In The Tape Deck this month, Nooga.com spends time with new cassettes from Tucker Theodore, Guppy, Bolabit and Cavalen.
Tucker Theodore, “Lady Hope”
Seattle musician Tucker Theodore creates music that is difficult to describe yet remarkable. Favoring a noisy folk aesthetic, he revels in a lo-fi atmosphere where songs are transformed into shrouded, craggy chunks of sound. From his 2013 solo debut record, “To Make the Sun Hurt,” to his work under the Buffalovoice and Gunmothers Head monikers, he’s never been one to cling to convention, opting instead for something more difficult and insular. There’s a mysterious gravity to his songs, a density that draws in all sense of time and space into its cavernous maw. And, as a result, his music sounds as if it were plucked from some alternate reality where this sort of challenging fare was the rule and not the exception.
On his new cassette, “Lady Hope,” he further expands this gritty folk environment, building a stage where psych rock, folk, drone and indie rock stagger around and bump into one another. It’s a glorious mass of noise that holds together despite its rickety parts, and in anyone else’s hands, it would fall apart without a second glance. But Theodore has a gift for composing these spirited and uncompromising sounds without allowing them to lose their structural integrity. “Lady Hope” is full of dramatic dissolutions and musical convergences, making it one of the most interesting releases of this year. He’s produced an album that resists intrusion and rewards patience, a rare collection of songs that doesn’t play down to the expectations of its audience.
The work of Kalamazoo, Michigan-based band Guppy is riotous and filled with the haze of classic indie rock’s sludgier tendencies. They warp and subvert their influences until all that’s left are spare bones. Owing more than a passing debt to the brazen dissonance of post-punk bands like Gang of Four and Wire, they carve out their own ragged place in that extensive musical history. But Guppy isn’t merely looking to the past for inspiration; they’ve got one eye on the present and how they can rearrange certain sounds into patterns that you’d never have imagined. Taking pride in their complicated guitar interplay, the band delivers a gut punch of stringed viciousness that reverberates deep into the recesses of your chest.
With their latest tape, “Chapstick,” they deliver a distortion-laden slab of serrated indie rock that recalls the warbling weirdness of early Flaming Lips or the melodic density of Dinosaur Jr. Their guitars seem to be coming apart at the joints, and every song has a loose, ramshackle energy built inside its skeleton. Despite the hiss and bellow of the band’s physical movements, the tracks actually resolve into a series of melody-driven pieces that underscore just how aware the band is of the underlying connections of these sounds. Guppy offers up a deliciously delirious brew of late ’80s/early ’90s indie rock set pieces that play to their strengths as both innovators and interpreters.
Like a neon cityscape muted by the haze of a low-level cloud formation, the work of Bolabit is bathed in the light of nervous synth arrangements and live drums. Composed of Tomas Laverty and Jesse Barabe (formerly of Múnbút), the band explores the spaces where their artificial influences meld with the rush and shuffle of acoustic drums. The two musicians got together a few years back to record songs for an unreleased project, and, after it failed to materialize in any physical form, they made plans to create an album built from the sounds of analog synthesizers and live percussion. Hailing from Detroit and Chicago, they pull on the vast histories of their respective hometowns to form a cinematic and enveloping sound.
On their recent self-titled release, Laverty and Barabe bury themselves in waves of synths that seek to pull you into their endless ebb and flow, as a smattering of drums wander around in the background. That’s not to say that either aspect is favored over the other; both the synths and drums work in tandem to produce a hypnotic and often-disorienting roar of noise that seems to overwhelm your senses. Occasionally wobbly but never directionless, the music wanders from one lovely moment to the next with an ease that never dissipates. Bolabit has crafted a gorgeous bit of electronic/acoustic wonder here, wherein they fuse these various sounds into a coherent collection of graceful rhythmic movements.
Cavalen, “Viva Adore”
Alabama-based rock band Cavalen isn’t interested in small things; they’re out to make grand statements about the power of rock ‘n’ roll. And with a sound that’s capable of pulling down mountains, they’re quite successful at delivering on that intention. The wild and fierce voice of singer Shellina Ryals acts as our guide while the band sets out to bash apart our senses. This is music laced with the Delta humidity of Southern rock and the colossal thunder of ’70s hard rock. So while their peers are comfortable regurgitating the same old sounds, Cavalen looks to re-establish this kind of visceral noise as a necessary part of the modern rock landscape.
On their new cassette EP, “Viva Adore,” the band blows out your speakers with three tracks of chest-pummeling, foot-stomping rock ‘n’ roll that hits with the force of a Mack Truck. The songs are unabashedly anthemic, the kind of music that’s ready-made to be sung out loud with the windows rolled down and wind rushing past your face. Peddling a classic rock swagger and delivering melodies that stretch out for miles, they make this terribly complex mixture of sounds feel completely effortless. With the wailing vocals of Ryals anchoring the furious arrangements, this record is a testament to the hard-hitting force that perfectly executed rock can exert.
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.