Friday, November 9, 2007

JK Tapes Cassette Round-Up

In an effort to pour one out for my homie, I’m borrowing Outer Space Gamelan’s convenient “round-up” style review for this handful of newish and oldish JK Tapes, which unfortunately are all in varying states of sold out and long gone-ness. Still want to give props where props are due though.
Tape numero uno, is perpetrated by none other than Arbor label head Mike Pollard. His Treetops project is in the preliminary stages of blowing up into mega-stardom it seems, with releases on Ecstatic Peace!, Blackest Rainbow, DNT and Jelle Crama’s Zeikzak, as well as splits with Villa Valley and the Sick Llama-related Cygnus. Anyhow this tape is called Serene Dream and it begins with not quite droney guitar ruminations and a second guitar track that comes in sounding like a weird primitive flute. Pollard establishes a pretty strong sense of rhythm even before the entry percussive instruments. The rhythmic vibe is fleshed out with a drum smattering, coming in for a brief bout as the guitar is put on a second long infinite loop. The A-side ends there, setting up the main elements of the piece, guitar, drums and vocals. The bummer is the end click/tape flip kills the momentum. Once you get the spools turning on the B-side the sweetness returns though. Distant, distorted Skaters-style vocals take over and lead the track for a spell as free drumming returns. The final minutes of the tape feature drumkit/vocal interplay in the classic crescendo/decrescendo style. My favorite part of the tape is the comedown after the climax; this is the point were Pollard really locks into some magical zombie ritual sounds. My biggest complaint is that the single piece is split onto two sides. I much would have preferred a one-sided c-20 but whateva, ain’t my decision to make. This tape has piqued my interest a bit, not mindblowing as a whole but has some great moments. I’ll have to pay closer attention to this project, cause I could see it blossoming into something really great down the road (maybe it already has and I just haven’t heard it yet).
Moving on, we have Nataraja, a Warmer Milks side project of sorts. To be totally honest I’ve never dug the Warmer Milks style but I like this cassette. The name of the tape is Venetian Blinds, as is the 15 minute track on side A. Nataraja is the work of two people both playing double duty, Travis Shelton on guitar/electronics and Thad Watson on bass/percussion. A sustaining guitar dominates the audiosphere, sounding almost like an organ, as faraway cymbals clatter. This intro segment lasts for a few minutes until the guitar and percussion get a little more interactive. They roll along in a sort of half-climax mode, where they constantly sound like they’re on the verge of lashing out. I like the mellow outro, bringing to mind a bit simplified Gown just a tad in the style of playing. The guys have an odd sound because it’s somewhat based in the psych-improv style but really doesn’t sound psychedelic, the aesthetic is much more akin to drone. This makes it difficult to pinpoint the sound exactly, but I’d say something along the lines of guitar/drums improv’d drone minus the possible noisy connotations. The B-side has two tracks, the first of which is “Reservoir”. This piece is relatively mellow drone, with the guitar again front and center. There is bass (I think) and a nice chiming loop circulating that drifts in and out of the mix depending on the intensity/volume of the guitar. That’s only real problem I found; when the guitar gets too loud, it overwhelms and drowns out the other elements of the track. The second piece “Circadian Rhythm” is, as alluded to, quite rhythmic. The arrangement is pretty simple drums and percussive uses of the guitar, sometimes resulting in distorted feedback swells. Both guys sound like they’re trapped in a giant reverb tank which I like. The track is strange because it doesn’t change too much in demeanor but still transforms soundwise; it stays active consistently building in intensity to point that individual hits are indiscernible, just clattering clouds of feedback. I’m not sure if the project is a one-off or not but the tape is pretty nice and I’d say there is definite potential to develop the project further.
Exhibit C, is a split from Portland based sound manipulators, Acre and Honed Bastion. Never heard either before this tape, though I heard of Acre, who has had releases on Yarnlazer, DNT and others; Honed Bastion I know nothing about other than the dude also goes by the name Dead/Bird. There aren’t any markings on the sparkly silver sprayed tape but I think Acre takes the A-side. I’m having some trouble writing about it. The piece has a strangely soothing but mechanical nature, based on a low throbbing drone and static ping-ponging across the left and right channels. The trouble comes with the fact that the piece never really changes too much. If I really listen hard I can detect some subtle movement/manipulation of the repeated loops. It’s a piece that to really get something out of it I had to put on the headphones. I’ve liked the piece a bit more each time I’ve listened but I’m still not feeling it 100%. I’ve never really been able to get lost in it, though all these soft machine pulsations are still doing a hypnotic number on my brain. On the flip, Honed Bastion shows his stuff. The piece is much more arrhythmic than the previous side, built around stuttering distorted tones, feedback and other kinds of effect wizardry. The track is very textured; lots of very jagged, bristly sounds. I wish the stuttery-ness was toned down a bit though the track but it drops out after a while so no problem. The placid “breakdown” actually ends up sounding a little like Warmth to me, with washes of digital noise, using silence as a weapon. Somewhere down the line, there are a few singular swells of elektronotes and a keyboard sample or something slides in at the very end. There is a pause and then a heavy and heavily auto-panned bout of noise rules yr ears. There is no info on the insert so I don’t know if it’s part of the first track or a new one or what. Either way it’s pretty satisfying to have a more composed bit of roughnecking after the previous fragmentation.
Our grand finale is Lazy Rivers by the Horse Head-related, Tan Dollar. I’m not sure what the title refers to, but my guess is those “rivers” at waterparks you can float on in those big colorful intertubes. Weren’t those called lazy rivers? Anyway, it’s weird to name yr album after a waterpark attraction but I wouldn’t put it past these guys. This is total weirdo music. The first part of Side A is full of hollow drum hits and a way too phased/modulated guitar. They just jam and groove along sloppily as two dudes do mildly annoying stream of conscious rants a la Elisa from Magik Markers, but intentionally goofy. Things get more frantic for the next two “songs”, raucous pounding and weird effected vocals. The vocal effect thing continues on for the next part against more jumbled guitar (bass?), drums, wind chimes and occasionally fingersnaps. The vocal fx actually are a plus because you can’t discern what the dude is saying, he just has a weird echoey presence in the track. Side B has more of the same, sloppy drum/guitar riffage and annoying vocals by whomever that dude is. Seriously, these guys are way too in love with this chorus/flanger whatever it this pedal of theirs is. It sounds like the guys only have one and the vocalist and guitar trade it back and forth. Anyway, the second track on the B side is one of the best songs on here with excellent music and even the vocals aren’t too bad except for that damn modulation pedal he’s singing through. Track 3(?) is just creepy detuned vocal slurs. They bust out the bass for the next track, giving the track a grooving back bone as someone sounds like they’re playing the kitchen sink and the “singer dude” is telling some story through a delayed microphone. The next track is actually pretty sweet, rumbling free drums and wisely wordless vocals circling round. That is until “lyrics” come back and it’s ended with an utterly stupid monologue (which you can read here). The vocals range from (nearly) unbearable to just another element of weirdness from Tan Dollar, understandably the songs that fit into the latter category are the stronger ones. I don’t know, it’s a little bit like Horse Head, but like a version that only knows how to fuck around. The musical part of the crew turns out some cool parts which makes me wish all the more the vocalist would ditch the mic and do something else (preferably play an instrument).
So there you have it, all tapes as I mentioned are sold out from JK Tapes but some are still available at distros (like here). It’s fun to see the evolution of the JK art style from the black & white printed inserts to the current ‘Heavy/Fuck It tapes filtered through MS Paint’ aesthetic. Can’t wait to see what Peter rolls out with next.

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