In this month's edition of The Tape Deck, I spend some time with cassettes from New Tongues, Monte Burrows, Fishers and Radius. Although most are drawing down for the end of the year, these artists and labels are still going strong, putting out challenging and complex music that defies easy categorization and questions the very idea of what music can be—not bad for a couple of pieces of plastic and some tape.
New Tongues, "Suite"
Missouri natives New Tongues fashion a sort of controlled chaos through a warped view of punk and post-punk grooves. The drums hit heavy and often, while the words are spit and howled like some rhythmic banshee. It's all very disorienting and rattles against your ribcage, shaking your spine and brain until the world is a blur and everything moves in diagonal lines. Everything seems to be built around the crashing percussion, with the bass and guitars taking their lead from the pummeling measures of the drums.
And on your first listen through their latest release, "Suite," you might mistake their dense and cathartic rhythms for something that has no room for subtlety—but you would be wrong. Among the thundering beats and interlocking noise, the band tromps and stomps through a complex and intricate series of sounds. This is post-punk with a side of math. But they aren't simply interested in the technicality of it all. They even bring out a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa," which reimagines the song into a line of searing riffs and continual percussive blasts. It shouldn't work by any conventional means, but New Tongues aren't all that concerned with convention, anyway. Their music is loud and comes to us through a fog of distortion. In some odd way, Simon & Garfunkel would be proud.
Monte Burrows, "Fantasy Living"
There's something to be said for melodic brevity in experimental music. You can throw every piece of equipment around in the studio, make a lot of noise and have it mean absolutely nothing. But it's those musicians who understand the basic nature of these sounds who manage to impart some semblance of natural progression to these circuits and cables. Splicing and cutting bits of antiquated sound into meaningful segments of rhythm can be problematic at best; these separate pieces just weren't made to fit together. But for newcomer Monte Burrows, this approach feels like a second static-y skin that he easily slides on, bringing loops of scratchy samples into the mix with languid beat tape aesthetics pinging around the room.
On his latest cassette, "Fantasy Living," the electronic sounds are slowed down to a crawl, and seem to evaporate and reappear without much notice. Less a collection of traditional songs, these tracks form a surreal progression of sonic images that are hard to shake and even harder to anticipate. As these sounds play out in your ears, you feel as if you're walking through some derelict museum of broken phonographs and decaying radio waves. You'll occasionally latch onto a stray source of language, but it will prove evasive and disappear before you have time to trace it back to its origins. Like some alternate soundtrack to "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," these songs are felt more than understood and struggle to contain entire emotional worlds within their boundless synthetic frameworks.
Fishers, "Under the Sheepherder Bridge"
New York-based multi-instrumentalist Dale Eisinger has had his hands full lately: He's the drummer for industrial duo YVETTE, has performed as Horselover Fats and serves as director for Brooklyn label Godmode. And he's just added one more notch to his belt. He now also records under the name Fishers, and through this moniker, he channels something far less astringent than anything found in his previous work. The project is tied together through a communal use of minimalism and shifting tonality; there are passages where the music barely rises above a whisper but feels like it's uncovering some deep, dark secret that wants to remain buried.
On his recent release, "Under the Sheepherder Bridge," Eisinger veers wildly between noisy collages and delicate anti-folk rhythms. Bustling and energetic one moment and stolid and immovable the next, this cassette finds the enigmatic musician caught within a handful of genres, pushing back against their encroaching influences for as long as he can hold out. But far from being swept away by this tide of sound and fury, Fishers becomes the vehicle through which he assimilates and reconfigures these dominant rhythms into something of his own making. Beautifully elegiac—and often disquieting—his music wraps itself around your bones and refuses to let go.
Radius, "Time Travel Is Real (A Prelude to Japan)"
A multi-instrumentalist and "post-genre" musician from South Chicago, Radius has been creating brilliantly off-kilter beats and fractured rhythms since 2001. Digging heavily into beat tape sounds and chillwave nostalgia, his songs hold themselves together through a series of experimental melodies and abstract soundscapes, which often recall the improvised jazz atmospheres of artists from the '60s and '70s. Bits of funk and soul also slither through the songs, bringing their warped horns and gurgling grooves into the middle of these dismantled genres. His music is often lush and occasionally stark, never once losing your attention.
His latest collection of tracks was written for a trip to Japan that he took earlier this year. The shifting pace of improvisation is found all over "Time Travel Is Real (A Prelude to Japan)," and Radius makes even these ragged rhythms seem like the work of years of experience. Spacey beats and energetic bouts of noise combine to create a complicated series of impressionistic interpretations of his influences. And while he does bounce from one inspiration to the next (often without changing tracks) quickly and suddenly, there is never a sense that these songs lack the rhythmic cohesion necessary for them to stay fixed in your mind. Radius has seen the future—or a really abridged version of it—and is simply relaying what he's heard.
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.