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.
Grief is a potent source of inspiration. A terrible source of inspiration, but one that forces us to confront events that we might hope to lose to the moving rhythms of memory — experiences that reveal the devastation that life can offer and the consequences of everyday choices. For Lily Seabird, these ordinary possibilities become potent harbingers of ache and release and identity. For her latest collection, Alas, she rides the rails through landscapes pockmarked by hushed indie-folk whispers, alt-country ramblings, and just a bit of shoegaze density. Her voice hovers, a gentle breeze against our face, rich with experience and understanding. We’re witness to private conversations grappling with loss and frustration and the hushed echoes of hope waiting in the surrounding geography. Alas, is at times breathtaking and devastating, a coming-of-age tale draped in both nostalgia and a desire to push past current trends in search of personal interpretation and meaning.
We accompany Seattle musician Nellie Albertson as she reveals the gauzy details of her latest offering under the guise of Power Strip. Nothing Yet is a short burst of ambient bedroom pop with some noisy shoegaze impulses – it’s a reflective collection that speaks to her love of blended influence and non-traditional composition. Shifting between instrumental prickliness and avant-pop bliss, the EP conjures visions of a lo-fi Sigur Ros or a more roughhewn version of The Year of Hibernation-era Youth Lagoon. Her voice becomes enveloped in a dense fog of sound, refractory musical elements cascading off one another. Bound by shadows and nocturnal whispers and rocky revelations, Nothing Yet is a cacophonous jolt of undiluted creativity, and one that’ll linger in your memory for days.
Harold Whit Williams and Gerard Guillaume, two library workers currently residing in Austin, had dreams of creating a lo-fi French No Wave outfit, of combining their love of bands like DNA and the Contortions with more melodic influences like Sparks and France Gall. MARKING & PLATING is the result of those turbulent musical brainstorming visions, an avenue of creation in which Williams and Guillaume could play with noise and tonalities without weighing themselves down to any one genre. Their debut, Zéro Vague, is scrawled in illegible ink, sounds trialing off, rhythms bounding from one point to the next before throwing themselves off the nearest cliff. Vocals are cut up and pasted across experimental pop landscapes, bristly and bathed in oily electro-pop, embracing a detached ethos that speaks to their shared and shifting affections.
The city lights shiver and dim, and everything begins a long march toward sleep. Philip Marlowe and Rick Deckard prowl alleyways in search of marks and elusive, rain-slicked revelations. Music pours out from random doors, and Stockholm’s Paradise of Yesterday add their noirish rumble to the late evening atmosphere. Memory is a drug, nostalgia the next big fix. Prog-y synths bloom amid grimy landscapes of lost dreams while swathes of jazzy echoes offer discord to the overarching kaleidoscopic ambience. The songs on Enigmatic provide a window into the furious movements of a nighttime populace, people who conjure and reclaim neon-streaked skylines – music that heightens the senses and lays bare the knotted muscles in our bodies.
The humidity is palpable, clinging like moss to your skin, gentle reminders of nature’s fickle atmospheres and temperament. Insects and birds convene for their nightly ruminations, earthen seances calling forth spirits and nameless terrestrial entities. This is the world of Forest Hills, the debut collection of elemental ambience from mysterious Florida noise architect Tegu. Enamored with the sounds of twilight wanderings, the music outlines strange contours, vague memories and years long relegated to the haze of the past. Calm and trancelike, yet sporting refined psychedelic tints, these songs voyage through parallel currents of droning frequencies and nocturnal field recordings. There is a voiceless murmur as the music completes its cycle of revelation and rejuvenation.
There’s a unique serration to the post-punk worldview of Blood Orange, Cosmic Panthers’ latest batch of corrugated castaways. Bridging the span between New York and Manchester — the homes of various members of the band – they revel in the sort of stark demolition which was explored and elevated by bands like The Velvet Underground and Suicide. Everything is loose and wiry, astringent tones colliding with howled vocals bound up in an endless nervous energy. They even manage to incorporate some dirge-y psychedelics into the mix as some fuzzed-out noise and prickly rhythms run roughshod over your senses. The occasional whirring synth appears, insect-like and warped, channeling into a vein of art-punk that thrives on viscous sounds and lofty punk altitudes.
Some albums present recognizable places, feelings, moments that we can cling to in shared association. The latest release from hyacinth., still waters run deep., isn’t interested in familiarity, isn’t necessarily interested in how we all can find common ground within its droning serenity. This is music as reactive substance, as autonomous emotional reflection. It changes depending upon its audience, letting us in only as far as we allow ourselves to drift. Distorted field recordings and dynamic ambient soundscapes run parallel to our own steps, balancing between soft and gentle tones and wilder clangorous mechanisms designed to show the cracks in our own reality. Just imagine if Cocteau Twins or Mazzy Star shared the studio with Fennesz and you’d be close to understanding the dreamy atmospheres and restless electronic movements working their way out from inside these songs. A wonder of tender insight and complex interpretation, still waters run deep. lingers like the smell of damp earth after a spring rain.
Amber Bouchard sees beyond our current reality, drawn to some alternate existence where music binds the threads of the universe together, held in form and interpretation toward some greater expression of meaning. Under the guise of velmuh, the Richmond musician transforms elements of classical and electronic sounds into whole worlds suspended in space, ringed with a complex and beautiful noise and a radiance born from this act of creation. lures reaches through time, across genres, meditating on the search for identity and personal understanding, developing a devastating grace revealed through craggy experimentation and experiential revelation. Its depths are immense, and considerable time will be lost as you fall into its cavernous cosmos. Deftly navigating a wilderness of ambient wonder and classical reconstruction, she allows these sounds to settle around us, all prickly and reverent and circuital.