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.
Bloodhound, the debut album from Portland ambient pop outfit Lily Ire, is home to a collection of gently cascading melodies that inhabit a series of woozy atmospheric landscapes. Written and produced by Jack Lily, the record deftly juggles genres as it explores the connections between dream-pop, folk, ambient, and even the occasional detour into something that slightly resembles shoegaze. But it’s the capable direction and respect shown to his influences that really confirms Lily’s talent for reconfiguring sounds that have become so well ingrained in our collective consciousness. These songs shuffle, twangy and furtive, along a crooked path, clothed in gauzy rhythms that give the appearance of lullabies sung from old wooden porches and passed down through generations. Taking the lingering distance common to ambient music and infusing it with a heady sense of pop movement, Lily builds these tracks as memorials to moments in time, to experiences and memories felt at their peak. The emotions all come tumbling out: he exposes the joy and heartache and nostalgia associated with all the conscious decisions we’ve made and those which we’ve consigned to some forgotten level of our minds.
Victoria Barca catalogues the world through sound. The Argentinian musician crafts songs that appear fragile but are actually muscular sound sculptures intent on revealing the wonder of ordinary moments. Playful and bound to no direct musical lineage, they experiment with ways to describe things that really have no concrete description: the change in direction of a bird in flight, the way a dandelion sends it seeds on their way, and the glint of a morning sunbeam on a glassy puddle of water. At least, these are the images I imagine when listening to her latest record, Burung, a stunning album that refuses easy categorization and lingers on the edge of your memory for days. Nothing here barrels over your senses – her work is much more subtle than that, and far more powerful in its execution as a result. This is the sound of the world under a microscope, of infinite marvels heard on an infinitesimal scale. The textures that Barca discovers are absolutely fascinating, organic blips and ridges that develop across a collection of sophisticated compositions, reveling in the minutiae of the world around us.
Erica Eso makes pop music that seems to be twisting in on itself. There are odd contours, angles that don’t make much sense at first glance. Their style of ambiguous art-pop is filled with sudden latitudinal changes, atmospheric adjustments, and melodies that appear to be in a constant state of flux. Their new record, 192, is a perfect example of how pop music can be transformed through the use of experimental techniques – and while there’s nothing wildly aberrant here, the band filters their pop instincts through a decidedly fractured rhythmic perspective. Helmed by vocalist-producer Weston Minissali, the group tosses their influences into a giant tumbler and works a certain kind of magic in creating a sound so unique and absorbing. Informed by Minissali’s interest in microtonal voicing and fluid pop dynamics, the album explores the physicality of music, and the way in impacts our senses. These songs shuffle unpredictably between genres, rejoicing in their capacity for spontaneity and self-awareness. 192 is a curiously potent brew of textural pop components and intricate melodies derived from the band’s desire to subvert expectations at every possible opportunity.
Country music is a psychedelic wonderland to Jeremy Ruggles. Blending nimble folk production with a denser, more muscular aesthetic, he expands the idea of what country music can be, of what it can accomplish. His latest record, Radical is My Brand, is a joyous collection of front porch sing-alongs and electric barnburners, decorated with all the rural psych-rock trimmings you could want. His voice possesses a unique wobble that lends itself to this kind of genre subversion – its sneaks up you, never revealing its full strength until it’s almost on top of you. Like any good storyteller, Ruggles imbues these songs with hints and allusions to his own experiences, giving them a lived-in quality. They breathe, the music inhaling and exhaling with each strum, chord, and bit of shuffled percussion. The record is a snapshot of a life filled to the brim with love, heartache, and the consequences of both. He also doesn’t shy away from the bad experiences, giving them ample time to play their parts and reveal how they’ve shaped his perspective of the world and of himself.
As we approach the horizon, everything begins to fade away. The point that we were heading toward vanishes, replaced by the infinite possibilities that exist just over the next hill. Recording as The Living Sky, musicians Jason Millard and Matthew Himes explore this idea of fluid pathways, making cosmic car tunes, the kind of music that adapts itself to whatever experience you might be lost within. And on Enter the Sky, they dream up entire worlds that lay just out of sight, forging something new from the mangled remains of whatever psych-rock, experimental, and garage boogie impulses they happen to come across in their ongoing search for meaning and identity. Mixed into all this is a vivid sense of how droning rhythms work within these established genres, casting oddly shaped shadows on all the other sounds. At times, the album could almost pass as being composed of improvisational pieces, with Millard and Himes allowing the music to wander according to its own desires. Enter the Sky is a trip past the limits of genre sensibilities; it’s a rallying cry for all musicians attuned to the unusual rhythmic patterns of the world which remain hidden to all but a select few individuals.
There are more rough edges to the work of Chicago avant-rock band Imelda Marcos than I could count in a week. Grafting together loose bits of psych, math rock, and noise into a confounding and mesmerizing brew of musical angularity, the band lets loose an arty roar that interrupts your body’s ability to move as instructed. Initially an instrumental duo, Dave Cosejo and Matt Durso brought on vocalist Donna Diane (of Djunah) to help in shaping the structure of their new EP, Albularyo. A collection of four unsettling bursts of apoplectic rock and roll, the record is awash in Diane’s banshee howls and the catastrophic clattering of Cosejo and Druso. Guitars are destroyed while drum kits are beaten into submission. At times, the sound verges on industrial, conjuring visions of smoked-out landscapes littered with rusted metal buildings and the clang of desolate bell towers. But maybe that’s just my imagination running a bit wild. These songs do tend to have that effect, though. They draw out thoughts of grimy, parched landscapes and the characters inhabiting them, shaping it all into disturbing narratives that perfectly match the music’s bleak perspective.
We do it roughly 22,000 times a day, the simple act of breathing in and out – and more often than not, we give no thought to its execution. It just happens. But Paris-based artist Badbad has become intently focused recently on how that physical act could be broken down and translated through music. The result of her work, a new 5-track EP called MELANCOLE, is astonishingly brutal in its emotional resonance and offers a complex view of various manifestations of breath, organic and synthetic, physical and psychological. Bringing to mind the music of Pharmakon and Puce Mary, Badbad’s latest is an occasionally danceable mix of claustrophobic ambient music and dark-hued techno. Her voice wanders throughout these murky soundscapes, offering a recognizable syllable here and there before retreating back into the shadows. She searches for the connective tissue among these discordant sounds, using them as a way for her to reconcile our daily physical impulses with the psychic wear and tear we also experience. This record presents an uncompromising look into how she perceives various aspects of her corporeal existence and how best to document those functions.