2014 Favorite Recordings

I'm always a bit torn on year end lists. I actually enjoy reading them and making them, but I hesitate sharing them.
To keep it simple, I'm posting these in alphabetic order as opposed to ranking them. These are not all tapes but many are. These are merely the albums & tapes that I listened to the most this year. I'm sure I forgot something.
I hope you discover something new off this list.

Algorhythms — EELRIJUE

Branks — Symbolic Body Altar

Cliff Dweller — The Dream in Captivity

Count Lazy & Funkbademeister — Funklifesavers

Dan Melchior & Ezio Piermattei — MDTS 10

Imprints — Data Trails

Joshua Bonnetta — Strange Lines and Distances

M. Sage — Data in the Details

Porya Hatami — The Garden

Tom White — Reconstruction

Topdown Dialectic — s/t

Wun Two — Rio

Zeroh — Pool Party: Original Still Picture Soundtrack

Braeyden Jae — Heaven House

As mentioned in the previous post, I had a great time checking out bands at the 2014 Goldrush Festival in Denver. I arrived a bit late but was fortunate enough to walk in during Braeyden Jae’s set and catch the majority of it. After being swept away by his performance, I knew I needed to hear more, so lucky for me, we were introduced and he graciously presented me with his cassette, Heaven House.

Heaven House begins unabashedly and instantly with a cascading wall of guitar drone. It’s fucking loud. Then it gets louder. It’s intense but it’s not overwhelming. The swells in the sound are subtle but apparent - not like some drone where the tone is changing so slowly that you barely recognize it which can make the tracks feel way too long. This is spot on perfect. I definitely want more from Braeyden Jae other than just this cassette - let’s hope that happens.

Heaven House was released by Patient Sounds and is now (sadly for you) sold out but you can still (luckily for you) acquire a digital version from Braeyden Jae’s Bandcamp page.

 Braeyden Jae — Heaven House  (Patient Sounds)

Braeyden Jae — Heaven House  (Patient Sounds)

Sister Grotto — The Minotaur

Recently I was lucky enough to travel to Denver for the 4th annual Goldrush Music Festival. Out of all the amazing musicians, a few really stood out to me & really fit the aesthetic of music I enjoy listening to. One of those was local artist Madeline Johnston aka Sister Grotto.

I had had my eye on her cassette, prominently pronounced at the record & tape merch area, from the moment I got there & started perusing what was for sale. There was something about the horned animal that graced the cover with 6 hand drawn labryses below it that got my attention. Once it came time for Sister Grotto’s performance the following day, I was really excited to see what sort of sounds could be represented by this art.

What I remember most from the performance is the dimly lit girl on stage by herself singing through a yellow telephone handset standing behind some keyboards. She methodically clicked pedals with her foot and created loop on top of loop which emanated an ethereal layer of sonic fog throughout the small venue’s room. As soon as the set was finished, I rushed over to secure my copy of her cassette, that of which is not sonically too far from the what she delivers live.

Madeline gently picks, plucks & strums her guitar, looping sections and adding ghostly reverberated vocals on top. A beautiful and epic 19 minute long track makes up the first half of the Minotaur cassette, the other half belonging to OHDO (Hunter Dragon).

You can still grab a physical or digital copy over at the Sister Grotto Bandcamp page.

 Sister Grotto — The Minotaur  (Tinyamp Records)

Sister Grotto — The Minotaur  (Tinyamp Records)

Topdown Dialectic — s/t

Topdown Dialectic's self titled cassette on newcomer label, Aught, is an amalgam of layer upon layer of beats, loops, electronic din & static kisses. There's an electronic slime that's slinks it's way through these tracks muffling the radio transmissions & masking the already garbled voices that fight their way through the pulsating grime. The whole thing is dense & heavy but not so much that you can't move to it - if you were prone to dancing that is.

There's something industrial about it as well - not industrial as in the genre, but more so like this tape is the soundtrack to a movie set in a future Japan where acid rain is in a constant drizzle & the streets have fallen prey to debauchery & a robotically weaponized militia. 

The packaging couldn't get much more minimal than this: white text imprinted on a clear shell housed in a clear ziplock bag. This looks to be Aughts standard aesthetic - 3 identical releases make up the label's current catalog. Grab Topdown Dialectic's joint and the others while your at it on Aught's Bandcamp page.

