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 he picks out the cream of under-the-radar tape releases from the last month or so.
The past 30 days in the world of cassette releases has been insane. There’s been the big-name stuff (HATE, for example) of course, but a lot of small-scale stuff that’s been fun to dig through. My favourite tape of the month, and possibly year – SEEKERSINTERNATIONAL’s RootPrinciple – is as good as it gets, but is already sold-out and therefore not reviewed here (full disclosure: I have released SKRS music in the past and will do so again later this year). I also have to give special mention to the insane 11-tape batch (or compilation, depending on your perspective) that just came out from Bathetic. I didn’t feel right including it here as it was released the day before writing this, and I haven’t had enough time to really digest and process the whole thing. It’s very much worth perusing, however.
Onto this month’s picks: we have synthetic dubs from William Selman, alien guitar work from Tashi Dorji, Lord Skywave’s washed-out bliss, Guenter Schlinz’s synth explorations, insanity from FOODMAN, and throwbacks from Trance Farmers.
On Equatorial Night, Portland’s William Selman mines a rich vein of slow-moving synthetic dub. Driven home by the bass and rhythms, Selman’s composition are intricate and flowing. There’s a huge amount of space between the tones, like an expansive landscape opening up before the listener in cinematic fashion, but it’s the tiny details that give these two sprawling pieces so much life.
Tashi Dorji is my favorite guitarist right now. The first line in the label’s description of this tape nails why: “it doesn’t sound like a guitar.” While that’s not entirely true, the overall sentiment gets at why Dorji’s work is so intriguing. Like his previous releases, Blue Twelve sounds like an alien landscape, full of clanging metal and vaguely familiar yet uncomfortable melodies. Dorji bends his steel strings to the point of breaking before rolling it back, settling down, and starting all over. Keep an eye out for this fella.
Simon Lord’s first outing in years as Lord Skywave might not come as a surprise to those familiar with his work in Simian, Arclight, and so on, but, now Spring is in full bloom, Cardamon Copy is hitting all the right notes for me. This is music that, at its root, is wistfully psychedelic, and is enhanced by the blurred edges that recording to 4-track tape gives it. ‘Lab Mouse’ is frenetic and disorienting, while the slow crawl of ‘Eggshells’ is impossible to ignore. It sounds as if everything is happening off in the distance while this bass-heavy thrum pounds away in the listener’s head. Caradmon Copy is full of captivating songs.
The great-synth-jammer-burnout of 2011 did a great job to separate the really great stuff from all the nice-enough-but-don’t-really-need-it jams. Anyway, Guenter Schlinz definitely falls in the former category and the hour-long Treehut Visions will likely scratch whatever nu-age synth itch one might have in 2014. His music is oddly deceptive: it sounds very simple on first listen, but the more one gets drawn in, the more obvious it becomes that Schlinz is truly onto something beautiful and cathartic. The 30-minute title track is one of my favourite long-form compositions I’ve heard all year.
I am so drawn to FOODMAN’s music because, for the most part, it totally baffles me. Every time Japan’s footwork guru has a new full-length, I prepare myself for total confusion – and, without fail, DESU DRUM delivers. As always, FOODMAN comes in with short, concise bursts. With each weird and unexpected combination of sounds, the album becomes more and more engaging. I try making sense of the sequencing, but the further down that rabbithole I go, the more I’m convinced that in FOODMAN’s world, everyone is forever lost and forever thrilled about it. DESU DRUM is his finest work to date.
Dixie Caps is far too short, but each of the four songs here have been stuck in my head for the past 48 hours and I can’t help but think that’s a good thing. The psych-folk gems ‘Dream Train’ and ‘House Made of Dawn’ will appeal to just about everyone, but the real gem on Dixie Caps is ‘Lucinda’. The heavy cuts and glitched-up editing remind me of the aforementioned SKRSINTL (never a bad thing), but what with those methodic hand-drum rhythms, Trance Farmers are churning up new ground. I can’t wait for the full-length later this year.