Spring Break Tapes‘ double cassette is the type of release that makes one happy to own the physical product. A series of cards, some die-cut and others clean, are included in the snug case so that one may create one’s own cover. This attention to detail makes the tape seem like a surprise toy. But why stop there? One can insert one’s own art as well.
Bus Gas‘ Immortal Yeller and Amulets‘ Mountains Past are worth the cost of admission as well. The twin tapes didn’t need cool art, but they got it anyway, which means either way one looks at the release, it includes a bonus. The two Portland drone artists operate in a similar vein, creating walls of distorted sound with periodic dynamic contrast, enough to ratchet up the tension. Together they are meant to a “rumination on anxiety and uncertainty.” Their music is always changing, which is out of our control; but the covers are within our control, providing a modicum of relief in metaphorical format.
Bus Gas is currently a trio, though the lineup has been known to morph like the compositions. Mellotron and Kaleidoloop offer a grazing of the unusual. There’s a moment late in “Savage Trash” when it seems that the speakers will break ~ a double rush of fuzz that travels all the way into the red. But subsequent track “Denim Jacket Black Patch Blues” starts with sweet, melodic electric guitar, a sign of welcome restraint. After all the bombast, a quiet calm descends on the quarter-hour closer, “Still Lifeless,” a reminder of the peace that can be gleaned beneath the chaos, like the sun that exists behind the clouds. There’s even a calm female voice, intelligibility just out of reach, reminiscent of bvdub’s sampled productions, unrattled despite the growing distortion. Is all well? It can be well, as taught by the final, soothing minutes of melody. As long as our imaginations are intact, it remains realistic to dream.
Now enter Amulets, the one-man band also known as Randall Taylor. There’s no instruction on which tape to play first, so feel free to flip this review as well. We’ve chosen our accompanying covers carefully to reflect our own synaesthesia, but different people hear colors in different ways. Mountains Past contains a touch of sci-fi, as heard in the rising whirls of the opening track. And yet the most futuristic title is “Beyond 2000,” an indication of retro leanings. The cassette is a bit less confrontational than its twin, but the paranoia bleeds through in a subtler fashion: for example, the rustlings of “Iterations.” Harmonic chords seek to provide some comfort, but there’s always a feeling of something lurking at the gate. The title track is the longest and most contemplative, more ambient than drone until its second half, insinuating a memory of a mountaintop experience ~ perhaps a pilgrimage to a sanctuary where one encounters a sage with crossed legs and enigmatic advice. The stereo effects of “Beyond 2000” are hypnotic, offsetting the track’s otherwise foreboding nature. And by the end, we are left to wonder once again, are we safe? In this event, we choose the cover, the order, the ending. These cassettes provide the purchaser the power to effect change. If the change is effective on such a small scale, might we then attempt to exercise it in the larger world? If so, this release has done more than advertised, slowly moving the listener from the passive to the active. (Richard Allen)