To our older (and cooler) readers: did you ever get a mixtape? Not a burned disc, not a forwarded playlist, but a personally made, somewhat clunky, entirely endearing little present from a friend or loved one? If so, you remember the feeling. Rad Wolf (Jacob Shelton) certainly does, because Blanket Arms is a labor of love, a little home release that has the feel of a big release because it’s better than the mass-produced stuff. Yes, it’s a CD-R, but it comes in a handsewn sleeve, with buttons. Come on now, who can resist this sort of thing? Add to this the quirky nature of the music, which we’ve classified as electronic, but which could also be called instrumental avant-folk, electro-acoustic or experimental, and it’s smiles all around.
Blanket Arms is an innocent-sounding EP, a kind reflection of music at play, sprawling on concrete with jacks and a broken piece of colored chalk. A ping-pong game pops up on the fifth track alongside happy conversation and a bicycle bell. The intimations of childhood are inescapable, despite the odd title (“can dogs snort cocaine?”). The stuttering strings of “proximity” are accompanied by watery effects and wind chimes, like a broken toy being brought to life on a puddle-filled day. The wooden noises may be Lincoln Logs, although it’s hard to tell exactly what object is being used. Suffice it to say that the song sounds as sweet as a playground kiss. After an electronic mid-section, Shelton returns to the acoustic arena, the wind-down after a afternoon of intensive play.
Shelton produces tracks that wouldn’t normally make sense outside of their context, but that flow clearly and kindly in conjunction with one another. At times, the music is reminiscent of the catalog produced by the sadly-defunct Apestaartje label, whose sounds still linger in the amplified echoes of Anderegg and Sebastien Roux. The smooth guitar work, in which notes complement each other like strings on a harp, brings to mind the work of Mountains. And yet, the combination of electronic intimations, ambient washes and field recordings belongs entirely to Shelton, who blends them together for a more original sound.
At the very end of the first track rests the album’s most telling sound: that of a cassette tape being stopped and restarted. This plastic reminder is a pure mixtape moment. Rad Wolf knows that a little bit of nostalgia can go a long way, and Blanket Arms is his love letter to an era too swiftly forgotten. (Richard Allen)