Sunday, December 24, 2017

Louie Lemon - Le Mon

Artist: Louie Lemon        
Title: LeêMon EP
Self-released  / 2017

I love cassettes that capture the strange magic of a creative process; raw & real. Most of the songs on this cassette are sonically perfect for the medium of tape; they feel right at home floating out of an old Walkman where the batteries are running down, or crackling through a shortwave radio after midnight. These brief songs are musically & lyrically well crafted – guitar, percussion, keyboards, and a voice that is dusky and longing to be heard. There might even be a theremin (or is it musical saw?) woven into the mix. Three dollars very well spent!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

HiFi Envelope - Transitional Objects

I love exploring cassettes that are a challenge to review. Not to mention, to review briefly. If I keep waxing on about this, I will fill up this space with words without actually having to describe Transitional Objects.

Brian Lee is HiFi Envelope & he takes us on a sonic path from bubbling synth melodies to faux pop instrumentals. Side B is particularly beguiling, lifting off with a shimmering glow into the ionosphere then back to earth with a mellow denouement of bells & branches. The total scope of Transitional Objects is geometrical and geographical; moments of delight are scattered among moments of curiosity. Beauteous, bright, seriously calm, unwavering intensity. This is a trip worth signing up for. Headphones recommended.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ha-Ha Mart: Family Denim

Artist: Ha-Ha Mart          
Title: Family Denim
Noumenal Loom  / 2017

In the past decade, interest in production library, test card, classroom projects, and even music for adverts (commercials!) has mushroomed, paving the way for a whole new generation of soundtrack-loving musicians with an offbeat sensibility. Vic Mars comes to mind as one of these neo-pioneers, and now Drew Price (Ha-Ha Mart). Family Denim fits like a comfy pair of jeans – there’s bubbling synths, soft guitars, rhythmic basslines, snappy melodies & even a dose of jazzy funk. This cassette plays over & over on my drives back & forth to work. With winter coming on, it’s a ray of musical sunshine. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Pleasure Systems - Antumbra Pull

Artist: Pleasure Systems               
Title: Antumbra Pull
Antiquated Future  / 2017

Rhythmic, hypnotic, a journey into the interior. Lyrics & melodies bubble into the subconscious – this may be murky territory that invades your dreams. Two tracks had me bristling, on the edge of my seat as I drove home this evening. “(Bathroom Stall) Prayer” with the line in a year I’ll learn to cry, you’re befriending all the shadows in the corners of my mind and the sheer shimmering hauntology (perfectly titled “Haunt Me” press your palms into my open mouth, push the sound out. Antumbra Pull is a space folk journey of the highest order.

Garbus and Bissette

Artist: Ruth Garbus / Danny Bissette       
Title: Split EP
Label / Year: OSR

There’s something charming (but slightly overpriced) about this EP from Ruth Garbus (of Feathers, etc) and Danny Bissette, denizens of Brattleboro VT. Ruth’s two tracks brim with ethereal vocals and layered meaning, Danny’s tracks are inventive, homemade, off-key. Rather than contrasting, these tracks blend into a cohesive whole and the tape is over way too quickly. This was released on the semi-defunct OSR label – a record label that I love for its and make-you-own-music-scene spirit. Good luck finding a copy of this one. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Illuminated Paths 451

Artist: Whalez X Cobra
Title: Midnight Sounds / Dystopian Future
Label / Year:  Illuminated Paths  / 2017

It’s nearing midnight. You find an abandoned cassette player in the street, tape still running. There’s drama in the humid air. Maybe a hint of adventure. Yet the batteries are running down, and from a passing vehicle you hear the static of a forgotten radio. The red pulse of a radio tower shimmers in the distance. Is this a novel of your own invention? It’s Y2K & all those technical difficulties are melting like a chalkdust Dali scrawled upon the sidewalk. No worries – there’s a lunar spa and a beautiful garden just on the other side of that clockface.

Unplug your TV. Listen to this instead.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ajai - Golden Gate Demos

Artist: Ajai
Title: Golden Gate Demos
Label / Year:  Self released / 2017

After being immersed in Chance, For Us I decided to investigate Ajai’s Golden Gate Demos. This is a collection of paired down acoustic songs that seem to have been recorded on a lo-fi cassette recorder in one take in the park, reminiscent of of Michelle Shocked’s Texas Campfire Tapes. With birds & crows for an audience, Golden Gate Demos feels like an anachronism, an antidote to a music industry run amok. But of course this is no industry – it is DIY magic. Two tracks stand out in this collection: Give In and The Fall Of Night. The rest of the tape meanders from SSW folk to frightening melancholy dirges.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Bubblegum Best - some soon day

Artist: Bubblegum Best
Title: some soon day
Label / Year:  Freaks / 2017

Cool home-taping indie pop goodness with an experimental edge. Bubbling synths, mellow vocals, Jandekian guitars, hints of banjos (?), all filtered through the dappled sunlight of an autumn afternoon. Is that the moon on the horizon? Twelve strong tracks that culminate in the life affirming “A Real Love”. Released in an edition of 50 on clear tangerine cassettes.Gorgeous in every aspect.

