Tapes - Hissing Theatricals

I've never been a huge digidub fan.  I guess I've never really been a huge dub fan to begin with so that kind of precluded the possibility of getting into digidub.  Dub always seems too preoccupied with a kind of stoner melancholia, and digidub sounded too piercingly cheap for me.  I certainly haven't sampled enough to stamp the whole genre, but from what I've heard...well lets say maybe I haven't heard enough.  The UK based Tapes' newest 12" called Hissing Theatricals has changed my attitude somewhat.  Part of it is that these tracks are deliciously economic and brief.  Dub gets boring for me after I hear a couple phrases of the same groove and no amount of delay tap shifting will convince me otherwise.  This record isn't about hypnosis or even mesmerization, these are lean and tight structural grooves, that shift and hammer and cut.  They hardly even cut loose.  These are made by a robot from an unsought past.  Sonically, Tapes is playing with degenerated tape surfaces, crackling bitcrushed moogs and junos oscillating a bit out of tune like a cassette that's been fried in the glove compartment.  For all those 8-bit heads out there, this is how you do it right.  This record does two things well.  It places a ton of hiss and frizz on the surface of the sound, giving it a super crisp, bristling profile, but doesn't skimp you on the depth of the mix.  The kicks really thump and the reverbs really haunt.  One of the things I like about this EP is that there are some mean juicy bangers, like the kingston robocop hustle of "C20 Riddim", or "Gold Love Riddim", a track that Major Lazer couldn't dream of copping to for its authenticity (is there any record more full of posturing than Major Lazer?? Ok fine, there was that horrendous N.A.S.A. record.)  But there are also these gorgeous, miniature romances, that just swish along aimlessly, content with themselves.  "Good Thing You Came Along" is almost cut from the same cloth as a Nite Jewel track - plaintive, shabby, and sort of lobotomized.  I'm not sure how interesting any of this stuff would be to see live, it might be kind of a downer, but if you're looking for something rarefied and next level in this genre Tapes is holding it down for all you sleepy, backpack wearing motherfuckers.

Tapes - C20 Riddim

Tapes - Good Thing You Came Along

Tapes - Gold Love Riddim

Tapes - Lowry Dub 

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Signer: Next We Bring You The Fire

I came within inches of putting a track by the New Zealand band Signer on a Friday Finds a few months back and then decided it was too sleepy or something.  That was stupid of me.  Their newish (Sept) record, Next We Bring You The Fire out on Carpark may drift in and out of electronic psychedelia, woozy somnolence brought on by exaggerated LFOs, walls of lydian tuned aggregates, and a voice nearly as slim as a sine wave, but the details of its makings are fully aware and its construction, though not always well conceived, on the whole, cogent.  A contemporary Cocteau Twins comes to mind, though not nearly as fey, which is saying less about Signer's inherent groundedness than it does about the extreme airiness of Cocteau Twins.  The real winner here is a track called "+Kicks and Kicks", which swaggers in a barbiturate induced trip across a dance floor, knees locked then buckling, faceless heads bobbing, moaning, glowing, and a mild case of claustrophobia that creeps and creeps.  "Languidly Toot" is a far more exalted example, swerving perhaps a bit close to shoegaze, and needs a third section, but altogether gorgeous nonetheless (why did they withhold that blastbeat till the last 20 seconds, and then only use it once??)  The album on the whole could use more bouts of this kind of thing (by that I mean adrenaline).  The one place we really get it is on the too long "Don't Be A Forest Cow" which dips into the Teengirl Fantasy/Pictureplane model of muscular, astrally disturbed house, but here it drags somehow despite being the fastest song on the record, the four on the floor kick feels out of place with the listless vocals, or maybe the drums are just too clean, and when the acid bass line comes in it is suddenly the most insensitive moment on an album full of florid, otherworldly sensitivities.  On "We Should Touch Teeth" the initial scape is mulled over unnecessarily, but when we get somewhere, a sufficiently massive tribalized rave sequence is deserving of interest, if a little forced.   Next We Bring You The Fire is perhaps not a crucial record, but otherwise it's a finely tuned likeness of where electronic pop is, and where it's going in the late oughts. 

Signer - +Kicks and Kicks

Signer - Languidly Toot

Signer - Don't Be a Forest Cow

Signer - We Should Touch Teeth

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Brian Harnetty and Bonnie Prince Billy: Silent City

Brian Harnetty is a British composer with a serious crush on American folk.  His last record, American Winter sampled rare recordings from an Appalachian folk archive at Borea College in Kentucky.  In many of those pieces, he added instrumentation on top or around these recordings.  Bells, twinkling toy pianos, bowed metal, string drones, the tools of a new music composer's approach to folk.  Some of it had a contemporary drone feel, some of it was like a disfigured, reoriented bluegrass, as if someone had forgotten how to play it but remembered the rhythmic pattern.  His use of samples is unique.  Firstly, he picks a lot of moments that are in transition from the spoken, or ambient, to the musical; a woman forgetting her lyrics and trying to remember how the rest of the song went, a radio dj introducing the next selection, people describing their understanding, or perhaps more importantly their memory of the songs they're about to or have just performed.  For Harnetty, the moments before or after a performance are not only musical themselves - the ambience, the spoken word, creating a kind of a soundscore already - but also present an openness, or priming for what I suppose you could only call accompaniment.  Which is to say, sometimes the sample is not what's important here, sometimes the composing takes over and really sends the sample into a back layer.  This is especially true when he blatantly ignores the tempo and meter of a given sample and composes against it, creating a new temporal arrangement that feels torn between the two worlds, the imaginary archival world, and the modern one, looking back.

The trouble is, on this new record, Silent City, out on AtavisticHarnetty teams up with indie folk's most notorious self aggrandizer (aside from Devendra who can hardly be called folk anymore), Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham).  Don't get me wrong, I love Bonnie Prince Billy, I mean like love love, like I think he's one of the more enigmatic, shapeshifting, brashest musicians in this country.  He's just way too Bonnie Prince Billy to sit in on a very sensitive proceeding and go unnoticed.  It's the exact same problem I have with David Sylvian's music altogether.  He's singing outside of the music, it's all about him (and his brooding fascination with himself).  Similarly, when BPB sings it pushes the rest of the piece to the background, which is what good singing is supposed to do, but what the best of Brian Harnetty's music moves obliquely in opposition to.  The good thing is, BPB is only on a couple of the tracks, and the rest of the record is really a beautiful graduation forward from American Winter.  It's really a more settled, more accessible record.  It's also darker.  Instrumentally, it leans a bit too hard on the accordion which can get tinny after listening to it sustain through every track on the record.  But the addition of drums, which are performed loosely but with great specificity, is an important step for this composer, in that it pushes him past creating beautiful textures and mysterious situations, it asks him to tell us something with a sharper ear for how time is being played out.  And that's always a good thing.  Who wants to hear a Brian Harnetty/Grouper split?

Brian Harnetty & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Silent City
Brian Harnetty & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Well, There Are
Brian Harnetty & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Sleeping In The Driveway
Brian Harnetty & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - As Old As The Stars

Also here's a pretty interesting video for 'Sleeping In The Driveway'  It's a poignant montage of southern farms, farmhouses, interiors, graveyards, and roads.

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