Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My tape is haunted

pEACEFANG & Felsenmeer - Dracula Songs
Tea First Records

I adore the spectacle of cassettes as much as the music. pEACEFANG & Felsenmeer's Dracula Songs is issued on a blood-red tape. A picture on the cassette's cover evokes the Rolling Stones' famous tongue and lips logo, only this image has blood-drenched fangs.

At various points, Dracula Songs is reminiscent of Boards of Canada, particularly how it conflates conventional and electronic instrumentation. But this is a bit more adventurous and on occasion, the adventuring takes the listener into some sinister territory. Like the drone piece on Side A, which is stark in its directness, and concerned with neither depth nor velocity. Singles notes play for what seems like an eternity, putting you into a somnambulistic trance, bringing your brain to the edge of completely shutting down. On the second side, there is a track that features howling wolves and a woman sobbing, and the sound you often hear in a horror movie when a ghostly apparition vanishes into thin air. At this point, my tape suddenly shut off, even though it was only halfway through Side B. It took several minutes of wrangling with the cassette and the player to get it to work again. The whole incident unnerved me.

Dracula Songs is more than just audio terror. Side A featured a slice of up-tempo, stripped-down electronica, as well as a track exhibiting a pleasant finger-picked melody on acoustic guitar.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Naughty, naughty

Fecal Scab - Fecal Scab

The naughtily-named Fecal Scab is a collaboration between Boston's Nathan Ventura and Duncan Brown. Side A features "songs" and Side B "instrumentals." The songs consist of languid acoustic guitar, and rather fiery vocals that had me wondering if Ventura and Brown were standing face to face, noses almost touching, shouting the lyrics at one another. The percussion doesn't sound like it was played but instead, the various drums and cymbals—even the drum sticks—pushed down a long flight of stairs.

The second side's instrumentals actually feel more like straight-up, structured songs. They rely less on Swell Maps-inspired discord and clatter, and more on melody and mood. They pay homage to bands like Slint. At one point, I heard what sounded like a wolverine trying to escape from a bowling ball bag, but it was short-lived, as if to reinforce the second side's sense of hardened clarity.

The cassette's two sides aren't playing a game of opposites; they are merely the means and the expression of the other.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"I don't feel quite ready to go outside yet."

Nathan Ventura - Coming Home in a Nutcase

When an individual is descending into madness and they unburden themself of their most torturous suffering through either the written word or the vocalized word, does it deliver respite? Or has the descent submerged the individual so deeply that light no longer reaches them? When Emily Dickinson wrote "I felt a funeral in my brain," did she fold up her paper, put down her pen, and do the Cupid Shuffle?

I only ask because Nathan Ventura's Coming Home in a Nutcase finds the artist wobbling down a Bell Jar-inspired path toward a total unhinging. The tracks are built on squally and wheezy noises—sounds that could be an old elevator struggling to get you from the lobby to the third floor or the municipal recycling truck using that lift mechanism to pick up your mayonnaise jar-filled bins. Over this the Boston native plays bits of trumpet and with a variety of phrasing that takes the mood from bonkers to bat-shit. Does this make him feel better?

There are spoken-word tracks—if the term "spoken word" can apply to a vocal technique that consists of phrases gathering inside the brain, but not being allowed an immediate departure, so they bottleneck and become a heavy throng until a sudden rush and a push allows them to come spilling forth. This is heard on one track where Ventura stages a phone call to his boss and explains why he isn't at work.

"I don't feel quite ready to go outside yet," he says, which isn't quite as poetic and prismatic as "I felt a funeral in my brain," but effective nonetheless.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Orphaned tiny sparklies

The Woolen Men - The Hair of the Night
Eggy #35

The Woolen Men's garage-punk sounds just dandy on cassette—as much as music can sound dandy on what's far from a high-fidelity medium. Woolen Men are accomplished songwriters, yet the final product feels splendidly unpolished. Maybe it's the heavy reverb and distortion on the vocals. Or maybe it's how specific guitar and organ riffs are beyond infectious, yet if one extracted these bits from the songs and played them individually, they'd fall apart on the way to your ears. Or maybe it's how the Woolen Men's guitar and bass melodies only ramble for a few notes because anything lengthier would be too proficient and self-indulgent. This is the perfect marriage of sound and format.

Also: The cassette's insert had tiny sparklies and several days after listening to The Hair of the Night, I found orphaned sparklies here and there in my work space. This vexed me a bit. Then, remembering that running a cassette label is a labor of love and how the production process for releases involves multiple steps at varying costs and that including sparklies on an insert would require a whole additional step and costs (i.e., going to a craft shop to purchase said sparklies, as well as adhesive), I quickly warmed up to the idea of sparklies scattered across my desk.

Mmmm ... Chicken Sandwich

Chicken Sandwich - Complete Discography
Bridgetown #52

So right now I'm holding a cassette from an Oakland garage-punk trio named Chicken Sandwich. The album is named Complete Discography, a title that betrays either a fondness for deception or a propensity for self-deprecating humor. That's because Chicken Sandwich's complete discography consists of just four songs. However, after one spin, it all makes sense. Sonically, Chicken Sandwich don't get adventurous; the adventure is in how long they can maintain the vocal shrieks (my favorite couplet: "I know I sometimes just think about boobs/But I swear I'm mostly just dreaming of you"; I only know this because a little slip of paper inside the tape contained the lyrics) and messy chords and fitful drumming and missed notes before the whole thing collapses into chaos. Four songs are as far as they can take this.

"Ever see a guy say good-bye to a shoe?"

Selbyville - Send Selbyville to Disneyworld
Tea First #2

Recently, I was playing "Medley" from Selbyville's Send Selbyville to Disneyworld cassette and I was overcome with this urge to complete an act both audacious and liberating. Like if it was a summer afternoon and I was driving home from a place of employment, I would have taken off my socks and work shoes, flung them out the car window, and joyfully worked the pedals with my bare feet.

Send Selbyville to Disneyworld features all sorts of wonderful guitar suites: some consisting of wistful acoustic playing over brushes on a snare and soft thumps of a bass drum; others that conflate guitar melodies with astral synthesizer sounds with an end result that alludes to late '70s Vini Reilly; and still others that allow two distinct guitar parts to intersect then spirit off in separate directions before mingling once more.

One may be lured into thinking the instrumentals from this trio of Portland, Maine, and Pittsburgh natives—particularly when the instrumentals are extra poignant and make your skin flush—would best serve as the soundtrack to a montage of home video snippets featuring children playing in fallen leaves and running 'round an oak tree with bubble wands. This is foolish. Send Selbyville to Disneyworld is foreground music. It spurs one into action, to rid one's self of footwear.