In The Tape Deck this month, Nooga.com spends time with new cassettes from Alien Trilogy, Seth Chrisman and Nathan McLaughlin, Squill, and Leaaves.
Alien Trilogy, “Snake Trader”
Brooklyn-based synth punk trio Alien Trilogy makes music that recalls the noisy soundtracks of sci-fi films from the ’80s and ’90s, complete with dystopian imagery and crushing rhythmic movements. Built around a keyboard, guitar and some drums, the band offers up a pummeling sound that feels like it was made by a much larger band—there’s something gargantuan about it, a riotous and fractured melodic aesthetic that produces unexpected musical shifts and burrows deep into your subconscious. This is music that demands participation; you can’t be passive in your enjoyment of their work. The band expels squiggly guitar lines, synthetic bass lines and clattering percussion with a mischievous ease.
On their latest release, “Snake Trader,” the band makes a sort of electronic psych record that never stops and is always spinning away to some distant part of the universe. Mixing the apocalyptic sounds of “Mad Max” and “Escape From LA,” this collection of songs squeals and shudders in a complicated rhythmic distortion. Injecting a post-punk serration into their darker electronic experiments, they find a scorched rock sound that gives them the leeway to explore a ragged and discordant approach. The music mixes with various spoken word samples, creating a bizarre and compelling sci-fi narrative that aims to break down the defenses we’ve got built up around our brains.
Seth Chrisman and Nathan McLaughlin, “Earth Tones at the Metal Show”
For ethereal drone purveyors Seth Chrisman and Nathan McLaughlin, music is more than just the endless cycle of verses and choruses; it’s an opportunity to connect with each other and share experiences on a primal level. And within their experimental landscapes, they find ways to bridge the gaps between our physical bodies, to fashion an emotional connection through repetition and droning rhythms. Much the same way that William Basinski accomplished this through his “Disintegration Loops” series, Chrisman and McLaughlin aim for a higher sense of purpose in their work, to construct a natural bridge between our senses and actions. Their music is ephemeral in its appearance but devastating in its consequences.
On their recent collaborative tape, “Earth Tones at the Metal Show,” they find the beauty and restless ingenuity in droning rhythms and skeletal arrangements. But these tracks are less about catering to the abstract idea of songs and more about the innate feeling they evoke in their audience. There’s no tangible musical touchstones, just a feeling of the memories that these sounds bring to mind. Acting like an aural Rorschach test, these 13 tracks express a haunting conceptualization of experience and influence through ambient environments and subtle instrumental passages. Both fragile and resilient when the need arises, these songs possess a rhythmic radiance that washes over you on your way to their conclusion.
Squill, “Bury It”
Based out of Olympia, Washington, Squill makes indie rock that looks back to late ’80s and early ’90s Olympia, when riot grrrl bands were creating epochal records and driving the direction of that city’s musical scene. Led by Lily Richeson, the band recently dropped the third “L” from their name (previously known as Squilll) and doubled down on their dense, rock-infused catharses. Known for her work in pop-punk bands Bad Sleep and Parasol, Richeson knows her way around these sounds, creating a deeper awareness of her inspirations while still carving her own insular identity. Squill is rooted in punk rock but maintains a pop heart that keeps it from drowning in the clang and clatter of its influences.
On their new cassette, “Bury It,” Richeson and the band evoke a caustic rock sound, the kind of noise that feels at home on records by bands like Honor Role and Seaweed. The hiss and distortion that lay across these tracks provide a fitting atmosphere for the band’s broken rock divergences. But they’re not interested in wallowing in a maudlin perspective; the title is less about some dramatic pessimism and more about starting something new by ending the old, whatever that might be. The guitars spin around your head in layered patterns as the drums clack away beneath the roar of those reverberating strings. Almost grungy at times, the record is aware of its nostalgic exposition but maintains a clear idea of its own unique creativity.
Leaaves, “Panacea for Lightweights”
Leaaves is the moniker of New York City musician Nate Wagner, who specializes in dreamy atmospheric compositions that defy categorization and express familiarity through languid melodies and gentle textures. There’s a sense that you could easily fall into his work and become completely enveloped by it. He positions these deceptive acts of rhythmic simplicity as though they are memories to be experienced outside of time. With each second that passes, we become more and more entangled in this welcoming musical latticework, refusing to look away and break the spell it has over us. And his music is truly hypnotic, with repetitive drones and gorgeous ambient tones attacking the walls of our subconscious.
On his latest album, “Panacea for Lightweights,” Wagner wastes no time setting up this ethereal landscape, with drones fading in and creating a serene and graceful collection of movements. The repetition ebbs and flows into every crevasse and crease of our brains, inundating us with a sense of expectation while providing a feeling of comfort. There are moments when the music rises a bit, finding new detail and nuance in its cyclical reiterations, but they never upend the flow of the album. These songs offer no easy answers, only a space where we can try to work out what questions we should be asking and where we should actually be looking for solutions.
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.