Black Vase: January 2013 edition
Recently I've started buying tapes again. I'm not sure what it is I like about them – although amazement at the amount of labels still producing them and no other format may have something to do with it. It'd be churlish not to embrace the novelty aspect.
There's no real nostalgia – I'm not quite old enough to remember a time when an HB pencil was a vital tool, and CDs were purchased along with a stack of C90s, only for the CDs to be returned having been played once. But anyway, I like them. I like engaging with them. I like how my laziness dictates that I listen to an entire side as my tape player only has a FF button and no RW button. I like how that rattle like a plastic box of tiny nails. I like the added hiss to every recording.
Pop. Clunk. Whir. Thud. It's the 'crouch, touch, pause, engage' of music consumption. Two sides preparing to smash together as your auditory cortex meets whatever music is coming to greet it. Or at least, it can be. As a wee festivus gift to myself I purchased two tapes from the consistently excellent Reckno Records, based in my ends (deepest Dorset). The first was Michael Tanner's (AKA Plinth) 'Witch Elder', a glorious live ambient recording featuring just a (broken) Casio PT-30 and a Bazouki, recorded in Belfast last autumn.
Searching through the Bandcamp page for information, I noticed that the release is tagged 'Hauntology'. For those who don't know, Jacques Derrida coined Hauntology to explain that everything in the present is as a result of the past, and the past looms over us currently like a spectre. He was specifically referring to the ideas of Marx and the so called 'spectre' of communism hanging over Europe, both in the 1800s and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and so called 'end of history'.
Critical theory lesson aside, I took to thinking about how Hauntology is relevant to this piece of music. It is haunting in the traditional sense of the word: the synth working with the space of the room to create a disembodied choir, both ethereal and otherworldly. It's almost as if there's a rip between the fabric separating the worlds of the dead and the living, and we're being honoured with a soundbite of what's going on through there. What are they doing in there? Halfway through side one (I-IV) there are muffled voices. What are they saying? No idea. It's making the hairs on the back of my neck go apeshit though.
Tape number two was an off-the-cuff purchase. 'Chorus † Mysticus' is Bristol screw-merchant Kinlaw's new release – a sleepwalk through sludgy beats and vocals in a jar of echo pitch-shifted way down low. Not so much slow jamz, as slowly swimming through jam. A-thank you.
A tape of two halves (duh), side one could happily sit on the Tri∆ngle records roster alongside Holy Other and Balam Acab, with 'Day' and 'Kindred ft AYLU' riding chillwaves so glassy you can see your own iris in them – the latter sounding close to South African Goth-Hoppers EXORSISTAHS.
Turn the page, however, and 'Putitdown' is a six-minute-plus copypasta orgy of bass and stolen vocals. 'Cheque (Revs)' follows this by adding 8-bit squelches and mosquito synths straight out of a Scooter song, to the endless, stuttering refrain of 'Check… Ch-Ch-Check…' At a time when bedroom electro-producers are more numerous than rats in the capital, it's good to find one that can still create provoking tuneage. Thanks, Kinlaw. Both 'Witch Elder' and 'Chorus † Mysticus' are available from Reckno Recordings.
There seems to be a rule with this column: 'if in doubt, write about Grouper'. It's not that she's article filler though, far from it. Because, even when Ms Harris puts out an album of B-sides and rejected tracks from the cutting room floor, she still manages to captivate in a way that few singer-songwriter-sound-collagists manage to do.
The Man Who Died In His Boat collects songs written and recorded around the time of Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill. The tracks seem to be more in the vein of 'Heavy Water/I'd rather be sleeping' – with the softly chugging guitar ringing out, the open strings embellished by that ever-present echo chamber, vocals swirling around like a rainbow of petrol in a disturbed puddle. Tracks like 'Vital' and 'Cover the Long Way' showcase this perfectly – the latter proving that Harris need only invoke breathy passages of unintelligible melodies to create something emotive and pure. All hail Grouper. TMWDIHB is out on Feb 4th through Kranky records.
Grouper, incidentally, was the last artist to be added to what should be the highlight of 2013 (bit early to be making predictions, I know, but bear with me). Mouth to Mouth is the first in a yearly showcase curated by M. Gira/Swans. Unfortunately, it's at Koko (Black Vase's least favourite London venue), but the lineup more than makes up for that. Grouper, Xiu Xiu, Ben Frost, Mercury Rev's Cinematic Silent Sound Tettix Wave Ensemble, and the mighty mighty Swans. All in one evening. It's like someone has taken a festival, cut out all the chaff you were going to miss anyway, and put the five bands Black Vase would stab a granny to get to one after the other. Tickets are under £40 and still available for some insane reason – so go buy one. Now. You don't have to eat all that much, honest. It'll be worth it.
This month I’m going to focus on my three favourite recent releases. And boy-howdy-got-milk are they really quite nice. Coincidentally, as a kind of nota bene, I should point out they soundtracked an epic eight-hour rail journey between Barrow-In-Furness and Bournemouth really well. The dusky coastal sandflats morphing into rolling middle England hills, with the occasional low-lamp-lit commuter town cropping up, modulated the effect of each record... [read more]