Monday, October 29, 2007

Tent City – Tent/City [Arbor]/James Fella – D888 [JK Tapes]

When I can, I like to do some sweet theme-teamed reviews, and here it’s themed times two. Theme one is James Fella does his thing on both releases, the first with his Tent City crew and the second all by his lonesome. The other theme is Chicago area label bros Arbor CDR and JK Tapes each put out one of the releases. So they are, like, connected but times two.
Anyhow, nuff o dat. The Arbor CD-r starts us off, man I have to say this thing looks and feels totally sweet. Arbor always brings its A game on the aesthetic front, but Mike Pollard has outdone himself this time. As you can see this thing is sewn from a classic red cowboy bandana and even has a little button snap to make sure yr CD-r is nice and cozy and don’t fall out (dontcha hate that?). This release is apparently the studio debut of Tent City, which is interesting cause they’ve been around a while you’d think they would have done it by now, but who knows. They seem to be pretty fucking good at the live thing considering the long live recording on their Cascade Trinkets CD-r is one of my favorite pieces of music from this year. Anyhow, enough about that. The CD-r is made up of 5 untitled tracks ranging from 2-12 minutes. The first track starts out with a little of the typical Tent City sound, wind instrument and thumb piano type sounds over shaking and tinkling, then about a third of the way through a really low (in pitch and volume) synth pulse takes over. The synth continues to the second track and is joined little by little, by muted guitar and sounds akin to the rustling of broken glass. At the end a neat little dilapidated piano loop materializes which is sweet, but it’s a little too late though. The first two tracks are much too drawn out, and for some reason everyone seems really timid like they aren’t comfortable with the synth loop or something. There’s just not a whole lot interesting going on. Things begin to pick up in the third track, however. A guitar is riffing on the melody from “Unmade Bed” against some thumb pianoing and rattling and shaking. It happens gradually but things get jammin’, anchored by some sweet thumb piano licks. The fourth track is the longest and best. It’s a bit more aggressive, with a percussive presence something the previous tracks lacked. There is actually a distinct rock vibe to the track courtesy of a grinding, dirty guitar riff and later a 4/4 drum beat. It seems like an odd fit at first but it actually ends up being pretty groovy. The caravan moves along getting to a surprisingly noisy crescendo. The final track, a two minute coda, is a nice droney sendoff with a bunch of loops and the plucked sounds of something. A pretty little piece.
It seems like the studio recording may not be Tent City’s forte, at least not yet. The record gets off to a needlessly slow start but the second half is quite cool. Still respek to TC for trying something different. They’re still one of the better improv’d jams acts (I don’t mean that like jam band) around. The thing that’s so sweet about the live stuff I’ve heard is they always seem to be movin and groovin to a vibe of raw, communal inspiration. But here, you don’t really see it too much until the fourth track when things start clicking. It’s a decent but not perfect effort, but certainly worth checking out if you are a fan of the group or sweet bandana packaging.
D888 is interesting cause the insert gives a pretty detailed, second by second breakdown of the sounds heard for each side by Fella himself. This makes my job really easy cause I don’t have to guess or hyperbolize the sounds coming out my speakers. I can straight up tell you, “Dudes, the sounds you hear at 2:25 in on the A side is empty mic sockets while phantom power was turned on and off, tracks then punched in and out while making one master from the eight tracks.” But that doesn’t have the same mystery to it, so I’m gonna go with a sorta old fashioned type review.
The alternate title for the tape is “compiled sounds salvaged from the memory bank of a digital eight track recorder late summer 2007”. And that is pretty accurate to what it sounds like, but it’s also a bit more. It took a couple listens for my ears to figure it out, but after they did D888 became a rather fun tape to listen to. I’m generally not into the whole collaged aesthetic cause it usually comes off as too scattered, and I am a man of composition (whether it’s improvised or meticulously constructed). However, this tape is pretty well paced. Side A begins with echoing guitar until a bit of noisy drones and whathaveyou join and eventually take over the track. Noises are looped and layered building to chiming feedback which promptly cuts out and more looped noises replace it. Then a zoo of squiggly sounds emerges. They sound like the “telephone” setting on toy keyboards, but at all different speeds. The track continues this weird wobble for a while until guitar and a fuller drone take over until the end click. My apologies for all the “untils” and “thens”. Odd little track but it moves fast over a relatively wide range. Side B begins with guitar as well but it’s a weird muffled fuzz tone and some vocals are in the mix too I think. Quickly after, there is some clipped electronic sounds hopscotching around and eventually cohere into a steady stream. Then similar sounds but a bit more dronier (which consulting this handy insert are the “same sounds, less loud and slower”). After that comes the coolest part of the side, a bunch of skittering sounds all combining into a wicked cacophony of sound. Overall, it’s a pretty interesting tape worth repeated listens.
The James Fella cassette comes packaged in JK’s, signature by now, d.i.y. aesthetic; this time a paint drenched tape case. Both releases are still available from their respective labels, though they’ve been out for a little while so you may want to hurry and snag a copy if you want either of them.

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