In The Tape Deck this month, Nooga.com spends time with cassettes from Big Debbie, Hainbach, Neutral Shirt and Blaine Todd.
Big Debbie, "Ab rA CA DEB RA"
What began in San Francisco in 2012 as a bedroom recording project eventually blossomed into a heady electronic vehicle for Sergey Yashenko to peddle his viscous beats and synth-heavy mechanics. Less than a year after its creation, his work as Big Debbie allows him to wander through a foggy world of sludgy bass lines, manipulated vocals and murky rhythms; and it was here, at the heart of his inspiration, that Yashenko discovered the buried melodies that had been propelling his music, a kind of active evolution that gave his music a gravity around which his influences could circle.
On his new cassette, "Ab rA CA DEB RA," Yashenko further mutates his industrial-electronic wobble, a thudding percussive goliath that shakes and stomps in a darkly rhythmic fashion. But among all the chest-rattling sounds is a curious pop pulse, itself a sly acknowledgment of his inner melodic tendencies. There's a good deal of experimental noise, but he's clever enough to realize that it has to be built around a foundation that clings to our subconscious, that acts like a bit of circuital napalm that consumes everything in its path. Brash and possessed of a dense construction, these songs thud and stomp around your brain with a willful and synthetic purpose.
Hainbach, "The Evening Hopefuls"
German composer Stefan Paul Goetsch revels in the electronic debris of his inspirations. His work is trimmed by an amorphous appearance, a ghostly personage that reveals endless detail in the electronic noise of his subconscious. His eye and ear for composition allow him to approach these spectral sounds from a more structured angle, but his songs are still unfettered in their musical discovery. Under the Hainbach moniker, he layers opaque melodies and slurred rhythms on top of one another until a fuzzy and ill-defined perspective emerges, which resolves into a skewed musical tonality that resists easy categorization.
With his latest release, "The Evening Hopefuls," Goetsch creates a gorgeous and subtle examination of pure instinct and inspiration filtered through the prism of electronic noise. Aided by some musical conspirators, he layers gentle, synthetic impulses over ambient landscapes. Whereas this kind of experimental music generally tends to be a solitary affair, Goetsch finds an unmistakable wonder in the collaborative process. It's still decidedly his work, but "The Evening Hopefuls" finds him developing a wider vision and channeling a bottomless emotional well of experience.
Neutral Shirt, "2016"
The work of Philadelphia outfit Neutral Shirt is coated in a punkish pop veneer, a cheerful and caustic celebration of nimble rhythms and quick-moving melodies. They peer at the world through this lens of fractured pop brilliance and deliver an engaging experience that isn't easily shaken. By mixing a spirited cocktail of unabashedly upbeat tones with an expansive history of influences, the band works through these sounds with a comfort and ease that very few bands manage to evince and fewer still can claim to have conquered. Neutral Shirt isn't the first group of musicians to wander through this pop gulag, but they are certainly one of the only ones to successfully distill the essence of what makes this pop noise so curiously affecting.
With their new cassette, "2016," the band quickly bolts through a jangling pop environment, a vibrant and elastic series of narratives that burst and ricochet off your ears. They manage to balance the lightweight pop turbulence of bands like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura with a determined lyrical nuance. As the guitars sparkle and shine, voices are caught in an updraft of lithe melodies and windswept pop rhythms. The songs careen from one ecstatic moment to the next as the band pulls apart their fluorescent influences and reassembles them into some truly astounding spiky pop visions.
Blaine Todd, "Golden Apples of the West"
Blaine Todd is a musician for whom descriptions seem ill-fitting—his work isn't bound by convention or broad generalizations but blooms according to his own enigmatic inspiration. Taking the familiar and turning it into something dark and subversive, he molds a set of country, folk and experimental tendencies into something that doesn't quite resemble anything concrete so much as a mass of unfiltered melodic ambitions. He invites us into this warped rural reality and proceeds to invert our expectations in a way that avoids simple characterization and gives us a series of raw and ragged experiences on which to cut our teeth.
With the recent release "Golden Apples of the West," Todd examines his personal history with his home state of California. Imbued with the pastoral hues of folk and country music's long lineages, these songs seem to exist outside of time, outside of any measurable chronology. Guitar notes glisten in a droning rhythmic web while his voice provides context to these subtle narrative revelations. He dips into a sea of country psychedelia on a few tracks, adding a welcome musical entanglement that broadens his aesthetic without sacrificing the individual personalities of each song. With each languid eruption, he further imparts a hyperrealism to these songs that gives his voice the emotional density necessary to provide the solid foundation upon which to build these stories.
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.