 Topdown Dialectic — s/t  (Aught)

Topdown Dialectic — s/t  (Aught)

Luciernaga — Tile

The latest release by Luciernaga is super limited edition cassette (only 20) entitled, Tile. Side A consists of 5 recordings of ethereal sounds & textures, all untitled other than a brief explanation of the devices or instruments used to create the them - bow scraping on metal, treated guitar, detuned guitar loops, a Tibetan prayer bowl, followed by slide guitar with e-bow. Each track has it's own deliberately meditative quality and you are gently pulled into one after another with ease. Don't let the seemingly abrasive "bow scraping against metal" deter you... Without this knowledge, I doubt one would really guess what was utilized for the composition.

Side B, again is an invitation to the listener to get lost in the recording, as a continuous loop repeats for the 22 plus remaining minutes of the cassette. Other than an extremely slow fade, the track does not have any varying quality in the sound or pitch but this undoubtedly assists in what the track was intended for: meditation, invocations or conjurings according to the liner notes.

The cassette is home-dubbed and housed in a beautiful patterned, hand numbered Brad Pak. Included with my copy was a silkscreened or stamped image of a Hamsa on paper.

At the time of this post only 2 of the 20 cassettes were remaining and at a mere $3 each, I can't imagine they will be available much longer. Lucky for you though, the digital version is available for free download if you miss out on the physical copy. Get either on Luciernaga's Bandcamp page.

Luciernaga is the solo recording project of Joao M. Da Silva, owner of Fabrica Records.

 Luciernaga — Tile  (Fabrica Records)

Luciernaga — Tile  (Fabrica Records)

Aki Onda — Voice Studies 17

Essentially, Aki Onda's addition to My Dance The Skull's Voice Study series is a collection of radio recordings he acquired while traveling. Using his Walkman, he found a station or combination of overlapping stations, then recorded them to cassette and thus compiled his favorite segments. There is a whole description of the process in the cassette liner notes which makes the recordings all the more interesting.

There is a humanity to these recordings. These are random moments captured unbeknownst to the speakers. Are they conversations? Are they advertisements? Is it political? I think what's interesting is that unless you speak the language playing at the moment, you can't really tell. And honestly for me, it doesn't matter. What I enjoy about it is becoming familiar with the characters to a degree. I find myself thinking, "Oh yeah I like this part" and I have my own (probably) incorrect translations. Maybe you do start to figure out what certain segments are about or what they are discussing. In that way, the tape becomes a lost archive and you are the anthropologist studying your finding for clues to a past civilization. 

There are moments of rhythm to certain segments. Others not so much. But that's not the goal here. This is in fact a voice study. Aki Onda even mentions in the liner notes that "if the key to this composition is to listen to voices divorced of meaning, then this may not be as effective to the multilinguist who can understand many languages at once."

This tape may not be for everyone but it's still advisable that you dive in & listen. It's art, bottom line. And art is more important than most things. At the moment, this cassette is still available through MDTS's site.

 Aki Onda — Voice Studies 17  (My Dance The Skull)

Aki Onda — Voice Studies 17  (My Dance The Skull)

Ricarda Cometa — s/t

Although I’m not necessarily looking for it, I don’t seem to come across too much new music that falls under the No Wave genre. Ever since being exposed to it’s sounds - most likely via the art film Downtown 81 - I’ve been a fan. If you are not familiar with the bands of this late 70’s / early 80’s movement then you’ve got some homework to do. You can easily download the NY NO WAVE compilation (curated by Brian Eno nonetheless) and get your visual stimulation on with Thurston Moore’s co-authored book, NO WAVE.

All that said, whether you are familiar or not with NO WAVE, there are some current bands who are continuing to keep the genre alive. A while back I discovered Ricarda Cometa and then it seemed like overnight, LA label Geweih Ritual Documents was announcing the future cassette release of the bands self-titled album. Being that the packaging for all GRD releases are very detailed & precise, the process is long & laborious but always well worth the wait.

Hailing from Buenos Aires, Ricada Cometa deliver 8 improvised tracks packed into 30 minutes on this slick yellow cassette. Like their NO WAVE predecessors, they pluck and bang away at guitars making jangly discordant jams. Other than some background chatter & chanting they shy away from vocals and just focus on each other’s instruments & attempt to make some harmonious dissonance. They succeed at this so well that I actually hold them quite in the same regard as bands of the past. They remain true to the style of the genre but somehow take the noisy mess of it all and give it a polish, making it a bit easier on the ears.

You can grab the album for free via the band’s own Bandcamp but if you are prone to the physical format, you’ll be impressed with GRD’s delivery, plus you’ll still get your digi copy.

