The fact that ambient music thrives on tape is no surprise. If music can offer sanctuary from the daily grind, cassette culture helps to create a physical connection between the music and the fan. Perhaps the magic’s in choosing such an “outdated” format over its digital successors – something so absurd in our pragmatic world that it is usually made by those determined to live in another.
So when it comes to discreet tape labels, the more the merrier, because more means more intimacy, more space to breathe and more private moments in front of a tape deck where the most stressful choice to make is whether to play side A or side B.
Heavy Mess is the new kid on the block, but founder Braeyden Jay started spreading tape-love with the Inner Islands label way back in 2010. With a new label comes a new sound, and the first two releases are determined to keep it as free as possible.
Sister Grotto brings her haunting ambience to new heights with Blindside. Side A starts in familiar territory: weighty chords set the tone and spread out like aftershocks into the distance, while hushed vocals spill into the space between. Any particularly beautiful moments are given space to grow, but side B collapses these discreet chords and loosely connected parts into a single, gently fluctuating drone. All the original feeling is blended in to a kind of lingering sigh, which offers time and room to hold on to Blindside’s cosy atmosphere.
Orra’s They Mean You No Harm comes across as an extended invitation. On this tape, Jennifer Williams and Sean Conrad use live electro-acoustic conversation to coax their listeners into folkish, almost magical spaces. The listening experience can be unsettling at first – those stretched and roughly-plucked strings offer “Glass Sisters” an undeniable eeriness – but as the title states, they mean you no harm, and what begins as unnerving becomes gentle and amiable with time. “Come Down The Night” possesses a more classic electro-acoustic physicality. A soft, steady background tempo provides a sense of purpose to the rising hum and a structure to the field sample swarms. It becomes a perfect blend of biology and technology – creating an atmosphere which feels organic yet clicks, whirrs and hums in the process, as if powered by clockwork.
Heavy Mess is a description both releases come to grow into with time. Braeyden has been clear in his intention to keep the label diverse, but even with these first, very different releases there is a kind of coherence. As time goes on, boundaries blur, and the music presses down as one: in this case, as if being smothered by tranquillity. With a new batch of releases round the corner, we are excited to experience more of the same. (Jonny Hunter)