delivers one of 2014’s most unexpected moments so far.

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(Sonic Router)

Another big winner from the folks at Sonic Router, My Panda Shall Fly’s Higher is a nuanced EP that only reveals itself after repeated listens. MPSF’s Suren Seneviratne described Higher as being loosely based around the concept of ‘sacred pain.’ There’s a dichotomy that plays out over the EP, with upbeat, catchy moments being paired with something more sinister, something more ominous brewing just beneath the surface. It’s done very well with Seneviratne just keeping both sides together, creating a unique environment to explore.

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If someone told me the masters for this tape were found buried outside a decaying, abandoned warehouse, I wouldn’t bat an eye. CGi is ripped straight from a greyed-out dystopia, using an arsenal of hiss and murk in conjunction with forward-moving rhythms to lose all sense of the sun. Add in some barely-there vocals at the exact right time and CGi is something to marinate in.

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X2X Vol. 1
(Opal Tapes)

Jimmy Billingham’s HOLOVR project is one of Opal Tapes’ cornerstones. With X2X Vol. 1 we get 30 minutes of straight-up acid improv. Of course I love this. It reminds me of Joel Brindefalk’s work as Ü in places and that’s something the world of needs more of. Short, sweet, sick. I can’t wait for future volumes.

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