The Long Decline #13

October 7, 2010
By Brad Rose

I figure with this new setup and how much easier it is to post shit, I’m going to try and bust one of these columns off at least every two weeks.  Weekly would be awesome, but I’m not going to get ahead of myself here.  Before I get into a couple short tape write-ups, I wanna ramble a bit about art and aesthetics.  Obviously some labels have a very recognizable look and some others less so.  I think both have their merits.  I especially like when labels like Gift Tapes, Hanson, 905 Tapes, Peasant Magik, etc have their own layout & look, but then the actual ‘art’/imagery for the releases is varied – best of both worlds, I suppose.

I actually talked to Jason Anderson of Gift Tapes/DRAFT about this a little recently via email and a lot of what he said resonates with me.  The timing is also good as the first batch of tapes from his new Gift sub-label, DRAFT, will be available in less than two weeks (October 12th).  But anyway, onto the consistency of the Gift “aesthetic,” he said: “Artists choose the 2 images and hand-write their names, so the primary thing that ties those releases together is the format.  At the same time, some people tend to pick images that seem to fit what they envision as the GIFT aesthetic – which they must derive from the previous releases or the website imagery.”

This is where it gets particularly interesting, I think.  When I look at the discography page on Gift’s website, there is a fairly obvious thread running through all the art, even though a dozen or so people came up with the images on those releases.  So what exactly does that suggest?  Why are individual artists trying to fit in with this created aesthetic?  When I was picking out art for my two releases on Gift (The North Sea & Concessionaires), I didn’t set out to choose something that fit in with an overriding look, but somehow ended up back there anyway.  I think there’s a subconscious desire to find that continuity, that common thread in a label’s catalog in an effort to distinguish one label from another.  I mean, it makes sense… with the number of labels out there these days that sort of thing can help a person keep track.  You also don’t want to be the person who fucks up an already good thing by offering up some shit art, so naturally you look at what has come before and try to hold serve.

As an artist/musician, I always enjoy doing releases for labels where the person running it is going to come up with the art.  I always view it as their visual interpretation of the music and I like getting a more objective reaction to it in that way than I’d be capable of myself.  Sometimes it comes out in a similar way as to how I’d have done it, other times it’s totally different.  But you know, how do you decide what is best for a certain release?  There’s no rhyme or reason to it and everyone is different.  Jason again: “As Brother Raven, Jaime and I try to link specific releases when there is a connection.  We’ve always seen those 3 Brother Raven tapes on GIFT as a trilogy.  Each cover has sun flares and are fairly poor resolution images.  The BR Digitalis releases are similar to each other as well – more library style, square box format, jammed onto white palette.  The 2 Belgium releases, Timewinder & Eaglevision have a link to one another too – but it’s buried in the track titles.”

Anderson has a fairly discernable aesthetic, but it’s not in-your-face-obvious.  There’s a lot of labels/artists where it is too obvious, and in those instances the releases start to look too same-y for my tastes.  It can be too easy, sometimes, to fall back or continue on with what you already know rather than pushing it further, trying new things (this is true in all aspects, not just art).  Stunned is a great example of a label with an obvious look but one that keeps mutating and changing.  Phil & Myste French never seem content no matter how much praise is thrown at them and I admire the hell out of that.  So for me, the important thing is to find a balance.  In my view, Digitalis Ltd stuff can be picked out of a crowd, but it certainly isn’t the same idea over & over (duh, since a lot of people contribute to the art, but maybe that’s just me).  I just think it’s never good to be too comfortable and if you are, fuck shit up a bit.

Mi Or And the Pedestals “eos” (Gift Tapes)
Upfront, I’ve got history with Ceci Moss, the brains behind Mi Or And the Pedestals, but it’s totally random/small world kind of shit.  Anyway, Ceci & I knew each other back in the mid ’90s when we were little’ns and put one her songs on a (really horrible) tape comp I put out.  But anyway, a lot has changed in those 15 years and her Mi Or And the Pedestals project is one to watch.  “eos” is somewhat disjointed exploration of synchronous analog sounds.  That doesn’t make sense, right?  Well, that’s just the thing – there’s a lot about this tape that shouldn’t make sense, and the fact that it does so without tripping over itself is why I like it so damn much.  Gift uses the description “crystalline shapes” for “eos” and that is spot on.  The sounds Moss creates are shapes, floating through the air and somehow merging together to form something new.  Etheral circles of light drop into underground rectangles, sharp at every edge and covered in grime.  This is my kind of seesaw.

Eagle Chalice “Let’s Float” (Hidden Fortress)
Totally random burner that showed up in our mailbox but, as I’m a sucker for anything with Eagle in it for obvious reasons, I had to give it a try and hot damn am I happy that I did.  This Bay Area project is treading in zones that are hitting me just right at the moment.  Granted, when this showed up it was still 100 degrees outside and full-on summer and these tunes are perfect for that, but you know, even as the leaves begin to turn and the nights get cold this is still flowing just right.  The a-side is full of hazy dreamworld synths layered in syrup and set sail on methodical, plodding beats.  It is goddamn great.  The flipside slows things down and gets frozen out.  It’s still a total trip but at half-speed, drunkenly wandering through empty city streets.  Love this sucker – one of my favorite tapes of 2010.

Sunken Colony “No. 666 In Heaven” (Meandering)
This one came out of nowhere.  Literally – cuz I don’t have a clue how a copy of it ended up on my desk but I’m really happy that it did.  So, Sunken Colony mix low-end synths and electronics with muddled, minimal beats and do it quite well.  There’s something vaguely-industrial about it, but shots of spaced-out sequencer melodies lighten things up a bit.  That being said, “No. 666 in Heaven” is a dense listening experience with a ton of layers to peel back.  Heavy buzzsaws greet you on the flip, but the whole thing is weirdly melodic.  This is what I always thought Collections of Colonies of Bees would/should sound like.  It doesn’t stick around long, eventually giving way to bubbling electronics with an academic feel.  There’s a lot of stuff packed into this short tape and shows one hell of a range for this project.  I know I want to hear more, anyway.  And bonus points for a really good art/design package.  Nice job.

Greenhouse “Golden City” (Prairie Fire)
More disclosure time… after listening to this tape three or four times, I realized that the brains behind Greenhouse as none other than Foxy D contributor Curran Faris.  I had no clue, so good on us for employing such a talented Canadian.  All that being said, this is a lovely tape.  Subtle and understated like a soundtrack for a crisp, sun-dazed morning.  I’m guessing this either guitar, pedal steel or some combination of the two.  Woozy tones creep in from underneath the door way, allowing you to drift off into the endless dawn.  There’s a lot of ‘pretty drone music’ out there but there’s something thats hard to pin down on this that really grabs me and keeps me interested.  It’s a beautiful piece of music, no doubt, but whatever is happening just below the surface is the most engaging aspect of it. “Golden City” is such a perfect title for this, though.  Everything glistens, drawing you into its haze.

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