In this month’s edition of The Tape Deck, I spend time with new cassettes from H.L. Collins, Imbue & Sobright, If It Ain’t Breakfast Don’t Fix It and Babelfishh. Across these lengths of tape and plastic, you’ll hear congregations of dissonance and melody, and a handful of genres torn apart and built back up from their foundations.
H.L. Collins, “Creating Friction”
For sound architect H.L. Collins, the idea of bringing inanimate objects alive is at the heart of his experimental and often-uncategorizable work. Known for his work under this moniker and for his notorious Wrong Music club nights and label, he’s since shelved those creative outlets and focused on a handful of new avenues-including explorations of foley and plunderphonics, aberrant disco and improvised noise that all goes back to that sense of possibility that has long been the backbone of his entire collection of rhythmic/arrhythmic hypotheses.
His most recent sound installation is called “Creating Friction,” and in it, he explores the connection between random found objects and their usage in a series of simplistic mechanical operations. Each object resonates and moves within a certain parameter under a set of specific circumstances. It’s here where things can be manipulated and controlled that he finds that elusive connective tissue between the cold tangibility of the things around us and an ethereal emotional response. “Creating Friction” was culled from over 30 hours of recordings made at The Island in Bristol and Strawberry Fair in Cambridge. It details Collins’ immaculate attention to detail and the tones, textures and atmospheric nuances that come from dealing with something so wonderfully amorphous.
Imbue & Sobright, “Kronovisor”
Music has always taken on the aspect of a conversation, even if we’re just eavesdropping on someone who thinks they’re alone-and even more so when two musicians get together for a true collaboration. And for genre dismantlers Imbue & Sobright, this conversation can get really weird. Both men were once residents of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, but Imbue now calls Chicago home. It’s this sense of distance and extended geography that permeates their latest collection, called “Kronovisor,” which is their first collaboration together. Their sound bounces all over the place, from hazy hip-hop tendencies to low-end drum and bass experiments, but there’s never a moment when it all feels fractured.
And there is more going on here than just the creative workings of two complementary voices-“Kronovisor” explores a tangled narrative of secrets, conspiracies and an obstinate view of world history. You get the feeling that Imbue & Sobright are working their way rhythmically through both events that happened a long time ago and some that are quite recent. There’s an autobiographical sense of nostalgia here, as if both men were recollecting these songs from a not-too-distant past. The timelines shift and fade so quickly within these songs that it becomes almost impossible to navigate the songs with any sense of concrete understanding-and that’s absolutely part of the wonder.
If It Ain’t Breakfast Don’t Fix It, “There Will Be Casualties”
Olympia, Washington, composer Jeff Shannon has some questions for you, and they aren’t going to be easy to answer. They concern the acceptance of the musical reality we’re presented with and the one we feel drawn toward-these might ultimately be the same thing, but then again, they may not. Using his If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It moniker, Shannon dives headfirst into a swathe of sounds that come from all corners of the rhythmic spectrum. You might hear a bit of a country-influenced melody sitting alongside some stark singer-songwriter prose or the glam pomp theatricality of T-Rex; there’s no sense of being able to anticipate where he’s going or what he’s going to do next.
“There Will Be Casualties” is his latest collection of tracks for Portland, Oregon-based tape imprint Antiquated Future and is persuasive in the most unexpected ways. These tracks deal with the idea of disguising ourselves and our emotions behind masks and a set of intangible armor that is meant to keep us from ever becoming part of the world around us-it allows us to observe but never fully participate, and it’s only through the dismantling and rearranging of these defenses that we can be truly happy and recognize the wonders around us. Shannon manages to tackle these ideas without sounding preachy or heavy-handed. “There Will Be Casualties” finds him playing devil’s advocate and journeyman to those people who need a little hand finding their way back to the crowd.
Babelfishh, “Writhe in the Ailments”
Houston-based alternative rap artist Babelfishh (AKA Scott Huber) deals in noise, fury and unrestrained emotional catharsis. His music is less a linear narrative and more an impressionistic landscape of howls, blistering rhythmic textures and a hip-hop lyricism that’s aimed squarely at the brain and gut. He never takes the easy way out and never lets us, either-the music is unrelenting, uncompromising and stays with you long after the ferocity has subsided from your speakers. There’s a purity of intent to Huber’s genre mashups that would feel unwieldy in another person’s hands but simply sounds vital and necessary here.
On his latest cassette release, “Writhe in the Ailments,” he uses the tape’s split sides to tell two stories, or rather to create two versions of his emotional state. The first half is vitriolic and persistent, while the second side is far more measured and restrained (such as it can be). He knocks your brain around in your skull for a time before allowing you a brief respite to get yourself back together-it’s a welcome and needed rest from the brutality and overwhelming emotional release of the first part. Huber has once again proven the viability and essential nature of his own musical vision, and here’s hoping that we won’t have to wait too long until his next musical treatise.
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.