Jeffrey Astin’s Xiphiidae project has released past material on labels such as Stunned and Peasant Magik, and his label Housecraft Recordings has issued a large weight of interesting stuff in the past few years. While keeping himself busy with his label he continues to impress with Xiphiidae; this new tape on NNA, housed in sparsely adorned white cardstock, is a slow and gentle psychedelic delight.
Distant bells chime around the edges of a rich synthesizer drone, while mysterious knocks and whirrs lurk in the corners of the first untitled piece; mesmeric and understated, it exudes patience and control. The second piece opens with a lulling, pulsating tape noise matched against a drifting synth. Changes come slowly as the synth switches its sounds in a barely perceptible fashion. A bleary, crackling sound suggests footsteps in snow at one point, giving way to what sounds like a dying campfire with wind blowing steadily around it; from that combination of elements Astin brings in a heavily reverbed organ, looping it to create a fluttering and unsteady wall of sound. The piece fades out like the last elusive scrap of a dream, with its sonic tendrils faintly unwinding around its structure as it passes from the speakers.
The B-side continues down a darker road – bursting to life with a burning low-end drone and a delayed percussive sound. The track sails quickly into its next part, carried again by recordings of bells as the overall tempo slows to a wandering pace and then vanishes into the night. The murky darkness of side B’s first piece is rendered into a more elegiac style for the tape’s closing effort, which begins with a lighter and much less ominous synth chord. Dark, engine-like whirrs emerge from the left channel as the opening chord shimmers brightly, gradually yielding its central position in the mix to a tunneling drone, immersed in reverb and delay. Voices and whistles murmur briefly and inaudibly, as Astin brings a swelling synth part up through the peripheral noises. The piece ends slowly, as high-pitched synth is set against two tracks of a quiet scratching noise. Deep, distant bell sounds return and float back and forth through the stereo field, creating an odd sense of place and dislocation, somehow combined simultaneously. The recurring motif of bell sounds works very well on this tape. Astin uses recordings that possess a great variety of timbre and texture; each bell sound that appears is vastly different from the previous one, both unfamiliar and similar, all sounding like vivid lost memories from our dreams.
Grab a copy if you can – this tape is an outstanding 42-minute trip through the world of uneasy dreaming, a canvas of varied texture designed to intrigue and confound.