Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cassette Review: x.nte "CLOUD2" (\\NULL|ZØNE//)

$7 //
Edition of 50 // //

Thus far, the two cassettes from \\NULL|ZØNE// have been different not just in a way that the artists could be picked out of a crowd of songs (such as a compilation) but also just that they span differ genres.   x.nte has a name which makes me think it will be electronic and the title of this cassette as "CLOUD2" just makes me think that even more.   At its core I would consider this to be electronic but it is also somehow so much more and, well, on top of that it's just a different kind of electronic than I am used to as well.

What you have to think of first when listening to x.nte is hip hop beats.   At the beginning there seems to be some rapping/singing and then there are audio clips but for the most part this is instrumental.  I do appreciate the one part of an audio clip that goes "Hahaha loser!" though.    So overall I wouldn't put too much focus on the idea of lyrics or even audio clips in the sense of trying to pull words out of these songs.   I would stick with focusing on the music itself as it has a quality which needs to be appreciated.

Through loops come keys and other electronics.   I would describe it as "bliss hop" but that might not be the correct subgenre just think of it as more of an upbeat hip hop sound like 2Pac's "Changes".    There are mellow moments but I am hesitant to call this anything having to do with "chill" because it really generates a large amount of controlled chaos.   The fast beats don't have to mean that you can dance to them but they do provide a certain amount of energy so you can have them as your soundtrack to get through the day with like coffee.

The other day I found this sweatshirt I wanted to get.   I asked someone whether or not I should and they said that it looked "busy" and so I shouldn't wear it.   While having clothes which look "busy" might be a fashion no-no, when it comes to music I don't find it to be a turn off as I've enjoyed when I've heard music before that has this same feeling of everything all at once.   It's one of those situations where you might be used to hearing one of these sounds at a time- which makes it easier to write about and digest as a listener- but to have them all layered upon each other can feel overwhelming.

But I don't want you to feel overwhelmed by this in a bad way.   I want you to take it as an opportunity to listen to this cassette over and over again, picking up on different little bits here and there each time.    From personal experience I can tell you that on the second and third listen you will hear things come out that you might not have heard for the first time.   Once it all finally comes together, once you are able to put all of the pieces together, this one just feels so hectic but it can be quite soothing.

Music Review:
Margaret the Destroyer
"death did not happen"

$1 to Download // //

Margaret the Destroyer almost instantly became my new favorite artist as soon as I pressed play on "death did not happen".   The first track- "Floored"- has these acoustic strums to it and it seems overall like it is mellow.   Then it shifts into this darker place as it becomes full of distortion.   It hits that acoustic feel again before the end but nonetheless leaves me feeling like this is something I am glad I am listening to now.

The second song is called "Worms" though it repeats the line "Everything is kind of beautiful today".    Now, normally I would think that this line was spoken once, recorded and then played back a number of times but sometimes the way it is said you can tell it is different and sometimes the words even change ("kind of" can be omitted for example)  At some point you can hear what sounds like sobbing in the background.

This all jolts me back into reality as the crying gets louder- it comes through as a scream- and really just takes over the track for a bit.   It is vocals layered on other vocals but that shock of the screaming which leaves as abruptly as it appears is something that makes me wonder why more people are not talking about Margaret the Destroyer.    The vocal layer behind the one I already mentioned says "There are worms in my bed" and, yeah, that might be a problem.

After the harshness these soothing tones come out, almost like a church organ and for some reason between the loud and spoken parts of this it makes me think of Old Grey.   A couple of times the main hook changes to "anything is kind of beautiful today".   This song kind of makes me want to get a tattoo that says "Everything is kind of beautiful today".   Singing comes through now with the church organ sound and it is kind of beautiful.   The way the line is spoken I sometimes feel as if it is with more certainty than at other times.

