Already Dead Tapes has just reached its 150th release. This would be a remarkable accomplishment for any label, but this label has done it in only five years, the last 50 arriving in the last year alone. To celebrate, the label is releasing ADT150 on vinyl. This is the third album for Chicago’s Problems That Fix Themselves, founded by Joshua Tabbia but now the duo of Tabbia and Alex Borozan. Already Dead Tapes, founded by Tabbia and Sean Hartman, is now shared with Borozan and Ray Jackson; a true collaborative spirit is present throughout.
Which Is Worse is the sound of the label in a microcosm. The label has never presented a single aesthetic, and neither does the record. In its grooves, one will find rock, fuzz, drone, electronics and experimentalism. By extending into various fields, the album serves as an advertisement for an adventurous label. In like fashion, the way in which the record reconciles its various elements reflects the way in which the label gathers a diverse roster under its vast sonic umbrella. It’s only fitting that the opening track covers a thunderstorm with echo and synth.
If the label does have one distinguishing sonic feature, it’s the immediacy of the mastering. Already Dead Tapes refuses to sound shiny, smooth, or polished. Instead, the mastering allows for grit and immediacy; these solo artists and bands may as well be performing in one’s living room. Intimacy prompts affection; what one hears is what one gets, the breath and blood of the artists, unadorned. Tape and vinyl amplify this connection. Quick cuts underline the DIY approach, but also allow for timbral shifts to take place without raised eyebrows. On Which Is Worse, a pair of percussive dance pieces (the velvet-gloved “Maximum Occupancy” and the industrial strength “Black Elvis”) may be followed by a drumless vocal track (the elegant “Sunday Song”), and everything still sounds right. Lovely languid vocals wrap the preceding tracks in a bow.
On Side B, Problems That Fix Themselves dares – yes, dares – to co-opt the sounds of drum ‘n’ bass, if only for a couple minutes. It’s amazing to note that this sound, once so futuristic, has already become nostalgic, representing the future that once was. But just as swiftly, the duo turns back to the synths, and finally to all-out experimentalism. The pounding, eight-minute “Slowburn” erupts in a miasma of feedback and screech, a statement of playful noise, a sign that the problems, whatever they were, have fixed themselves, making the broken, stapled and taped seem once again whole. (Richard Allen)