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.
There’s a joyous anarchy draped across Discount Sacrifice at the Altar of Bargains, the new cassette from BBJR & SLW (aka Bob Buck Jr. and Samuel Locke Ward). Rickety at times and charmingly lo-fi, these songs are built from elemental histories: psych rock, gospel, avant-pop, and maybe a half dozen others. BBJR creates all of the music while SLW handles the vocal duties, resulting in a sound as lovingly misshapen as it fascinating to witness. Listening to this record is like flipping through a forgotten photo album – everything seems vaguely familiar, but the edges are blurred until they bleed together into some distant trove of memory. Buck and Ward follow the whims of the music as long as it’s capable of leading them, and it leads them to some truly unexpected places. There’s a loose, almost jazzy feel to how they assemble all these fractured pieces into something that miraculously coheres and sounds so absolutely compelling and unburdened from any specific musical lineage.
It’s so easy to fall completely into the ambient world that Yolabmi has created on his latest cassette, Before Your Past Lives. There’s no jarring entrance, no distance placed between artist and audience. You cradle these atmospheric textures in your hands, tuning them gently to see the subdued light refracting off in all directions. Titled only by a Roman numeral chronology, it seems that these slowly undulating movements connect in subtle ways, never veering too far from one another but possessing distinct personalities all the same. The synths feel like they’re sliding under your skin, residing in some lower bodily depth previously inaccessible. Blended with calming field recordings and expertly manipulated samples, these tracks are unobtrusive yet they’re not adversely passive – there are moments when you actively engage with them on their unique frequencies. And then, just as suddenly, they fade back into the ether, leaving you alone to wonder on the significance of your own experiences and memories.
Tyler Keene seems to create his songs from the inside out. Under the guise of Log Across the Washer, he pulls together a hodgepodge of ramshackle pop and rock influences, culling the most skewed aspects from his favorite artists and reshaping them to fit his own desires. After a few years with Portland indie rock outfit And And And, he released a series of rambling collections which found him offering up various improvisations and half-formed thoughts that helped him work through all the countless ideas pinging around in his head. You can hear that sense of musical abandon on It’s Funny How the Colors, his latest cassette that acts as a statement of intent from Keene. Reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel’s abstraction and Okkervil River’s nuanced storytelling, these songs often feel as though they’re falling apart at the seams. But despite their impending sensation of collapse, they are overflowing with small miracles of pop construction, tiny wonders that highlight the mysterious impulses which propel them forward.
Maya Weeks is concerned with the noise of life. As a surfer, artist, writer, and geographer, her whole life revolves around both the physical and intangible aspects of the world around her. In her music, she finds ways to highlight the hum and thrum of organic movements as filtered through various synths, percussive oddities, and a host of field recordings. Co-produced with Andrew Weathers, her latest collection, Tethers, is a brief episodic jaunt through the sounds of two places on the California coast: Cayucos and Bodega Bay. Throughout her work on these songs, she listened to these geographies and heard their stories. As light as salt spray from a collapsing wave, Tethers provides a glimpse of her attempts to push back against the cacophony of modern life and to examine the detrimental effects we have on the natural world. There are no easy answers here, only the slow ebb and flow of emotions from a person who sees vast geographical and personal injury and is desperately trying to warn others before it’s too late.
Forms are ill fitting for Brooklyn duo Prolaps – even the idea of conforming to a specific genre represents a compromise of sorts for Bonnie Baxter (singer/producer for Kill Alters) and Matt Stephenson (musical designer for Machine Girl). The worlds they shape are blistered by industrial rhythms, metal impulses, and experimental dance contortions. Split in half, and then split again, and then pulled apart by horses, the songs on their latest release, Ultra Cycle Pt. 4: Hibernal Death, are primed to override your senses, to engage and consume your thoughts without stopping to notice the destruction in their wake. This apocalyptic landscape is dotted with techno detritus and various pieces of equipment which have gained sentience and laid waste to their human creators. The experience is indescribable; the noise is confounding and exhilarating. At some points, you get the feeling that you’re listening to ambient music that has rusted over or necrotized. There’s so much seismic activity here that it’s almost impossible to catch all the details that Baxter and Stephenson have included, but trying to parse out what the hell is going on is always part of the fun of their work.
As Bardo Todol y sus Aves sin Nido (“Bardo Todol and his Birds without a Nest”), Argentinian sound architect Pablo Picco makes you fall in love with abstraction. Over the past few years, he has been releasing collections of songs featuring his daughter Nico playing various toy instruments, and on their latest release, Respiran, they’ve recruited his young son Cina to aid in their nonconcrete compositions. The two long-form pieces which make up this cassette were recorded in Salsipuedes, Cordoba, Argentina between 2019 and 2020. There is no discernable form here, only the organic and experimental visions which have come to characterize his work. Dissonant thrumming, mysterious field recordings, and extended bouts of tape manipulation are the avenues through which Respiran is give up for investigation. Picco and his familial cast of young audio inventers have molded a sound as mesmerizing as it is inscrutable, a living soundtrack to the thoughts of the natural world around us.
As one half of the Budokan Boys, alongside vocalist Michael Jeffrey Lee, multi-instrumentalist Jeff T Byrd has attended to some truly caustic pop revelations since the group’s inception in 2014. On his own, however, he favors a more musique concrete approach, offering experimental collages of random field recordings, lo-fi electronics, and the odd bit of piano, saxophone, and synthesizer. Released via Irish cassette label Fort Evil Fruit, Byrd’s latest collection, Nighty Night, was inspired by a series of tapes his dad had recorded in the 80’s. He took these random snippets of personal conversations, storms, news programs, and assorted other media and amplified them through his own latticed view of sound, incorporating rhythmic (a)tonalities as a way of sifting through decades of memories. He describes these songs as existing “somewhere between autobiography and dream”. They certainly take on the persona of half-remembered moments in life, filled with stray bits of melody that fade in and out around the samples from his dad. Nighty Night is an ode to the progression of life, to the wild detours we take, and to the capricious nature of memory itself.