"Exodus" is a captivating acoustic number that I can't really compare with any other person who has ever sang along to an acoustic guitar as this just doesn't seem so out of place on this album though it does feel different because it isn't surrounded by other songs which sound like it.    The final track- "All the Answers" has singing coupled with talking and some kind of howling which sounds like a trumpet or such but is likely just another vocal sound.   The speaking voice seems as if it is reading from something and it informs us that all religions have condemned wine and liquor to finish what has just been an out of the blue amazing album for me.

Sometimes I might think this but I don't often say it: I wonder why "death did not happen" is not on cassette.  (And the length of the songs is not a good excuse)   This just feels like something I would hear on cassette and I can think of a number of different labels this would fit in with so well.    I hope before the end of 2018 this sees a physical release on cassette but just wow.   This is one of those albums you want to listen to now while it just came out because if Margaret the Destroyer keeps making music you will be learning the name ultimately.

Cassette Review: Heavy Habit "Heavy Habit" (dubbed tapes)

Sold Out //
Edition of 40 // //

This cassette is divided into two different live sets and even though the j-card has song titles it's nice to think of these as being improvised and unique moments captured in time, but hey, even if they are songs you could find somewhere else by Heavy Habit they still have that special quality of being live.   Feedback comes through and then drums follow.   There are quite a few cymbal crashes and then big bass comes out, almost like metal. (Think "Boris the Spider")  The drumming seems to become tribal and as Heavy Habit pause for applause there is one particularly loud person shouting things and, well, if I was them I would do the same thing I suppose.

Big drumming and distant singing brings out the wilder side of this rock music which you could call by a number of different names: outsider, weirdo, art, etc.    As the cymbals continue to crash, this sound comes out that I can't quite place but it's kind of like demons trapped somewhere mixed with scratching a record.  I'm not sure but it adds an interesting aspect to the sound.   I actually looked up Heavy Habit on Discogs and they are a duo.  So you have to imagine one person using things I don't know much about to create "noise" (which is a term I use broadly) and the other is drumming along to it.

As the sound changes to more of a destruction based feel, yelling can be heard and it's just got this feeling of... it's something that if you're seeing live and Heavy Habit is opening for an artist you came to see and you might not be familiar with them, this could make you rather uncomfortable.    And that's not a bad thing because music should bring out emotion in you no matter what emotion it is.  Sometimes music can have that power of fear and I think that should be utilized more often, especially in a live setting.   (I've only really ever been afraid of one band in my life and I saw this other band who tried to be scary but was just comical, but alas, stories for my memoir not here)

I'd feel badly if I didn't mention that at times this has qualities similar to that of Nirvana's "Bleach" album but maybe even more directly the song "Love Buzz".   At one point, I felt like I heard someone in the crowd talking during one of the songs and now whenever someone says something I can't tell if it's part of the show or not- though there are some distinct singing moments- but that just adds to the overall factor of it being live and that differing from if these songs were recorded in a studio (or living room).

I've also come to notice that when a particular piece of music isn't long enough to fill a cassette, Dubbed Tapes seems to put this sound of outside someone's window with cars and sirens on to fill the rest of it so that the original source doesn't come through.    I suppose it is better to hide the original source and for that matter not just leave dead air.

On the flip side (Which is the Heavy Habit side, as I listened to this how it was rewound) there are people talking before the vocals come in and resonate in waves which can become distorted and deeper.   It's interesting how the vocals are manipulated here with the drums and how so much of this influence could be from the psych rock of the 1970's with a modern touch of course.   I checked with the digital on Bandcamp though and am listening to the correct sides.   The one labeled "Heavy Habit" is indeed Side B.

Distorted, fast paced bass comes through with drums in this punk style before things slow down and the bass takes over in a bit more of a Weezer "Only In Dreams" way.   It speeds up a little bit though before the vocals come back.    This becomes a grinding sound.   The drums remain consistent throughout this entire cassette and that really cannot be stressed enough.    If nothing else, you should take away from this cassette the big bass sound, distorted feedback and impeccable drumming, which combined are quite the threat to any live performance.