Ajai - Chance, For Us

Artist: Ajai
Title: Chance, For Us
Label / Year:  Self-released 2017

Life, love, loss … circular memory, musings on interior distances, sweeping cinematic midnights. Simple yet profound lyrics. Floydian slips. None of this really scratches the surface of Chance, For Us which wrestles with mortality and ephemeral relationships through songscapes & soundscapes that are stunning in their originality. In particular, the drumming on this cassette (courtesy of  Alan Mctavish) feels unique and cathartic. By the end of this journey, the sparse hymnlike Move, the listener has been moved – from where to where?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Soft Pastels - No Loss

Artist: Soft Pastels
Title: No Loss
Label / Year:  Sination / 2017

No Loss but increasing gain through listening to this brief yet musically generous seven track cassette. Timeless indie pop / rock that spans musical generations, with several tracks echoing the best tunes of the Abecedarians or For Against. Highly recommended for your autumn playlist!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Forest Fallows - At Home

Artist: Forrest Fallows
Title: At Home
Label / Year:  PIAPTK

Acoustic folk lounge samba indie pop? Forrest Fallows is the musical project of Mike & Alex. What they have created is the strongest debut record in recent memory, with nods to the Clientele & other indie mapmakers. Birdsong weaves in & out of At Home like clouds dissipating on a sunny day. The songs approach perfection but never veer into predictability. At Home is like having a favorite record the first time you listen. Released in cassette, vinyl & cd. I’m going to have to buy the vinyl just to have the bonus track!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Nick Keeling - Black Diamond Eulogy

We live in an era of overdubbing, multi-tracking, auto-tuning and studio trickery, and often what is missing from recordings is the soul of music. Nick Keeling has crafted a loving, expansive tribute to the America that we have lost in the past century - a prosperous, industrious era where communities thrived and mattered. Weaving vintage recordings & sound effects into these solo piano pieces, Nick brings the rusting cities of Lima, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo & others alive in sound - music that sounds like it was frozen in time decades ago on a portable cassette recorder. Black Diamond Eulogy is beautiful, haunting and mysterious as the reflections of these communities fade into memory.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Something//Something - Winter Pattern

Artist: Something//Something
Title: Winter Pattern
Label / Year:  MTR 2015

New Hampshire has never been known as a hotbed of indie rock or cassette culture, but that must be changing with projects like The Journals Kept going strong. When hunting for New Hampshire based music I was pleasantly surprised to find Winter Patterns by Something//Something via Bandcamp. This cassette opens and closes with bird song, and moves from one strong song into another, with gorgeous shoegaze instrumentals, nods to purveyors of the ‘90s yet wholly original. Even the track After Midnight (Drunk Tongue) grew on me as what felt like a claustrophobic song builds to a guitar crescendo. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Abandoned Houses - Untitled Spirals

Artist: Abandoned Houses
Title: Untitled Spirals
Label / Year:  Rok Lok 2013

I love how simple yet artistic the presentation of this cassette EP is: kraft paper box, homemade insert, rubber stamp. Mike Ciaravino is Abandoned Houses, and these songs were recorded on lo-fi equipment in 2012 and 2013. There’s mostly paired down acoustic guitar, it isn’t until the fourth piece “Count To Zero” (which sounds like it features a Magnus electric chord organ like the one I played as a child) that there might be some overdubbing involved. Straight-up folk for the second decade of what is shaping up to be a rough century. Mike says "Obsessed and inspired by places that are desolate, abandoned, falling apart and being reclaimed by nature. I travel around wherever I am and write and record music in the places I find, capturing a collective essence in recordings and photographs. They are all unique and contribute in different ways to the music and sounds I create." Untitled Spirals is a perfect slice of homemade indie folk. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jonathan Rager - Distance of Light

Artist: Jonathan Rager
Title: Distance of Light
Label / Year:  Self Released 2017

Beauteous gold cassette limited to 25 copies! And I am fortunate to have one! The eleven instrumentals on Distance of Light all blend perfectly into an organic whole. Guitar shadings with echoes of music that might have been released on Independent Project Records back in the day. Glorious shoegaze, drifty solos, wonderful for a sunny drive to your next destination.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Loner Deluxe - Songs I Taped Off The Radio

Artist: Loner Deluxe
Title: Songs I Taped Off The Radio
Label / Year:  Rusted Rail 2017

