Already Dead Tapes is a tape and vinyl label based in Chicago, run by two guys, Joshua Tabbia and Sean Hartman, who are also mainly in charge of the artwork. Streaming through their releases (and they’re a lot, in almost a year they reached number 43), you can tell that as a label, its artists are carefully chosen to compile an excellent selection of music that’s worth listening to. Varying genres from artist to artist and each release having its own unique package, the aggregate result is as follows: ‘Music made out of experimentation’. When I was asked to choose a release to review out of the total 43, going through the first 20, it was already pretty hard to distinguish just one. Coming across a label whose artists are characterized by their own style but at the same time they all blend together so smoothly is not something that you see every day. So I came down to choosing 3 releases, which I’m about to feature below in the form of short reviews.
AD 42: Teenage Tasteless – Bartan Shumak
Hailing from Berlin, Germany, the 45 minutes that are in those 6 tracks have the power to urge you penetrate the subliminal thinking. From the first seconds of ‘Strung’, you can tell that he’s improvising but simultaneously keeping it at a desired limit; he’s able to control spontaneity. The schizophrenic playing of the violin, the atmosphere that you just got into, they all make room for ‘Dutch Disease’ that is about to follow. This is where it all happens; mysterious guitar sounds, meditating on experimental percussion, until the whole thing gets looped for a few seconds and a terrifying atmosphere takes place. By visually exploring an inner cave at dawn, coming face to face with your fears until you find something, (which you do on the 4th minute [amazing rhythm and riff structure]), you have practically entered Teenage Tasteless’ world. Now it’s all about you, as the rhythm becomes more intense. The 6th minute is where things start to get serious and next thing you know the trip has already begun. You’ve gone all the way now, no point in looking back. The whole thing feels like running away from something that’s already inside you, until you realize at last that there’s no such thing as escape, only conformity. And you’ll have to make your peace with it as the track comes to an end one way or another. On ‘Griddedness’ there’s a scream, an awakening, as a dirty bassline comes from beyond. A voice finally speaks, a ritual is taking place in the room that you visualized before. And then strange human psalmodies, vicious circles haunting the vision before it all comes apart at 6.40. The cymbals being crashed in the background and the melodic scream on the foreground create a feeling that won’t rest easy. Higher frequencies make their appearance on ‘Dweller On The Threshold’, marking the album’s climax. This song actually has a classic structure (mainly because of its steady beat logic) with old-school-style vocals, commutations and nicely sampled guitars. But surprises exist everywhere on this album. Like ‘Jeremy Goldnull Didnt Know What To Say’; its piano work is an essential listen. Beautiful, dreamy structure and melodies, but kind of strange at the same time (due to its reverbed sound). Simple to its character, this is the album’s highlight, one that you want to rewind and listen to again once it ends. ‘Bartan Shumak’’s ending comes with a drone track; same style background voices, guiding your way down, cause that’s what this album is, a journey, an experience into the subjective unknown, so detailed-worked out on the one hand, not lacking the experimental freedom that such attempts require on the other.
AD 39: Alpha Couple – Covers
Alpha Couple is Kristel and Mark, coming from Toronto, Canada. You can find them describing their music as ‘vulnerable noise’, a term that you would agree on, judging by the amount of susceptibility that exists in ‘Covers’. The beautifully created artwork, picturing a couple in different moments in time covered in gentle purple background, implies that this is going to be a rather peculiar album, despite the band’s nicely sounding name. Vocals consisting of heavenly cries on ‘Lucky’, a nightmarish noisy synth, a laid down guitar, all set the scene for a desert place at night, when a kick drum grabs your attention in the end. Sampled voices follow on ‘Mariah’; you can hear a woman saying ‘I would hate to be one of these people…’ that you can’t help but wonder what she would say next, while a slow beat lost in space and a distorted voice (that at first you can bet your life that it’s Gonjasufi himself singing and shouting out his sorrows) are developing a flow accompanied by peaceful guitar playing. As the track title requires, ‘A Walk Through Central Park (With or Without You)’ once again has to do with sampled people on the street. Indeed the feeling that exists here seems familiar to all of us: walking through a city street, alone, searching for that understanding look in someone’s face that’s so hard to find. Strangely though, vocals sound like Cocorosie’s more relaxing songs, expressing that nostalgia and longing for peace in our days. As the guitar gets louder and more notes are being added to its calm strum, making the song even more touching, it takes the leading role, while the voices in the street are turning into a probably live cover of U2’s ‘With Or Without You’. Somehow that walk starts to have a meaning, a symbolic sense. A meaning that ends unexpectedly with the muting of the street noises to find mystery again on ‘Enn Ich Mir Was Wünschen Dürfte’, the album’s last track. With the help of a repeated kick drum pattern, you can consider this as the main theme of a concept album, evolving, setting scenes for a whole story. A sense of curiosity of what comes next takes over you in the end, wondering what Alpha Couple would sound like at a performance, not to mention on their next release.
AD 37: Not The Wind, Not The Flag – Music Gallery
Not The Wind, Not The Flag is also a Toronto-based band, more on the blissful side of sound this time. On ‘Music Gallery’, a modern avant-garde piece, getting into a euphoric free-jazz-improvisation technique, the instruments that they use vary from xylophones, vibes, and chimes to a classic jazz-tuned drum-setup, perfectly recorded and mixed to create this 24-minute wavelength. As in 1973’s ‘Faust Tapes’, it’s more like an exercise on improvisation (in terms of artistic expression) including more than one person than just a simple piece of music that will definitely bring you harmony. It’s no wonder you won’t find a single ‘mistake’ in the entire piece when it’s clear that Not The Wind, Not The Flag are completely aware of their instruments and what they can do with them; and the fact that these two guys got together making that kind of music can only be surprising and encouraging. Both for musicians and listeners.