Cassettes – and more interestingly, cassette singles – are making a comeback. Some people can’t understand it, but it’s pretty easy to see why. Just as in days of yore, if you have a couple of tunes but you’re not yet able to stump up for the studio time and cutting costs of a vinyl release, you can record at home and bang a couple of songs onto tape. I mean, sure, you could release it online – but everyone knows digital releases have a shelf life of about 3 days before everyone forgets they exist. Tapes, on the other hand, tend to end up in a little pile on people’s dressing table where they become cherished possessions – helping cement the relationship between listener and artist.
I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a small haul of exclusive cassette releases over the last couple of weeks, so I’m going to share them with you. Most cassette-only releases since the early 80s have had a DIY feel to them, although in these latter years digital recording technology means none of these releases are likely to have been made on a 4 track studio-in-a-box. Sadly, for all they’ve gained in production values, they haven’t maintained in dynamic integrity. All four releases are relatively squashed (“loud”), some more than others. If any of the artists are reading now, I would remind them that the people listening to the actual tape probably have a hifi, so can just turn it up and won’t benefit from a compressed, dynamically impaired master. It’s a point we make often in reviews on this blog, but its a point worth making again and again.
Gundogs – Tokyo/Lurcher
This punchy two track single is a wonderful statement of intent from this brand new West Yorkshire two piece. The whole thing has the cavernous, vaguely metallic tang of late 80s digital reverb units layered over literally everything. Although it has that wonderful faux-tribal feel of early Red Lorry Yellow Lorry recordings (think “He’s Read”), it’s still quite primitive. I’ve seen these guys play live and they did some really cool stuff with looped synth parts that aren’t really present on this rather direct garage-goth offering, but it gives me the feeling that they’re developing their sound in ever more interesting directions.
I’d advise you get yourselves a copy of this tape while you still can. For its own sake, and also because it’ll be a treat to own once this band have started to build up a more comprehensive back catalogue.
FEHM – Animal Skin
There’s a style that’s been doing the rounds recently. It combines a sort of fuzzed up Americana with a mean post-punk snarl. A Jesus And Mary Chain meets The Cramps sonic posture. The Amazing Snakeheads did it, The Sly Persuaders are doing it and now FEHM chuck their hat into the ring. All tremelo and whammy bar guitars, vintage space echo vocals and a bouncing rhythm section that begs for a pogo dance.
This three track cassette is a solid offering of the kind that attracts a mixture of the more badly drugged up Indie kids and the kind of goths that don’t mind soaking themselves in snakebite and waking up with their trousers on backwards. Also from Leeds, I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys quite quickly start to dominate the dive bar circuit up there.
Raum-Zeit – Let a Maniac On Your Modular
WHAT THE CRAP IS THAT NOISE. OH MY GOD TURN IT OFF. No. Wait. Don’t turn it off. That’s a fucking cool noise!
…is more or less all you need to know about Raum-Zeit (who don’t even have a facebook page). It would be easy to compare them to Suicide, but to be honest they aren’t nearly as restrained or minimal. It’s like if all that really unlistenable early Einstürzende Neubauten material had an actual beat behind it.
I suspect if this had been made by a conventional industrial artist it would be called “power noise” and get played by people who used to go to Slimelight “when Slimelight was good” (a mythical time which applies to the exact period when you were old enough to fake your way into clubs but young enough not to get massive come downs after eating an entire wrap of speed). But, because it’s been released on a really hip underground tape label, I’m going to call it Techno-Wave. Because I can.
Don’t let the fact that it’s entirely electronic fool you. Synthpop this is not.
Direct Attack – Lapsed Catholic
A similar sonic palette as Gundogs. An instantly aggressive drum machine and flange/chorus guitar assault. This full length release starts with a few variations on this same high octane approach – none of which really hit the mark. It isn’t till we get towards the end of the first side that Jack Champagne (alias Direct Attack) shows us what he’s really capable of. Bring Me The Head Of John The Baptist justifies the entire A side. The song opens up with gravitas and drama, building up to a punk rock climax better realised on the earlier songs. It also introduces a bit of a bit more sonic dimensionality, with the dripping wet goth guitars giving way to a psychedelic freakout to finish.
Joyfully, the B side continues to be engaging and immersive. I love the sound of every instrument on this release and I adore every painstakingly applied bit of FX-Box weirdness in the production, but as the album progresses it’s good to start hearing more attention being paid to the space between the instruments. The arrangements become more open and its possible to start properly appreciating the idiosyncratic production and performances.
If the sonic journey taken on this tape in any way reflects Direct Attack’s own musical trajectory, you’ll wanna keep a close eye on their future releases.