For all you tapeheads out there, The Tape Deck will be a monthly column where I talk about some of the cassette releases of the month and give you ample reason why you should dig out your old Walkman.
This month, we're taking a look at some cassettes from Sima Kim, Roland Potions, Hyderabad Ghost and (( Husband Material )). Covering a wide range of labels—including Spring Break Tapes, Pretty All Right, I Had An Accident and Patient Sounds—these particular tapes tend to lean more toward the experimental and electronic genres. And although the analog medium of cassettes does lend itself more toward the exploration of deconstructed rhythms and beats, you will find every genre imaginable filling the rosters of tape labels.
It should be fairly obvious by now how I feel about the relevance of cassettes as a viable medium for music distribution and as a functioning aesthetic unto itself. They’re not simply a passing fad but a significant and very relevant aspect of musical promotion in a market dominated by radio-pop oversaturation and mainstream banality.
Through the hard work and tireless determination of people who spend hours dubbing tapes and promoting their rosters to anyone who will listen, cassettes and cassette labels have found a renewed sense of purpose and bearing on the current musical landscape.
Check out four releases that deserve your attention below in the first installment of The Tape Deck.
Sima Kim, "Intertwined"
There's a sense of transitory movement to the music on electronic producer Sima Kim's latest release, "Intertwined." Buried beneath the languid analog loops and guitar manipulation is a slow-building momentum that creates a lovely sense of deconstruction and musical dissipation. Similar in execution to William Basinski or Tim Hecker, Kim allows what could have been a meandering ambient aesthetic to become something dynamic and far more participatory than you might expect. Songs like "Intertwined" and "Night Flower" unfurl like cinematic snapshots of individual notes and chords suspended in midair, where each subtle alteration builds upon its predecessor and grows in complexity. The album comes with a handful of remixes from various artists, but Kim's original compositions are so delicate, distorted and substantial that it's difficult to see how they could be improved.
Roland Potions, "Space Cadet"
Chicago-based electronic artist Roland Potions works in a loopy, elastic vein of synth manipulation. On his latest collection, "Space Cadet," there are nods to new age rhythms and '70s soundtrack work, as well as the spacey sounds of artists like Brian Eno and The Dead Texan. Potions blends aberrant percussion, kaleidoscopic synths and measured circuital outbursts with a nostalgic bent that often defies categorization—but you're welcome to try. Bouncy melodies bump up against stuttering instrumentation and Potions' own off-center approach to composition. The songs are only labeled as "A1," "A2," "B1," etc., but they're all so curiously memorable that the music is never left to coalesce into some homogenous blend of electronic rhythms and eccentric beats. Potions is able to tonally scatter the pieces of each song and then easily bring them all back together in affecting and unusual ways.
Hyderabad Ghost, "Arkworld"
Australia's Hyderabad Ghost owes as much to the unfairly maligned Chillwave genre as it does to ambient forefathers like Brian Eno and Harold Budd. Across the tracks of their debut, "Arkworld," the band places a substantial emphasis on how the beats interlock with the rest of the music. Thick synths, abrupt percussive displays and the occasional vocal sample perforate each track, carrying you further into some late night/early morning haze of half-forgotten memories. As each song crawls on, you get the feeling that "Arkworld" might be the aural equivalent of a series of snapshots detailing a night that you're better off forgetting. But the band takes care to layer each song with just enough musical suggestion to hint at the debauchery and carnage that might have/probably did occur. Everything feels slightly ephemeral and sheer, like the music is only the last glimmer of a dream—where you're not quite sure whether you're awake or still dreaming.
(( Husband Material )), "Go Ahead and Start the Family Without Me"
The latest album from (( Husband Material )) finds the band dipping into psych-influenced rhythms, beat tape tendencies and swampy lo-fi synth work. Now, there does seem to be a large measure of guarded anonymity here, as there is almost no available information on the band; but with songs this interesting and complex, the who and how doesn't matter so much as the music itself. The family-man theme that holds these tracks together is carefully played out through the titles. It's always a tricky proposition to create an instrumental concept album, but they manage to justify its existence without uttering a single definable word. Oddly enough, "Go Ahead and Start the Family Without Me" recalls artists such as Flying Lotus and Slowdive at certain times. There is a sense of restless creativity and exacting production, even when the song seems ready to break apart and collapse in on itself. There are even times when a few songs border on electro-indie rock inclinations, but (( Husband Material )) makes sure to keep the sound loose and weird—just the way it should be.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.