The mushroom cloud above the synthesizer revival just keeps on expanding. I suppose it makes complete sense to pair the cassette as media with the warm and mystifying sounds of heavily experimental synthetic music. And I suppose I’m not the only one who thinks this. While his humble little cassette imprint—Gift Tapes—continues to deposit curious aural gel-caps into our ears every few months, Jason Anderson appears to be keeping himself busy enough, knee deep in analog goo. Spare Death Icon, Anderson’s solo moniker, has just released a new cassette via The Offices of Moore & Moore. Make sure you have enough plutonium in your Flux Capacitor (unless you’ve already upgraded to the greener Mr. Fusion, in which case I envy you), and prepare to go back in time. We’ll be blasting right past the age of electronics pioneering, and heading straight for the Jurassic period.
This cassette feels like a series of sketches. Pieces begin and end abruptly—and actually on my first listen, I thought the tape was defective. But despite this raw exposure of seams, the tape succeeds heavily. The music between the breaks is, after all, the object of our focus. Anderson pits rhythm versus rhythm, each in its own modular expression. Rapid warbling provides the foundation for curtains of sparsely-hung, slow-attack notes. Strange metallic stabs square-dance a tidy rhythm while free-floating oscillator tones weave trails of light back and forth in the visual plane. Very seldom (if ever) allowing simply one sound dominate the stage, Anderson is a master of complimentary synth work. Things never sound like they are thrown together willy-nilly, and yet I can also tell this isn’t simply ‘Composition by Numbers’. There is something natural and wild happening, and like Fibonacci’s spirals, a conscientious study will boggle the mind with how well-organized the composition is.
I am by no means a purist, but I can appreciate the purist’s aesthetic. It’s an appealing thought, using purely analog machinery and never once allowing digital media to enter in to the equation. Maybe then the warmth I feel when listening to “Highlander/Seahorse” has more to do with my perception than my sensation. The oscillating tones sound truer, and the tone squelches sound more like ear-candy than anything I can recall. But regardless of the media by which the music was transferred, there is that certain warmth conveyed by the music. Many of these brief pieces carry a kind of reflective tone—similar to the end-music for my beloved Mario 2 and Mario 3 video games. The music is often both sweet and sad.
This little sketchbook of synth tunes has found me waiting and ready for its company. After flipping a good dozen-or-so tapes full of side-long jams, it’s a bit of a refreshment to put this cassette in, and share a steaming drink with the many-faced character that Jason Anderson materializes as on “Highlander Seahorse”. Whether it’s amid the rolling Highlands, or at the bottom of the sea, opposite a humble Hippocampus, you’re going to be feeling good. And don’t even think about reaching for that next tape—if you’ve just finished listening to this Spare Death Icon cassette, the next tape you will want to hear is already in your tape deck. 8/10 -- Michael Jantz (17 September, 2009)