Blue Tapes is a new experimental cassette label that opened its doors last year. Why cassette? In the words of the founders, “If it’s good enough for Autechre, it’s good enough for us.” Not that everything – or indeed anything – on the label sounds like Autechre. So far Blue Tapes has released cassettes representing the fields of ambient, beatz, and hip-hop, but its best release to date is its wildly experimental debut.
The Grin Without the Cat or the Cat Without An Outline is the solo work of Ninja High School’s Matt Collins. The single 25-minute track (not including flip time) veers all over the map like a drunken trucker on an 8-lane highway. We don’t condone drinking and driving, but we do condone this. The piece includes fuzz, psychedelica, melodic abstraction, moments of near-silence and moments in which the speakers suddenly jump in fear. It’s not dance music, it’s not meditation music, and it’s not music to hoover by. Instead, it’s a sonic paint splatter of all the ideas Collins never got to use on Ninja High School’s second album, because sadly the band never had a second album. A combination screech and squall at 8:38 might be the artist’s declaration that he’s mad as hell and doesn’t want to take it anymore, or an expression of unbridled glee; it’s hard to tell. What is obvious is that Collins could care less about convention. He simply wants to share as many cool sounds as he can before the tape stops turning. This attitude makes The Grin Without the Cat sound exactly like its title: there’s the grin, but where’s Matt?
When drums enter in the eleventh minute, one thinks, “oh, is this now a groove track?” It is not. As the drum pattern repeats, it draws less of the listener’s attention, giving way to distorted synthesized washes and whorls; but when these end, leaving only the drums, the piece reaches its most musical moment. As one might expect, this doesn’t last. The surprise is that the drums recapture the interest long after the interest has waned; once this occurs, a game of laser tag seems to erupt while Casios dance merrily in the background. Now everyone’s grinning. (Richard Allen)