In this month's edition of The Tape Deck, we take a look at releases from That Was Then This Is Now, Cave Babies, Black Unicorn, Junior Pande and THEMAYS. We'll swing from dense electro-pop to lo-fi folk and on to beat tape tendencies and minimalist ambient rhythms before we're done.
These cassettes celebrate innovation and creativity while casually deconstructing their relative genres. These bands don't feel the need to conform or limit their own musical predilections for the sake of staying neatly within one set of musical guidelines.
With a batch of tapes that once again prove the viability and creative resilience of the format, these artists—and hundreds of others—are proving that analog still matters.
Check out five releases that deserve your attention below in the latest installment of The Tape Deck.
That Was Then This Is Now, "Fables"
That Was Then This Is Now is the result of a collaboration between synth architect Blvck Ceiling and musical experimentalist Moon Mirror. Individually, they've amassed an impressive discography—loaded with detours into frayed synth-wave rhythms, fractured electronics and minimalist vocal manipulation—but together, they are an entirely different creature.
On their latest collection of dark synth-based songs, "Fables" (out now via I Had An Accident Records), the duo seems to feed off each other's creative drives, with each pushing the other further out of their comfort zones and deeper into some darker sonic landscapes. Songs like "Broken Wing" and "Gone" emphasize the darker, beat-driven aspects of their music, as well as the precision in which they layer Moon Mirror's haunting vocals on top of these slowly boiling synth implosions. With "Fables," they've managed to completely destroy any sense of expectation that listeners might have had going in and simply allow their music to speak for them—in all its shadowy synth glory.
Cave Babies, "Accomplish Nothing"
Cave Babies is the moniker of Santa Barbara-based musician Josh "Hoshwa" Redman, though he has recently gotten a full band together for live performances. There is a light-heartedness and communal campfire tone to his music that keeps it from ever feeling too saccharine or too weighed down by its own importance. He recently released a new album, "Accomplish Nothing," via Lost Sound Tapes, and it further reinforces Redman's remarkable ability to create music that speaks plainly, without any gimmicks or distractions.
Drawing from artists like Daniel Johnston and half of the lesser-known Elephant 6 pool of bands (minus the psych-pop tendencies), he infuses these songs with a sense of musical inventiveness and oblique composition that belies their deceptive simplicity. And while these songs rely mostly on an acoustic guitar and Redman's quivering voice, "Accomplish Nothing" seems to expand and bloom right before your eyes—drawing out in ever-widening circles of rhythmic wonder. Far from the dire assessment of its title, he has certainly created something amazing with "Accomplish Nothing."
Black Unicorn, "Traced Landscapes"
Akron, Ohio, synthesist Black Unicorn (AKA musician Curt Brown) creates music that sits somewhere between the experimental kosmische music of the early '70s and the more modern, drone-based, ambient music that has found a comfortable home on various independent labels. Using a minimalist electronic aesthetic, paired with the occasional streak of flashy synths and bits of new age ambience, Black Unicorn sets out to meld the mind-altering tones of William Basinski with the exuberant rhythms of Can—and does so quite successfully.
On "Traced Landscapes," his latest collection of songs for independent label Field Hymns, Brown takes his cue from bands like Tangerine Dream and Faust, developing his own synthy, spaced-out compositions that highlight an odd dichotomy of negative space and terse tonality. There's a clear sense of Brown's distinctive personality hanging over these songs. And with music this impressionistic, having such a coherent direction threaded throughout the swirling melodies is most definitely a good thing.
Junior Pande, "The Red Tape"
Justin Peroff used to spend a good deal of his time behind the drums of indie rock group Broken Social Scene (now on indefinite hiatus, sort of). But as of late, he's spending more and more time creating music as Junior Pande, his fractured electronic alter ego. Dealing in atonal rhythms and beat tape mechanics, his music as Junior Pande isn't always easy to describe and never sits still long enough to be categorized.
On his latest cassette release for L.A.-based label Spring Break Tapes, Peroff concocts two tracks of broken rhythms, quixotic melodies and ample nods to the often-brusque beats of hip-hop. "The Red Tape" is a beat tape in execution, but he throws in unexpected detours of glistening piano, stuttering electronics and jarring arcade-style ambience that all coalesces into something wholly unique and utterly memorable. And while the dense instrumentation occasionally feels intentionally foggy, the streaks of ragged percussion, blaring circuits and thudding rhythms never stay hidden for very long, which makes "The Red Tape" one of Junior Pande's most impressive musical outings.
San Francisco group THEMAYS is made up of "a collective of beat head dronologists, comprised of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center's Urban Music Program instructors, alumni and students," according to their Facebook page—most notably featuring members of Exray's. Dabbling in minimalist drone aesthetics and Tim Hecker-esque atonality, the band constructs long instrumental pieces that unfurl and then casually bend back in on themselves without a moment's hesitation.
On their latest long-form piece, "Knowhere," which comes from their upcoming one-track cassette release for Otherworldly Mystics, the band taps into some primitive electronic currents—a place where dissonant rhythms, haunted house atmospherics and complex theatrical presentation mix together in a roiling circuital cauldron. The resulting amalgamation of sounds and textures recall the gradual and curiously cathartic build of music from artists like Terry Riley and John Cage. "Knowhere" also takes inspiration from more modern electronic artists like Fennesz and Emeralds—though THEMAYS definitely put their own singular and impressive spin on these sounds.
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.