 Ricarda Cometa — s/t  (Geweih Ritual Documents)

Ricarda Cometa — s/t  (Geweih Ritual Documents)

Count Lazy & Funkbademeister — Funklifesavers

It’s not hard to find a beat tape these days. Bandcamp is littered with them. But you’ll be hard pressed to find one that is actually really stellar. Don't fret, I've got one for you. 

Funklifesavers by Count Lazy & Funkbademeister is remiscent of early 90’s boom bap era when hip hop was so so good. Fans of A Tribe Called Quest will undoubtedly appreciate this collection of instrumentals, given that it's laced with jazz samples, though more prevalent then Tribe and not nearly as dense & moody as Digable Planets. I think Guru would have approved. Vocal samples are sprinkled throughout which gives you an idea of what these tracks would sound like with an emcee rhyming over them and I'll admit, I wouldn't mind hearing that at all. 

The vibe here is bright & lighthearted. The tracks are short enough that you don’t get bored with the beat but nothing feels rushed at all. This cassette is a perfect soundtrack for your next house party or just lounging by the pool this Summer (note the cover art).

I've never heard of Count Lazy & Funkbademeister before but I'll definitely be on the lookout for future releases from either now that they are on my radar. Radio Juicy released Funklifesavers this year & it promptly sold out.  Lucky for you, a second pressing of this tape was just dropped. Newcomers to Radio Juicy should start here & continue to dig through their catalog - you won't be disappointed.

 Count Lazy & Funkbademeister — Funklifesavers  (Radio Juicy)

Count Lazy & Funkbademeister — Funklifesavers  (Radio Juicy)

Jon Wayne — Cassette 3: The Marion Morrison Mixtape

Let’s be honest: hip hop surely isn’t dead but it’s been on fucking life support for quite some time while strands of it’s DNA have been altered & different mutations have occurred over the past 30+ years. When I come across an emcee who can keep my interest for more than their hit single, I’m genuinely surprised.

I discovered Jon Wayne when his first cassette dropped on Stones Throw a couple years ago - luckily I copped it before it was pulled from the online store due to a cease & desist notice from William Morris’ lawyers because of the album art. Now he’s three tapes deep with the label and he’s only progressed.

Like most rappers, Jon explains why he is better than his contemporaries using clever metaphors and witty remarks all the while he refrains from being cheeky. At the same time he’s extremely open about who has influenced him, opening the tape with a Bukowski sample and giving shouts to Jeru the Damaja, Dilla, Madlib, and probably his biggest influence, DOOM. On the cassette’s final track, he goes so far as to rap over a Madvillainy’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and confesses that “DOOM set the bar so high, it’s got the munchies.”

Jon’s not in a hurry to spit his rhymes either. His laid back demeanor and choice of solid beats makes Cassette 3 easily digestible. The only time he starts to speed things up a bit, he jokingly demands to catch his breath. He also doesn’t bother with choruses and catchy hooks for the most part and avoids corny skits that seem to plague hip hop. Do people even still do that type of shit?

A small host of A+ indie emcees appear on the cassette and they definitely add to the recipe making it all the more appetizing. Jeremiah Jae, Oliver the 2nd and Zeroh of the Black Jungle Squad collective all shine here, not to mention Captain Murphy aka beatmaster extraordinaire turned insanely skilled rapper, Flying Lotus.

Along with the non sequitur and seemingly random poetics a la DOOM and early Beck, Jon also takes time to explain quite frankly that his name is actually his given one as opposed to some clownish moniker. He reveals that the famed actor's name was really Marion Morrison hence the cassette's title and gives a brief history lesson on the subject. Though having his race brought into the calculation of his ability as an emcee has probably created less vexation than his namesake, he still makes a point to threaten that “The next person to give me the white handicap daps gets diced like the cheese that you be.”

There are still copies of Cassette 3 available from Stones Throw and just so you have a nice clean digital version, you can download from them as well for free.

 Jon Wayne — Cassette 3: The Marion Morrison Mixtape  (Stones Throw)

Jon Wayne — Cassette 3: The Marion Morrison Mixtape  (Stones Throw)

Auburn Lull — Hiber

Hiber begins bounding through a cumulus cloud in slow motion before transitioning into a 10 minute free fall that takes you from this nebulous region slowly downward towards Earth and gives you a better idea of where the cassette is headed. The Northern Lights illuminate the crashing waves below as the descent continues throughout the tape's first half. The flip side stays true to the given course but it's oceanic now and cavernous and still sinking. It gets deeper and darker but still retains sentiments of it's original sweetness. It's melancholic but also sanguine. You can really feel the pull of the last track's guttural loop which sounds like it could have been taken from Collin Stetson's beast of a horn. And then just like that, it all slips off into the darkness leaving you behind in the abyss, sleepy but refreshed.

