Recently I had the pleasure of receiving a mysterious VHS-shaped package in the mail. Inside was a collection of tapes from Tall Corn Music, the people responsible for such pleasures as Clive Tanaka’s Jet Set Siempre 1° and Groundislava by the aptly named Groundislava, with three new releases. Unexpectedly spilling out the triumvirate of cassettes (Tall Corn’s preferred medium), this bulky cardboard vessel brought forth some seriously intriguing articles. First was the newest release by Beaunoise, not in his Ambient series but in a new category called Beeptunes. Second to drop featured an oversized rabbit being readied for riding on a farm, the spine bearing the artist name But It’s the Labor that Kills. Similarly lengthy was the album title: Collages of Romance over a Plutocracy, a title that seemed to imply endless edits of 1950s sex-ed records. And finally the even more intriguing Sababou crawled out of the longbox, the black and white photo of artists Jah Youssouf & Bintou Coulibaly implying a more primordial version of Amadou & Mariam with eyesight intact. Now armed with a full stereo cassette player and multiple listens, the armada of reviews is ready for launch. Below you will fund a brief write up on each tape with their relevant ratings at the bottom of the article.

Beaunoise - Beeptunes

Last time we checked in with the Pacific Northwest engineer cum Miembro de la Orquesta, it was for his magnificent and criminally underrated cassette debut Ambient One. A couple months later and a few keyboards heavier, Beau Sorenson has prepared a short but nonetheless intriguing collection of completely analog songs composed via non-digital process. That is, the various onboard sequencers and drum machines all painstakingly synced using MIDI and the ridiculously expensive Serge modular system. While each piece is remarkably precise considering the limitations of completely linear modulation, showing the tweak-head level of control of early Squarepusher (during his actual tweak-head and tape days), the level of committal to concept both limits the tape’s length and extends the possibility for future output. At a scant six songs and 20 minutes, Beeptunes speeds its way through the plastic enclosure with nary an indication that each track is under five minutes. Given the amount of expression and noise able to be wrangled from modular synthesizers, it could be merciful that the noodlings with VCOs have been limited to their most effective use, but one can’t help but wonder what Inventions #1, 2, 4 and so forth for Serge modular synthesizer would have sounded like. Still, it’s a fascinating listen for those who love vintage gear (guilty) and who want to step outside of normal electronic for something both severely turn of the ‘90s and modern (guilty).

But It’s the Labor that Kills - Collages of Romance over a Plutocracy

First off, this one has the best cover of the three. Not only is it an amusing collage, it somehow defines the music inside with the right sense of seriousness and intent. Musically, BITLTK tread the line between early Ween, Elvis Costello, and even David Bowie, all under the Tascam haze of R. Stevie Moore or House Arrest-era Ariel Pink. At least vocally the sentiments side with Berlin Bowie and the throaty sneer of Costello, but more often than not the end result is tailored to the extremely varied instrumentals as seen fit. No two songs are similar, akin to The Pod in that regard, but the tape itself is a cohesive series of situational caricatures ranging from the dilemma of afternoon delight (‘Daytime Sex (Running Behind)’) to the Don’t Give A Fuck, Let’s Party mood of ‘Spray the Champagne all over your Room.’ Touted as yet another member of the increasingly mysterious Orquesta with no information as to what his name is or his contributions to Jet Set Siempre (although I imagine it’s the vocals on ‘Neu Chicago’ given the myriad inflections on this release), the unnamed mastermind behind Collages takes the time to tread over electro-pop, proto-punk, and straightforward rock. But It’s the Labor that Kills shows the most overall room for growth on the Tall Corn catalogue but is the most immediately standoffish due to its sound. Lacking a digital release, the strategy behind its selling point (100 tapes then it’s gone) relies on the adventurous mindset as much as word of mouth. As bizarrely homegrown but theoretically pleasing as his capitalization tendencies, Collages of Romance over a Plutocracy certainly piques interest but at the cost of a totally cohesive joy.

Jah Youssouf & Bintou Coulibaly - Sababou

Mali’s musical scene has seen a boon thanks to the above mentioned Amadou & Mariam, as well as the younger Toure’s recent-ish profile raising performance at (of all places) the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Those two examples stand out, but an overall larger attention to the “world music” scene has only helped cross-cultural diversity reach the number of countries it has in the post-Nonesuch Exlporer Series world. While Dimanche à Bamako enamored listeners and reviewers alike, and Congotronics dazzled even the most stern of hipsters, the emphasis on updating things to modern standards has arguably robbed the music of its original raw intent and power (minus Konono’s no-fi beauty). Where the peaked assault of landmark albums like Drums Of Death (a compilation of Ghanese field recordings) showcased the ability of the performers as much as the historical and cultural meaning, the fascination now seems to be purely to give an air of worldliness to the listener while bastardizing the intent. Forgetting and forgoing the question of audio quality, probably due to the limitations of his location, Jah Youssouf crafts uninhibited. With songs that more often than not sound drawn from the smallest of local traditions, only to be gussied up with a unique approach to style and delivery, Sababou compositionally emphasizes repetition and slithering guitar work over simple percussion that often finds Coulibaly snapping along rhythmically or keeping a steady rhythm on calabash. The end result is hypnotic and organic, the sound of real folk music and even realer musicians playing the music they love. Youssouf’s voice sounds close and raw but keeps itself controlled and direct, projecting over his guitar and complimenting auxiliary instrumentation when it does appear (worth pointing out is some fine ngoni playing). Recorded in the field by Brad Loving, the fidelity is aided by the cassette, with already present hiss and clicks amplified enough to become an element as any musician’s contribution. Expanding the musical palate remains an endeavor worth the effort, and if everything were as unique and approachable as Youssouf’s music then the music of Mali would be topping charts across the globe.

Beeptunes: Photobucket

Collages of Romance over a Plutocracy: Photobucket

Sababou: Photobucket