Cassette Review: Underwater Escape From the Black Hole "Local Culture" (Personal Archives)

$5 //
Edition of 50 // //

It feels like it has been a while since I last heard new music from Underwater Escape From the Black Hole.    What happens, man, life happens, you know.  Last year was a rebuilding year and now I've spent most of my days since Christmas being sick.   But I'm slowly trying to will myself back into some sort of routine where I can become I don't know who yet because I can't go back to who I was before.

The same can be said for Underwater Escape From the Black Hole I suppose.   "Local Culture" opens with guitar strums, as if they are in some giant, open space and then the guitar begins to rattle as well.   It begins to come through with bass and has a distinct post rock feel to it.   Ambient, uplifting tones are mixed in with these sort of beat loops and it just feels so satisfying.    Vocals come in over the guitar and at first it reminds me a bit of Good Good Blood, but then the guitars kick in loud and electric, a sea of distortion and this just takes on a side of UWEFTBH I've never heard before but I like it.

Tone loops bring us back to the instrumental.  There is this sort of shaking feeling, which later I can think of as a slight tap of the high hats.    The further this song goes, the more it builds into a different set of keys.   It starts off in a certain manner but eventually can become this sound which reminds me of that good old "Masters of the Universe" rock.  I still fully believe that "key" they made in the MOTU movie should be an actual instrument by now.

On the flip side we start with these tones which kind of sound like horns but they also remind me of laughing for some reason.    Skip beats come into the song.   Then we get some piano sounding notes that have this Doogie Howser/urgent feel to them.    The final song has this looping sound to it which I cannot explain at first.   UWEFTBH enjoys using certain sounds as one would in a video game style of music- where they just make these little "doot" noises in a pattern- but they are not the instruments of video game music.

Vocals kick in once again only this time they begin with this sound between Tori Amos and Queen (Hey, if Tori Amos sang with the living members of Queen it could be quite rad) and then it just escalates in this way which reminds me of Led Zeppelin's "Come With Me", but maybe even how it was done with Puff Daddy for the Ferris Bueller version of "Godzilla" soundtrack.    As the song expands it feels like something out of "The Lion King" to me, but wow does it just blossom into something beautiful.

I've always thought of UWEFTBH as having this quality of music which goes back and forth between either being underwater or in space.   Having vocals (and not just his) has added a lot to the sound but also just the beats and the way the loops have grown.   If UWEFTBH was still recording the same style of music as when I first heard it, I imagine it could be just as good if not better because if anyone could pull it off UWEFTBH could, and maybe it will go back to that in the future but all I know is right now and how "Local Culture" sounds. 

My best way to describe "Local Culture" would be with books and movies.  Have you ever known someone who said they were a huge "Lord of the Rings" fan, for example, and said "Oh yeah, I love those movies" but they never read the books?   If you've been following UWEFTBH up until now (as you should) then you're going to feel like that fan who read the books then saw and loved the movie as well.   People might discover UWEFTBH for the first time with "Local Culture" and fall in love with this sound, and that's fine, but there is something far more gratifying having heard what I have leading up to this.

Music Review:
Field Sleeper
"Better Grid"
(Scioto Records)

The music of Field Sleeper can be described easily as a guitar plus vocals.    In that sense in seems minimal, almost simple in a way, but the guitar parts and vocal structures on this album are anything but simple.   I even find it odd how you I would expect this to be minimal since it seems to be comprised of only two elements and yet I wouldn't even call it minimal.   There are bands out there in the post rock with bass and drums that I'd consider to be more minimal than Field Sleeper.

That isn't to say that the music isn't on the quieter side sometimes though.   One of the only bands I really can compare this with is Penfold, mainly because my fondest memory of the band Penfold is having a conversation with a musician in another band about them.   We talked about how you don't have to turn your amps up to 11 and such to be "loud".  Penfold had that sense of being powerful yet quiet and I can feel that same way about Field Sleeper. 

At the same time, I have to do what I do in these situations and think about what this might sound like as a full band.   This brings me to thinking of this album by Field Sleeper as being a stripped down version of Death Cab For Cutie, Snow Patrol, Dismemberment Plan and even The Reflector.    While that might seem like a wide variety of well known to unknown bands, it is good company to be in and I'm sure you can pull out your own influences based upon what you've heard in your life and are most familiar with in the rock genre.

