Cassette Culture: April 2020

Cassette Culture is a monthly column dedicated to exploring the various artists that inhabit the expansive cassette market. Drawing from bands and labels around the world, this column will attempt to highlight some of the best artists and albums from this global community.

Prana Crafter
3rd Ear Incantations

Under the guise of Prana Crafter, Washington-based artist William Sol creates music to get lost in, music for emotional subsummation. He offers easy access to fully immerse yourself in the beautifully strange psych-folk distortions that he so readily pulls from the surrounding environment. Blending the melodic wonder of the natural world around him with smatterings of synthesizers, guitars, and odd percussive movements, his work is completely mesmerizing in the way it compiles and shapes so many sounds into a coherent aesthetic. Complex lattices of sonic experimentation and amorphous rhythms assemble and slink through your senses, dismantling countless influences and addressing personal experiences that have molded his unique perspective on musical creation.

With 3rd Ear Incantations, his latest cassette for \\NULL ZONE//, Sol has constructed two tracks filled with sprawling psych filaments and droning folk ruralities. Averaging 15 minutes each, the songs “3rd Ear Incantations” and “Eyes Closed Inner Thunder” are spacious and lush, corralling stringed plucks within a noisy ambience and doling out a surprising amount of fuzzed-over electric guitar. It’s a collection meant for internalization, for piecing together memories and obsessing over moments in the past, and some in the present. But the music is also inviting, never standoffish, giving you ample opportunity to revel in the melodic weirdness that he so effortlessly conjures.

(NNA Tapes)

Outside of her normal role as Rubblebucket singer and co-leader, Kalmia Traver strives to access stranger corners of her musical identity. And through her work as Kalbells, she stitches together a series of hypnotic dark-pop atmospheres replete with woozy melodies and unexpected instrumentation. Her 2017 Kalbells debut, Ten Flowers, chronicled her cancer struggle and survival, resulting in a collection of songs that easily drew you into their gravity, offering a glimpse of both the pain and hope that these experiences channeled. Traver has the rare ability to take the smallest idea and to encourage it in a way that allows it bloom and evolve into something quite magnificent.

This a talent that becomes all too apparent across her latest release, the 4-track EP Mothertime. Experimenting with electro-pop mechanics on the title track, she digs into the complexities of her relationship with her mother, allowing their connection to bind them inextricably and inspire the buoyant revelations found across the EP. “Cool and Bendable” is based upon a dream she had of interacting with her unborn child, and its infectious alt-pop attitudes provide the perfect platform for these vivid reflections. Closing tracks “Precipice” and “Tremble” use buzzy indie pop infrastructure to document the travails of existing within the confines of a codependent relationship. Immediate and often emotionally taxing, this collection shows that Traver will never be complacent in her music, always moving and adapting to her surroundings.

David S. Kruse
(Already Dead Tapes and Records)

Hailing from Van Buren County, Michigan, David S. Kruse is a storyteller employing folk-rock’s unique histories to present a compelling look characters whose rural lives are built in equal measure from devastation and joy. With a slight country swing, his work rambles and sways in time with the uncommon grace of his bucolic surroundings. Absorbing the influence of artists like Neil Young and Gram Parsons, Kruse builds these fascinating atmospheres where quiet despair and unfiltered hope exist comfortably side by side. His work is warm and occasionally unsettling, building to the creation of a world where these individuals and the consequences of their actions can play out to their inevitable conclusions.

Kruse continues to blend genres on his new release, Dust, a winding brew of tones and textures that comes across on occasion as though he’s working his way through post-punk’s angularity and country’s easygoing swagger all within the same song. His voice shakes and tumbles around these sounds, an affecting creak that adds depth to an already dense mass of musical interpretations and amalgamations. Backed by guitarist Tyler Bradley, bassist Jeremy Ruggles, and drummer Erica Root, Kruse is able to inject wonderful nuance in these craggy folk-tuned narratives. The record doesn’t lay claim to any one tract of rhythmic territory, bounding from one genre to the next in a freewheeling rush of earnest emotion and insight.   

Plant Lab
Plant Lab
(Crash Symbols)

Throughout their tenure in the Seattle music scene, Owen Whitcomb and Brenan Chambers have crossed paths on a number of occasions and have spent countless hours working on various projects together. About four years ago, they decided to form Plant Lab as a way for them to explore their fascination with Baroque pop and psychedelic jazz rhythms – and a whole host of other sounds that fall somewhere outside modern music’s attention. For their self-titled debut release, the duo recorded in places all across their hometown, revealing that they tried to incorporate “as many pianos [they] could get ahold of”. The resulting collage of wild influences and even wilder melodic detours is a hallucinogenic whirlwind that’s unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Amorphous and uncategorizable, these 15 tracks find Whitcomb and Chambers refusing to recognize the borders of their inspirations. Subtle electronics blend into post-rock which then blends into folk-pop and so on and so on – it’s one of those records (or tapes) that isn’t really made for detailed descriptions. It’s best just to experience the labyrinthine rhythmic corridors and experimental arrangements for yourself. And while they’re not at all concerned with adhering to any rigid set of musical blueprints, they still shape these sounds in ways that demand your attention. These songs aren’t passively approached so much as they luxuriated in. Plant Lab is a band that takes the raw elements of things we’ve heard before and completely upends our assumptions about how they can be combined, and fashions one of the most interesting listens of 2020 so far.