This is Auburn Lull's first release in 6 years and they've chosen to work with Geographic North who's design aesthetic is unrivaled. This handsome blueberry cassette is encased in a pink j-card with a modern text layout and floral pattern backing. Stunning. Limited edition of 100 cassettes available directly from Geographic North with the option to download as well.

 Auburn Lull — Hiber  (Geographic North)

Auburn Lull — Hiber  (Geographic North)

Ferrari Jackson — Lush

Lush by Ferrari Jackson is like the the most perfect soundtrack to the video game OutRun. I don't mean this is some 8 bit junk either. The cassette gives you the cues for the set up: The staccato beats. The repetition. The jagged vocal samples. The horns reminiscent of Jan Hammer's hit. The announcer saying "Start your engines." It's upbeat. It feels good. There's even a slow jam for a bonus round you've been awarded for your high score.

Let me break down the scene. You're in Miami. Driving a white Ferrari with white leather interior. Going way too fast. Your lady friend is next to you. She's eating strawberries. It's 120 degrees outside. You have the top down. The AC is blasting. Palm trees whiz by in bursts of blurs. There's the ocean. Smell the sea air? Your hair is perfect. No denim on the seats. You will need a towel. This is Ferrari Jackson.

Clocking in at right around 18 minutes, this cassette is like any good video game's end... you have to start over.

Unfortunately it appears that the label that released this tape is no longer around but you might be able to find a copy on Discogs.

 Ferrari Jackson — Lush  (Culture Dealer)

Ferrari Jackson — Lush  (Culture Dealer)

Clint Heidorn — The Oak Tree

I always enjoy hearing the sounds of an orchestra tune their instruments in preparation for whatever masterpiece they intend to play. There's a cacophony of sounds that may seem insignificant to the people who are waiting to enjoy what they've paid to listen to before the classics begin. But I love that sound. Clint Heidorn's cassette The Oak Tree seemingly starts off this way. Plucks of strings & pulls of bows. But after a few minutes you realize it's intentional. It's like free jazz but with classical instruments and guitar. Is that a genre? Post-classical? Just when you get into it & think you understand and start to appreciate the delicate, deliberate instrumentations, there comes bellowing out these angelic female "Ah aaaah aaaaaaah's". Then as that settles in & you are comfortable with this newcomer, it's all over. Obviously you have to flip the tape even though you want to rewind & start Side A again. 

And Side B is another surprise as it's strictly an homage to the oak tree of which the cassette is dedicated & titled after.

You really have no choice at this point other than repeating the whole cycle again, hoping to pick up tiny bits that you missed the first go 'round.
If that wasn't enough, the deluxe edition cassette comes housed in a wooden photo box equipped with dried leaves from the aforementioned tree and photos of it in case you weren't certain it actually existed. Self released by Clint Heidorn and available from his Bandcamp page

 Clint Heidorn — The Oak Tree  (self released)

Clint Heidorn — The Oak Tree  (self released)

Brian Green — Milltown

Whirrings. Clicks. Clacks. Dings. Clings. And Thhudddps. So many sounds on Brian Green's Milltown of which all are manipulated & looped field recordings. The theater where the sounds were taken from is an old textile mill in South Carolina. Imagine the slow pull of a roller coaster, up & up & up but without the gut wrenching drop. It's the pull, the drag of the mill's sounds added & multiplied that's the ride taking you higher & higher through the clouds. You can feel it in your belly. It can be noisy & nauseating but all the while soothing & you can get into the trance of it if you allow yourself. When you think one sound has dissipated, it's back again. There is a rhythm. This is musical no doubt. Is there a math equation to this? I think only Brian Green knows.

This is a slow ride I continue to enjoy. And let's not forget the immaculate packaging - the tape comes inserted in what appears to be a handmade wooden box along with a risograph print. Damn fine product all around.

Released by Portuguese label, A Giant Fern. Edition of 50. Unfortunately this is sold out but you can check out Brian Green here and A Gian Fern here.

 Brain Green — Milltown  (A Gian Fern)

Brain Green — Milltown  (A Gian Fern)