To think about this as being guitar + vocals makes you realize in some aspect how important the vocals are as they make up half of the songs.   There is a singing style I really enjoy and along with that come lyrics which you should also be listening to and quoting.   Lines like "I'm always feeling unprepared / Why would anyone want that?" and "I promise to try reading more and wander a little less" are ones I've pulled out on different listens to quote and I find that the more I listen to this album the more lyrics I do isolate.

"Family Forest", which is the final track, is instrumental.   What impresses me most about this album is not the guitar work itself, the vocals or the lyrics but rather the combination of all three.  You could be a superb guitar player, write good lyrics that rhyme and find ways to sing that keep a harmony and rhythm but putting all of those qualities together to form songs such as Field Sleeper does it not by any means easy.   The more you listen to "Better Grid", the more you could find yourself singing along with it but also you will likely find yourself being more impressed with it with each listen as well.

[Other Review]
Jensen Portable Cassette Player/Recorder
+ SCR-68B Stereo Cassette Player

One thing I've never understood about fans of music is when an artist announces a release on cassette the ones who say "I'll buy this to support you as an artist but I don't have a means of playing it".    Why? Why buy music on a format which you cannot listen to it.  I, for example, do not have an 8-track player so no matter how much I love an artist you won't see me buying an 8-track to show my support for them.

Now, before everyone gets all into a huff about "Well, at least we're showing our support for music and giving our hard-earned money to artists we enjoy rather than overpriced coffee", yeah, I never said what you weren't doing wasn't great.  My confusion isn't about whether or not you *should* do it because, again, I approve and you should be spending your money on your favorite artists to show them love and support.

My issue is that I don't own an 8-track player simply because I have no idea of how to go about buying one.  However, there are several options for buying a means of playing cassettes and so if you're already willing to spend $5 or more on a cassette itself, why not spend the money to buy a means of playing it?

This interests me on two levels.   First off, it's like you're saying "I love this artist enough to buy their cassette... but not enough to buy a means of playing it".   And, let's be fair, if you're a fan of an artist who happens to release an album, demo or EP on cassette, odds are you will find others who are doing the same so at what point do you say enough is enough?  How many cassettes do you buy out of good will before you actually buy a way to listen to them?

My second concern is the fact that you're buying this cassette and not listening to it, which is its intention, and that is kind of disrespectful in a way.  On one hand if a cassette is limited to 20 and you have one of these 20 copies but aren't listening to it, it's like a slap in the face to someone who might have missed out on buying it because it was so limited and this other person might have listened to it more. 

But, climbing down from the "people who own tape decks are superior" notion, I will say that if an artist takes the time to create music for you to listen to on any physical format, don't you think they'd want you to listen to it on that format?   It'd be like supporting your favorite baker by buying a cake but only looking at it and never eating it.  (Please do not tell me that people do this)

As someone who wants to help more than judge, I will offer these two suggestions for you.   And yes, you can go to your local thrift store, tag sales, etc. and likely find a means of playing a cassette for less than this, but if you're not into that for some reason I have found two great deals on cassette players I feel should give people enough reason to stop saying "I'll buy this to support you but I don't have a way to play it".

1) Jensen MCR-100 Cassette Player/Recorder Carry Handle ($28.99)
[purchase info here]

I used to have a tape deck like this, which I also bought new from Walmart some years ago.  I don't know where the microphone for it went and over time (after a few years, maybe three?) the adapter broke and thus I needed to use a universal adapter I already had for my keyboard but, yeah, this was a good cassette player which lasted me maybe four or five years-- well, the one I had before this one which is similar.    (I also used it a lot more than anyone else likely ever would) It only recently began to eat the cassettes and perhaps could be fixed with a cleaner but, you know, I have this bad habit of collecting things which play cassettes.

