Lee Noble has been blowin' up recently with tapes on Existential Cloth, Bum Tapes and these two on Bathetic and Tape Drift. Its clear his often dreamy synthwork has justifiably gotten such respectable labelheads excited. Darker Half is the more lush of these two. It's fortyish minutes of clouds, keys and mysteriously soothing vibes.
Lead off hitter "Halloween Kiss" sets the bar high. After a nice hyperdrive intro into the piece, there's big billowing clouds of pink smoke to wander through. What I like about Noble's sound here is that even though its aiming for an out-of-body head trip it still sounds gutsy, there's a density to the sound. Nothing's clear but there's an omniscient guiding hand and there's nothing to do but soak in the vibes. There's a lot of underhanded movement throughout but I'm too busy melting into the floor to notice. Similarly to how we entered, Noble guides the piece into a minor-key area and slowly sucks us out of his world. "I'm a Skeleton" changes up the vibe a little bit with percussion of some sort intertwined with the wavering synthwork. What follows is hard to pin down. The cloudy choir of keys vibe is still present as Noble unearths some geological rumbles, elephant blares and a village of voices in the midst of it all. The tremors never subside for long. It's an incredibly unusual but beautifully envisioned and executed track.
The second side holds "Paper Mask" and "Sick for a Week". The former takes a slightly darker tone with repeated hi-pitched arpeggios and I think a bass guitar providing plodding, rubbery drones. Among the chiming of belltones, there's a sinister vibe to the piece, vaguely like a horror movie theme, that pierces through the fog. "Sick for a Week" is my favorite track. Straight-up, no-holds-barred synth romanticism. Working with a glistening synth tone that alternates between blooming and wilting with every cycle, Noble edges the melancholic piece with barely there touches of fuzz guitar and electronic percussion. It really is all about the sad-eyed soar of the synth though. A delicate and lovely piece to say the least.
The excellently titled Infinity Bore is a slightly grittier affair by comparison. Opening with the eerie organ chords of "Slit Scan" Noble continues to inspire images of a somber, unmade sci-fi feature. He trudges along with that theme. The piece just swells from there incorporating cyborg groans and increasingly fuzzy keyboard drones. The piece is very operatic while retaining a certain urban grit as if the landscape Noble is sketching seems poetic from afar but the deeper you go the more queasy and frightened you get. Noble leaves you hanging on the warbly organ note he enticed you with at the forefront. "Fuck L.A." is a lovely keyboard orchestration couched in bursts of static. Murmuring vocals make for an unusually friendly Suicide-ish vibe, like a hobo wandering down a back alley, stammering to himself in Blade Runner L.A. It's short enough that it can qualify as a ballad so radio stations listen up. "Never Anything Ever" is a loping instrumental with an almost sauntering keyboard piece and insistent guitar clangs against the whir of electronics. "Fighting 31 Get Faded" is the tape's default epic and it earns that title too. Beginning with big swirling keys, stuttering fuzz guitar and the occasional interception of radio speech. The piece has that long form lilt that is quickly becoming Noble's signature. Many different sounds push and pull, scraping against each other but Noble manages keep them all headed down the same cosmic track with some unexpectedly beautiful moments along the way. Toward the piece's end it even begins to sway a little, getting caught up in its own modest magnificence until slipping away into tangled intergalactic interference. "Space Galaxy 24" brings up the rear with synth swoops and slow guitar strums. It's a 21st century slow burn drawing on synth music as well as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and minimal spaghetti western tunes. The piece ebbs and flows in a pattern with most noises choosing to ignore that route. Building humbly to a climax, it really hits the sweet spot at the conclusion. Drones of the best sort, ones with shape.
Initially Darker Half won me over instantly, but lately Infinity Bore has maybe usurped the top spot. You can't go wrong with either.
Bathetic is already sold out of its 40 copies of Darker Half but it looks like Tape Drift, which has been firing on all cylinders lately, is still stocked with Infinity Bore. Happy hunting.