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.
Describing their music as “post-everything”, The Royal Arctic institute melds elements of jazz, indie rock, and post-punk into a simmering brew of aural ambiguity. On their new EP, From Catnip to Coma (which was recorded by Yo La Tengo’s James McNew), the band offers up 5 tracks of variable experimentalism that finds them wandering through a headwind of sound that seems to be slowly falling apart. The guitars and percussion shake and stumble around while the landscape veers between minimalist jazz scenarios and slightly more fleshed out sonic altitudes. There’s a lot of space here, and it becomes easy to lose your way, following one sound into a gray stillness before another melody calls you from a different direction. And though the EP is riddled with uncertain rhythmic movements, they’re all used in service to the record’s brilliant and immersive aesthetic. There’s an almost noir-ish feel to the music, but the band never lets it slide into cliché; there’s a purpose and grounded intent that keeps everything exactly where it needs to be.
How do you attempt to map out the past, present and some unknowable future relevance for a specific geography through sound? Write-artist Clare Archibald recently joined with Kinbrae – comprised of brothers Mike and Andy Truscott – and took a deep look at the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland, deciding to sketch out its physical and artistic lineages through droning ambient rhythms, often guided by spoken word poetics. The resulting collection, Birl of Unmap, is a testament to their abilities in redefining the possibilities and connections that exist between sound and the way we view our terrestrial environment. It also speaks to the way we perceive the connections we have with one another, the sparks that attract or revolt when people become close, physically and emotionally. The album is a magnet for interpretation, a series of musical Rorschach tests that plead with us to look behind the sounds to see the intricate networks that hold the world together.
Slice of Life is the result of a constant back and forth conversation between Ben Davis and Nick Meryhew, artists whose adoration for absurdities and experimentation found a chaotic new life in their collaboration as Paradise Complete. Operating as a cooperative memoir, the album uses the format of sound collage as a way to express experiences which have no clear definition. Each track underwent a process of tinkering, being sent back and forth between the two until it felt…not exactly complete, but right. Splintered synths, spoken word sojourns, cracked ambient atmospheres, and a disregard for structural normalcy, these tracks compose a history, built separately but combined into a fascinating and, at times, brilliant descent into our perception of time and its impact on the world around us. Improvisational in execution, Slice of Life is a gloriously odd artifact of memory, highlighting how Davis and Meryhew felt compelled to join their different pasts into a singular statement of chronological chaos.
Balancing his time between gardening and music composition, Tasmania-based artist Alex Last creates wandering ambient soundscapes as Soda Lite. Crafting hypnotic sounds through a combination of field recordings and keys, his work is immersive and feels completely self-sustaining. His latest collection, Aqua Solar Cura, is a vast ecosystem of bird calls, running streams, and gently parsed out lines of flickering melodies. Each song settles over you like morning dew, fulling submersing you in its subtle variations and calming movements. Most of the field recordings were sourced from Trowunna, a wilderness sanctuary that specialized in animal rehabilitation. Last reveals that the album looks into our “relationships to land” and how these elemental forces allow us to appreciate and plunge ourselves in the wild beauty it provides. Just relax and enjoy the ever-widening vistas composed and presented here.
Under the guise of The Growth Eternal, Tulsa-native Byron Crenshaw fashions music indebted to beat-tape histories and outsider R&B techniques. He has developed a unique voice where others have tread but is presenting it in ways few others have ever attempted. His debut album, PARASAiL-18, is a murky, sensual bit of alt R&B that favors minimal beats paired with murmured narratives pulled straight from his own life. He explains: “PARASAiL-18 was a 4-year process, and this process has made me as much as I’ve made it. What is this album all about? My escape in all its different forms: hope, drugs, sex, desire, daydreaming, nightwalking, burial, fire, and fun.” Whether we’re being invited into some intimate late-night conversations or something more universal in scope, Crenshaw maintains a mercurial presence, one that conjures all manner of hazy, early morning rendezvous and the decisions made in a flurry of heighten emotions and physical responses.
Your mileage with hyper-psychedelic noise act Kill Alters will vary depending on your tolerance for sudden tonal shifts and the complete breakdown of normative musical traditions. But why should we expect anything different from them at this point? The band, led by Bonnie Baxter and fleshed out by drummer Hisham Bharoocha and Nicos Kennedy, is a machine of rhythmic anarchy. They’ve shown a willingness to deconstruct the genres in which they operate, breaking them down to primal melodic segments and reattaching them in often horrific and mesmerizing ways. Their latest, Armed to the Teeth L.M.O.M.M., really gives you no time to acclimate before shoving into a volatile world of noisy electro-punk and industrial synth-based kinesthesis. Brutal, unsettling, and honestly moving at times, the album is a blur of rusted machinery, decomposing instruments, and Baxter’s harrowing voice all working together to show you just how strange this world can get.
As the first plaintive notes creep forth from M.H.H.’s Cassiope: Protection Songs for Guitar, you get the feeling that its world is completely transitory in nature and likely to drift off without warning. There’s no firm ground here, and that’s by design. Minneapolis musician Matthew Himes has created something understated but possessing of a great emotional gravity. In the time we’re given to bask in its presence, these tracks bloom slowly, taking their time to engulf us in glimmering and gossamer guitar lines culled from select improvisational sessions held over the past year. You can hear the psych underpinnings on tracks like “Seia” and “Pedicel”, though it’s only a hint of where some inspiration may be coming from – there’s nothing carved in stone or bandied about for effect. Hines lets these sounds move at their own pace, never drawing them out longer or shorter than necessary, with each moving to their own needs and desires.
There’s no real way to ease yourself into the latest 43-minute free-jazz opus from Storage Music Unit. This single track is a daunting mix of violent sax squawks, fractured percussive flourishes, and guitars that don’t actually sound anything like guitars. For those who possess the patience to roll with its disordered cacophony, it offers a unique insight into the shape of music in motion, into the act of spontaneous creation and the indescribable wonders it can provide. It’s often cantankerous, gravitationally off-kilter, and determined to weed out the weak from the strong. However, that’s not to say it purposefully seeks to throw you off from its trail – there is just a lot to unpack here and the music doesn’t plan on waiting until you feel comfortable wading around in its murky depths. There is no passive role here, only by giving yourself fully to its clattering demands does it finally reveal furtive flashes of beauty and grace hidden among its discordant rhythms and apoplectic tonalities.