Aside from plugging this in, you can also use batteries and I always thought it'd be great to record interviews or even live music performances straight to cassette with it.   They make ways to transfer cassettes to your laptop and convert them to MP3s and the such so it would be fun.   In some sense, this is like a larger version of the portable one (which is Walkman-like) but the difference here is that you can actually record using this.   It has this small, built in microphone but also comes with an external one which I have used and must admit works really well.

If you are a musician it might be advised to buy this cassette player, record to it and then upload the songs to your computer using a cassette to MP3 converter (Which I don't own but probably should one day buy) as things which are recorded to cassette somehow tend to sound better.   But you could also do that for those who want to hear your music digitally and then if you release it on cassette dub it straight from tape to tape.    I really feel like this is an inexpensive home recording studio in a way and more people should be using it. 

2) Jensen SCR-68B Stereo Cassette Player with AM/FM Radio, Includes 50 AA Batteries ($12.26)
[purchase info here]

Yes, this is essentially a Walkman.   But not only will it play cassettes for you, it will also play the AM/FM radio which is a good thing if you're ever in a severe storm situation and lose power.   Oh yeah, and if the description up there wasn't clear enough this also comes with 50 AA batteries so you can power it for quite some time.

If you feel like batteries are a waste this does have an option to plug it in, which such portable cassette players when I was growing up did not have.   I was under the impression this came with the power adapter but it does not (and the one from the previous item is not compatible) but luckily I have a universal adapter due to various other cassette players which came before these two. 

So if you feel weird about sitting at home listening to this and using batteries, you can plug it in.  The only downside to this versus the other cassette player is that you can only listen to it through earbuds/headphones as it does not have any speakers.  (It does include earbuds) I like it because I can take my music on the go with me.  I really seem to run out of digital music to listen to more often than not but always seem to have a cassette somewhere I can grab and put into a Walkman if I'm riding a bus or taking a walk.

If you buy these two items together from (cheap plug, they didn't pay me to say it) the total cost will be $38 and change and since that's over their set price of $35 you'll get free shipping.  I highly recommend buying these two together but even if you don't want to spend that much on them you can always buy just one of the two, ship to store to save on shipping and/or look around other places for these same products but for less money (like eBay). 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Record Review:
"Stranded, Not Lost"
(Diversion Records)

While I listen to a wide variety of music, I will always enjoy it when I feel like genres are crossing over.   The music of VLMV is truly something wonderful.   As soon as I pressed play on "Stranded, Not Lost" this sort of ambient drone came out and then pianos accompanied it.   Strings were added into the mix and I had this feeling of it being somewhat like The Cancer Conspiracy.   The tone is also calming, relaxing on not just the first song but throughout.

I expected this to be an entirely instrumental album but then the second song brought about vocals to these desolate yet beautiful arrangements.    The music remains ambient and minimal but there is singing on some of the tracks.   It seems at one point as if the songs would alternate between vocals and instrumental, but if you're keeping track for number purposes there are actually more instrumental songs on here than ones with vocals I believe.

If you were to run this through a program like Audacity and remove the vocals from these songs, you would have a solid album full of ambient songs with elements of FNL/post rock tones.    That, on its own, makes this an album worth listening to because the music itself is just so powerful.    Listening to the various strings and ambient tones combined reassures me that these songs do not need words to justify their greatness.

But then when those vocals do come in... It's like one of the slower, quieter songs by New End Original.    I've never really thought about putting ambient music such as this with vocals (Though I have imagined it with beats) but VLMV has created something the likes of which I've never heard before but hope to hear more of from them in the future.    While not something I ever dreamed possible, the way this sounds is just amazing.    You can think "Wow this is something that hasn't really been done before" but it's also just done so well that it will simply amaze you.

With the quality of the music that it is, I would also be regretful if I didn't note that while I tend to listen to instrumental songs and find them to not need vocals, I feel like these songs could stand on their own without them as well.   But, the fact that these vocals are so unique in their delivery coupled with the thoughtful lyrics just makes both aspects of this album- the music and the lyrics- so vital that you will not be able to stop listening to this one.