Set the controls for the heart of the moon. Keith Wallace is the creative presence behind Loner Deluxe, and has produced a generous tape that weaves through the museum of synth-pop like it’s 1989. Immersing in this cassette is like listening to shortwave radio signals drifting from an alternate universe through an open window at midnight. Songs I Taped Off The Radio is a musical journey complete with hazy guitars, heavenly voices era female vocals and ethereal sound samples, all winding toward an unexpected climatic sunny folk freakout. Inventive, and genius. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Magic Whistle: Vision Magic Voyage

Artist: A Magic Whistle
Title: Vision Magic Voyage
Label / Year:  Weird Ear 2013

Andy Puls lives in an imaginative universe. I imagine him tinkering with home-built instruments, emerging every fortnight from a hobbit dwelling to sing to the moon. Vision Magic Voyage plays like a lo-fi Tubular Bells, in fact there are many tubular bells chiming throughout this wonderful opus. There’s plenty of wonderful whistling, too. Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe the melodious journey through these two extended pieces. Is it folk music? New age? Psychedelic? Who knows. Music as unique as this can not be labelled. Immerse and enjoy.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kevin Krauter - Magnolia

Artist: Kevin Krauter
Title: Magnolia
Label / Year:  Winspear 2015

Magnolia is a collection of six almost perfect songs by Kevin Krauter. There’s introspection, country-tinged rock, paired down acoustic folk, all feeling immediate and intimate. You might hear hints of Fleet Foxes in moments while listening, which got my attention rather than making this tape seem derivative. Definitely a cassette to revisit often.

Personal Favorite Tracks: Lazy River; Timepiece

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Summer Rental - Stay Gold

Artist: Summer Rental (Garrett Douglas)
Title: Stay Gold

Label / Year:  self released  2017

Oh my stars! Fifty years after the summer of love we have the summer of cassette love  – music that resonates down the ages. Performing as Summer Rental, Garrett Douglas has created an EP of stunning songscapes. Some of these tunes would have been right at home on an Independent Project Records release back in the day, and some shimmer with echoes of bands like The Clientele. Glorious heartfelt songs to wear out your tape heads.

Personal Favorite Tracks: Sunburns; Be My Rushmore; Washington; Tell Me Why (that’s all of them, folks!)  

Friday, July 14, 2017

Rootless - Sculptures Deep Within The Cave

Artist: Rootless
Title: Sculptures Deep Within The Cave
Label / Year:  Cabin Floor Esoterica  2017

Solo acoustic guitar in a very cool edition of 100 cassettes packaged in a small chipboard box with inserts.  Beautifully written and/or improvised meditations that drift and flow with structure and silence.  

Personal Favorite Tracks: Green Mountains, Blue Skies; Blue Skies, Green Mountains; Music In the Trees

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Journals Kept: War Trails

Artist: The Journals Kept              
Title: War Trails
Label / Year: CassetteLand 2017

Though it is high summer, these may be dark times for those of us who work indoors, in offices, away from the redeeming warmth of the sun. Music keeps us connected with the threads of humanity within. Threads of shadow, and threads of hope weave through these 16 tracks, a generous cassette release from The Journals Kept (Faith & Paul Vittum). The Journals Kept hail from rural New Hampshire, and in moments the songs and sounds on War Trails seem hedged in. We’re often unable to see the horizon through the dense forests here in the North, and as a result we are forced to look inward. These songs are self-reflective in the finest sense, not mere intellectual exercises, always bordering upon the spiritual sphere of experience.  

Musically, War Trails also borders upon perfection, full of keyboards, crunchy guitars, and exceptional drumming. In an era where nothing in this world is what it seems, or what it means, we’re able to delve into our journals and journeys with a creative fire. War Trails is a soundtrack, and a gift, for our voyages, both internal and external.

Personal Favorite Tracks: Doors of Ireland, Goodbye (great blue whale), Boys at War, Northern Sounds, Nothing in this world, Keys to the City.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Grassroots Reflections February 2017

Grassroots Reflections is a Cooperative Press Association journal published four times a year by Arnold Hollander. Arnold proposes a theme, and invites contributors to use their creativity to write poems, essays and fiction based upon the theme. February's theme was "Tradition"  & includes a plethora of perspectives from six writers (including your intrepid blogger.) My favorite piece in Grassroots Reflections Number 41 is a story exposing small yet profound family moments in At The First Seder. A generous selection of well-crafted poetry is offered by Judy Turek that explores Christmas, Oral Tradition, and even the Death of Decency. There is also a travelogue recounting a San Francisco Journey as experienced by Arnold and Barbara Hollander complete with color photography. Bias warning: I am a regular, enthusiastic participant in Grassroots Reflections. That said, I urge readers to check out a sample copy. You are unlikely to be disappointed. For more information write to Arnold at 1598 Old Mill Road Wantagh NY 11793-3237. Yes this is an offline, papernet journal!