Just prior to blowing out the solitary candle on their birthday cake, Austin-based Holodeck Records unleashed a sextet of new cassette releases, some reissues of vinyl editions (S U R V I V E and Thousand Foot Whale Claw), but the majority freshly committed to tape. It’s a medium that’s enjoying a renaissance and Holodeck treat it as their main format, alongside the occasional vinyl pressing, and a quick glance down their shopfront suggests these new releases will all sell out sometime soon.
There’s a sense of nostalgia about analogue formats that, coupled with the physical experience of actually holding something, has given the humble tape a new lease of life – if you don’t have a tapedeck still, Holodeck have their whole catalogue available digitally. But it’s not the same, is it?
Below is an overview of the six releases. Although all have their merits, such is the variety of music within that it’s worth checking out the albums on bandcamp; you might find Sungod floats your boat but be left cold by JU4N; and if there’s no standout of the sextet, there’s no lame duck either. The majority of the music here shares a similar mindset, though; a glance back to the hazy yesterdays of youth, what we heard watching VHS recordings of a late-night cult classic, a computer game, a neighbour’s New Age tape collection. On reflection, and trying to look beyond the obvious Star Trek reference, Holodeck are well-named as they create experiences in the present from imperfect memories – it’s virtual but not quite reality.
Journeys home at twilight, two weeks off school with nothing to do but watch TV, your brother’s friends coming over to play their new favourite prog rock band – all these sounds shape us, but we just don’t realise it at the time. Holodeck are a repository for such moments revisited in musical form, like old cassette collections left unloved in thrift shops, a shoe box of tapes found in the corner of a cupboard, ghosts blowing in from desert radio stations, across the Texan landscape. (Jeremy Bye)
Dylan C ~ Samsara: Causes & Conditions
Five of the six releases from Holodeck share certain themes and ideas (essentially, elements of psychedelia, krautrock and soundtracks in different amounts depending on the artist), but this double album from Dylan Cameron is the exception, as one half of it is essentially a techno record. It sounds more than a little out of place alongside the others – and yet it’s not completely alien as S U R V I V E and JU4N are synth-based enterprises. It’s just that the latter two, as seen below, opt for atmosphere and texture whereas Dylan C is focused mainly on the beat. He comes up with some solid material on Causes, though, even if it might not necessarily appeal to fans of the other Holodeck releases – “Necropolis” has some inventively programmed percussion, “Genuine Vibes” and “Fogman” have propulsive bass-lines that power the tracks along. Conditions has a different feel to it altogether, with slower tempos and a dubby production; the kick drum still makes an appearance on “Left Behind” and others, but it is less pounding and more sympathetic. The layers of texture on the tracks give Conditions a slight Burial feel, which is certainly a contrast to Causes and might be a subtler way into the Samsara set. It’s quality electronica, but certainly one half of it feels a little out of place in such company.
JU4N ~ Vaporware
Juan Cisneros used to make music as VC Childkraft, but has now changed to the number-tastic JU4N, and from the cover on, with its 80s-inspired neon line, it’s clearly not a typical Holodeck release, being cleaner and brighter both audibly and visually. It could have been recorded using hand-built synths from any moment between 1978 and 1984, and lost for posterity until now. The sounds are often the glass/crystal tones that crop up on the Korg list of presets and there are moments – the basic percussion on the title track is one example – when it sounds like it could be playing in a yoga studio; if not, certainly someplace where incense sticks and crystals are used frequently. This isn’t a criticism as JU4N conjures some unexpected moments of calm and serenity with what on the surface appears to be a fairly restrictive selection of sounds and instrumentation. But these presumably self-imposed limits give Vaporware a cohesion, mostly without any disruption to the mood. The reverie is shaken midway through “Angel Cop/Black Market Exotica” with Japanese dialogue and the occasional scream which throws the listener, and the album as a whole, off kilter slightly; probably a good thing otherwise it may have drifted towards irrelevance.
