In The Tape Deck this month, Nooga.com spends time with new cassettes from K^ren, Ichtyor Tides, Nikmis and Igor Amokian.
The noise that Oakland, California, trio K^ren conjures is wild, elastic and fiercely resists any measure of description. Stray fragments of pop, rock and punk music mingle and attack each other before eventually bursting in a shower of distracting and ramshackle melodies. Despite their music feeling as though it's apt to fall apart at any moment, the band plows through their influences with a manic creativity. Shards of jagged sound spin out from their scruffy musical whirlwind, sending rhythmic shrapnel careening in all directions.
On their latest cassette, "NOTBALD," the band continues to mine these rough-hewn patches of scorched musical earth. And within these lo-fi stretches, there lies a pop heart that chugs and churns just beneath the surface of their collective DIY squall. Opening with a track that bears a striking similarity to a famous Jackson 5 song, the tape revels in its inspirations, resulting in a collection that becomes an ode to the force of boundless musical absorption. Across "NOTBALD," the band spits, rumbles and slings their burnished rock theatricality into the sky for all to see.
Ichtyor Tides, "En-Brunsia"
Ambient and drone-inclined music can be difficult to present in a coherent context and even more difficult to master. Those artists who find themselves wandering around in these liquid rhythms—whether it's through synthetic or organic means—soon realize that there must be some solid foundation on which these free-floating sounds are based. And for Ichtyor Tides (AKA musician Nikola Akileus), this evocation of ethereal construction forms the basis of his work under this moniker. He seems to understand that there must be a skeleton, a musical framework, that holds everything together, despite the superficial looseness surrounding the genre.
On his new cassette, "En-Brunsia," he builds a gauzy and amorphous atmosphere where haunting singularities twinkle and expand until their base elements crack open and burn their way through your subconscious. There's a sense of urgency that's accumulated, but Akileus doesn't stay locked into a set groove for very long, as each track displays a specific personality and direction. There's an overall effect of opaque asymmetry to his work, but he manages to keep it all fixed in our view while the sounds attempt to escape our notice. He builds entire worlds from strands of droning ambience and sporadic melodicism—it's a gorgeous and unsettling bit of skewed craftsmanship.
Japanese artist Nikmis specializes in exploring the depths provided by the sounds of baroque electronic music. His fascination with this reinterpretation of classical music leads him to some very strange places, but his releases always feel welcoming, even when we have no idea what to expect from one track to the next. His ability to infuse his modular synth symphonies with a natural cadence and development stands as a testament to his loose-limbed creativity, the kind of freewheeling innovation that few musicians ever seem to approach and fewer still manage to successfully emulate.
With "Widdendream," Nikmis finds a precarious balance within these circuital structures, giving the music a chance to bloom and expand when it first tests the air around your head. There's a grand and theatrical sentiment lacing itself throughout the entire collection, with the florid synth arrangements and Nikmis' intimate perspective creating a doorway into which we can briefly glimpse the artificial mechanics at the heart of these songs. Every track seems so emphatic and revelatory, an echoing and resonant response to the glut of soulless electronic music that floods the mainstream avenues each year.
Igor Amokian, "Bentronicles"
Igor Amokian is a beat maker and musician whose work stretches across genres and defies the assumptions of any associated musical movement. His ragged beats and metallic melodies often gaze skyward, up to the heavens and beyond, into the endless sea of stars and planets. But he always sees his music as grounded in the influences of both the past and present, offering a complicated and fierce reimagining of classic rap tropes and a motorik beat-driven noise. He slowly stretches the borders of his chosen musical landscapes and broadens both the appearance and production inherent to the particular histories that he investigates.
On the new Amokian-curated compilation "Benronicles," he blends his distinctive beats and skewed melodies with the lyrical prowess of a handful of rappers from all over the world. His mechanical and static-filled backdrops provide the perfect platform for emcees like Ten Headed Skeleton, Bizzart, 9P, Big Epoch and Zardon Ompsfa to drop verses like chloric acid. These tracks possess a variable outlook and push against the constraints of hip-hop ad beat tape expectations. The results are as remarkable and vitriolic as you might imagine, with each artist spilling their thoughts and hearts across these sounds with the skill and dexterity of a seasoned street seer.
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.