my week with mantile records: burd, fossils, kayaka, brood ma, spoils & relicsJanuary 17, 2013 at 7:12 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: brood ma, burd, electronica, fossils, improv, kayaka, mantile records, new music, no audience underground, noise, spoils & relics, tapes
Burd – Wild Saloone (Cassette, C36 approx, Mantile, #019)
Fossils – What A Drag (Cassette, C46 approx, Mantile, #020)
Kayaka – Operation Deep Freeze (Cassette, C52 approx, Mantile, #021)
Brood Ma – F I S S I O N (Cassette, C25 approx, Mantile, #022)
Spoils & Relics – Stammer Challis (Cassette, C38 approx, Mantile, #023)
Ah… tape. If you aren’t already grooving on this new medium taking the no-audience underground by storm then let me explain. Tape cassettes are only a little smaller than a smart phone but, brilliantly, do not contain tiresome apps, nor can anyone ring you on one. Instead, they reproduce musical content via mechanics, magnetics and, er… magic? When played, instead of ominous silence or immediate racket there is a soothing low volume hiss of white noise to settle you into an appreciative mood. They occupy physical space and so must be contemplated, unlike vulgar mp3s which breed unloved and unnoticed until your hard-drive is awash with them – like bacteria sneezed into a breadbin. It’s a thoroughly civilised mode of transport for your musical endeavour, yet totally democratic and still punk as fuck despite attempts at appropriation by ghastly hipsters.
Here’s an example of how it should be done. Back in the dying days of 2012, the magnificently named Johnny Scarr (1970s wrestler in mask and leotard? 1870s Wild West frontier mining town bar owner? 1950s leather clad biker?) sent me a generous package containing five releases from his label Mantile Records. I’ve been taking bites out of these since they arrived – like the hungry caterpillar that I am, chomping on anything nearby – but sensed it was time to knuckle down, do a bit of proper musical appreciation and decide what I thought. Thus they have been keeping me company this week.
Taking ’em in catalogue order: first up is Wild Saloone by Burd. It is lovely. Imagine a day in the far future in which I am old(er) and grey(er). I am chatting to a young musical prodigy I happen to know as we step from our floating car, in togas. As is to be expected from an elderly music bore, I have been banging on about the history of electronic music in exhaustive detail. I have described the airy, utopian feel of that side of mid-1970s Krautrock, the boundary-busting excitement of the 1990s electronica boom, and the woosy, euphoric rush of post-rave sophisticates.
As we sit down in the restaurant and order our food pills my young companion throws a few apps into the air between us, thinks for a second, says ‘like this you mean?’ and improvises the whole thing off the top of his head. ‘Yes’ I reply, at the end of this remarkable 35 minute performance, gobsmacked, ‘pretty much like that.’
Next we have What a Drag by Fossils, a cousin-in-noise to meta-musical label-mates Spoils & Relics. You will hear lo-fi field recorded clatter, dictaphonic skwibbling, the beautiful trilling of the sadly endangered short wave radio (a lovely creature with beautiful red fur and pointy ears being harassed into extinction by its grey, rat-like digital competitors), tape loops cruelly garbled with some finger-on-the-spindle action and, to finish, a section of pop music stretched out and poked with screwdrivers. The second half of the second half may be from a live performance or the intro could have just been chopped and dropped in three quarters of the way through proceedings. Who knows? It doesn’t matter – much of interest to be found herein. It helped me stave off fury during a lunchtime trip to a crowded and ineptly managed post office.
Now there are two tapes featuring, y’know, ‘albums’ I believe they have been called traditionally. Each contains nine tracks with titles (see insert with former, snaffle a download to see details of the latter). Operation Deep Freeze by Kayaka, that is Kaya Kamijo, takes a leisurely 52 minutes to complete its run. F I S S I O N by Brood Ma, that is James B. Stringer, is rattled through in a breakneck 25.
Operation Deep Freeze (a series of scientific/military expeditions made to Antarctica by the USA according to Wikipedia and an audio documentary clip in the title track) shuffles through various sub-genres, some meditative but mainly those concerned with crunching and stomping. When this works, as it does with the caveman strut of ‘Feeding Centipede at a pond of blood’ or the balls-out racket of ‘Screaming hair on a road’, it makes you want to throw rocks at tanks but, as a whole, I had some trouble getting with it. I am a weary old man and value coherence. Whilst this is undeniably the work of a single aesthetic (as revealed by repeat listens and for want of a better phrase) the genre-hopping, tone-changing, feet-finding track-to-track experimentation will be appreciated by some more than me. Worth giving several chances though – each time around pulls out something else.
F I S S I O N is fringe electronica crackling with nervous energy. Imagine a master sushi chef tricked by a rival into taking a vast amount of amphetamine. The dishes he goes on to prepare contain not only the expected ingredients but also bits of his fingers. They are presented with a ragged, blood-splattered over-enthusiasm. Everything is bite-sized too so you are never more than a few minutes from a palate cleansing recombination. No doubts here: the quick-fire combo of inventiveness and dark humour had me convinced from the off.
Finally comes Stammer Challis by Spoils & Relics. Over the last year or so this trio of Johnny Scarr, Gary Myles and Kieron Piercy have become one of my favourite bands. I have stood in awed concentration monitoring the psychic flow between them at their all too rare live appearances. I have studied their recorded work with the same obsessive drive that led me to colour in my favourite black and white panels from 2000AD comic 30 years ago. I am a fan. One of the things I dig about their approach is that they offer the listener few clues. The entire blurb provided on the label website for this release is as follows:
Now I know where to bring my raspberry pies. Yes, send them to the Blessed one.
Gnomic, eh? The rewards, and they are manifold, come from turning this stuff over, from figuring it out. This particular tape starts with an angry, aggressive passage then, once its feathers have been smoothed, flies over an unfathomable soundscape, parts of which seem almost recognizable from cracked and faded memory. There is enough variation to give momentum but not so much that it is looney toons, enough coherence to give dramatic flow without being prescriptive and enough nuance and sophistication to get you poking at the rewind button the second it finishes. Terrific stuff.
A word on the packaging. Tapes from Mantile have a uniform design: hand made/hand stamped J-cards with monochrome illustration and minimal detail. I like it very much. Its simplicity does not swamp the content though its identity is fiercely unmistakable. They look well satisfying in a line on a shelf too. Downloads are available on a donations/honesty box basis but I’d go for the physical objects if I were you.