Smokey Emery ~ Soundtracks for Invisibility Vol 2: You Take the High Road
The solo project of the prolific Daniel Hipolito, Smokey Emery deal with grimey (as in dirty, not the genre) soundscapes; drones shift slowly, field recordings provide atmosphere, percussion attempts to propel the tracks onward. An industrial (again, as in factories, not the genre) pall hangs over several of the tracks; the effect is similar to the passages that Godspeed You! Black Emperor put on their longer works, between the guitar bits. Even the jauntier-sounding tracks give the impression of being weighed down by a heavy burden; if it was a GY!BE record I’d make some suggestions about the music representing the experience of being dragged down by the struggle of day-to-day life in these troubled economic times, but Hipolito makes no indication of any political ideas behind the tracks, if indeed there are any. He may, after all, be content with producing music that is evocative and would prefer listeners to draw their own conclusions. It’s certainly a powerful work, and very much a coherent piece, creating some bold imagery for the mind’s eye. The minimalist hum and dubby crackle of “In Our Invisible City” might be the best place for a sample, the haunted sounds of abandoned machinery echoing in the twilight.
Sungod ~ Contackt
Proper out-there psychedelic excursions are to be found on Contackt, although showing remarkable self-control, Sungod don’t go north of the nine-minute mark when other releases normally see them clock up ten- or twenty-minute workouts. Still, it’s not always about length, it’s what you do in the time available, and Sungod don’t waste any of it. After “Mesa” eases us in with a pleasant organic drone, “Smell of Physiqal” kicks off with a distinctly Floydian workout before a fuzzy riff and extended guitar workout crashes the party, and there’s not much let up for the duration of the album, aside from the tranquil “Opiate Fields”. The two versions of “Gas Is Better Than Gas” are built upon a churning synth bass-line, but go in different directions; the first sticks with the guitar, the latter goes for a much more percussive approach. At times, too, there will be a sudden tangential switch in mood, which keeps the listener alert, although this is not music that should ever fail to grab the attention. There’s a bit of fun to be had playing spot the influence on Contackt, but mostly it’s worth letting go and enjoying the ride.
S U R V I V E ~ HDXV
If there’s a recurrent theme on these Holodeck releases, it’s the quiet, unassuming, opening that gradually eases the listener into the album, rather than going in, all guns blazing, with a mighty riff or pounding rhythm. S U R V I V E do it here, before the strident drums and bass of “Cube Floating” come pounding in. This has a definite hint of a rediscovered soundtrack from some barely-remembered 80s movie, with some syndrum action for that added touch of authenticity. It’s a very cinematic-sounding release and there are moments when HDXV leans more towards Jan Hammer than John Carpenter, which at least sets them apart from the majority of musicians that operate in this field who generally take Escape from New York as their Year Zero. It’s the beatless tracks that set S U R V I V E apart from their peers, however. “Scalar Wave” and “Shunting Yard” both have that indefinable quality that seems to connect to a world outside the confines of the record itself, with the ghostly, processed vocal on the former seemingly beamed in from another world. It’s a slightly unbalanced record as a result, with the peaks being higher than expected but a lot of the other tracks not really connecting. When it’s good, however…
Thousand Foot Whale Claw ~ Dope Moons Vol. 1
A quartet of lengthy workouts by a restrained four-piece, Dope Moons Vol. 1 is an interplanetary round trip which travels from delicate guitar-focused atmosphere to spaced-out analogue synth workouts and back again. There’s no sense of over-loading the listener here, with the transition from one sound to another being subtle and so gradual, it is barely noticeable. The over-riding impression is that Thousand Foot Whale Claw appreciate that less is more, so there’s plenty of space here, fittingly enough. In fact, the only point it sounds like four people are playing simultaneously is the bagpipe section mid-way through “Ganymede” on the second side. The most successful track here is “Phobos”, when the atmospherics are embellished by a Moroder-esque pulse and squelchy synth; it should be soundtracking a space disco somewhere. Although it is not an original release, having been put out on vinyl by Monofonus Press, Dope Moons is probably the best introduction to Holodeck out of all the cassettes here. It’s tuned into the psychedelic spirit of the label, and elements of the album (the krautrock synth, the guitar ambience) crop up on other releases. What TFWC do is combine both sides of the label into one accessible set.
Holodeck’s physical releases are available here.
Their digital releases are on their bandcamp page.