The history and function of tape trading is something we’re very interested in at Decoder Magazine. To that end, using the stock from our tape label Crash Symbols, we’ve been conducting a series of “guided trades” with other cassette imprints. Part of the advantage we perceive in this treatment is the ability to identify and talk clearly about a more structured notion of “eclecticism” – the idea that many beautiful things can work with and enhance one another so long as they are all beautiful. In the case of art objects or furnishings, they needn’t be made in the same style or by the same craftsman. The same can apply to albums. A record label’s catalog might draw more or less from one or more particular genres, but it need not of necessity. As curators, many label owners would sooner maker their catalogs a reflection of themselves. Considering that a fair number of these people are avid collectors of experience, information, and tapes or records, their imprints begin to share in the same academic and operational rigor that motivates their other passions, so it seems meaningful for us to talk about their catalogs comprehensively.
More importantly, trading tapes underscores a positive way to cultivate coherent and self-sufficient communities, independent of the kind of praise that we admittedly make every effort to lavish on labels in our recurring Tape Trade feature at Decoder. To some consumers, labels are a thing worth reaching out to, and for some label owners, an imprint is something to communicate with; this sometimes plays itself out in the common perception of imprints as too aloof, but also too friendly, depending on what angle you use to scrutinize “the scene”. The difficulty with really evaluating tapes and tape culture is the extent to which it has become a fundamentally voluntary and participatory culture. Paradoxically, many cassette labels have distinguished themselves through an honest and effective leveraging of support through social media.
So, that’s the big idea. This is our fifth tape trade – you can check out some earlier ones here and here) – but more than being your requisite 1,000+ words worth of random music reading today, we hope that this will inspire you to reach out to friends, bands you love, or labels you admire and offer to trade. If you hit us up at Crash Symbols, God knows we’d be psyched to arrange something.
Without further ado, Field Hymns of Portland, an imprint focused on experimental electronic music, with significant helpings of kosmische, prog-rock, and even a little bit of skwee (which I for one can always use is greater quantity than I’m getting).
FH020: Susurrus – S/T (Field Hymns)
From a quiet beginning Susurrus’ self-titled cassette slowly develops a palette of static, giving way to a dramatically active, pulsating drone. Built from feedback and ground-loops, there is some identification with those origins; beyond static and accidental loops, the tape is composed of “various unintended ephemera endemic to electronic instruments and the recording process” and its release notes gesture toward a chaos vs. order dichotomy. The a-side certainly sounds more sympathetic to human structures, vis a vis order, though the drier drone and more piercing, Spartan suite of sounds on the b-side is no less engaging for its lack of friendliness. It is a compelling album, one to be experienced at length, and a well executed document of the dynamic polarities.
FH022: Adderall Canyonly + Oxykitten - The Cutting Room (Field Hymns)
Though Field Hymns released this one without any apparent obfuscation, I’m sure it’s been fun for the label’s proprietor Dylan McConnell to release The Cutting Room, a collaborative tape with his alter egos, Adderall Canyonly and Oxykitten. The two are highly sympathetic , sample-based and primarily encapsulating McConnell’s own aesthetic divide with instrumentals that resonate somewhere between pastoral weirdness and dystopian synths, though it would just as likely appeal to audiences prepped by the rise of Monster Rally. Appropriately enough, the discrete self-pairing yields some of the best music McConnell’s released under either name, though for outing him I’ve obligated myself to assure you he fought often, with himself, during composition and only finished the album under duress. Perhaps from the romantic 70s Michael Caine, who stars in the imagined sci-fi comedy The Cutting Room is supposed to score. Presumably the idea of an absurdist sci-fi romance flick from the 70s references the origin and range of his palette on the release, which draws its material from collected underscores, which usually accompany dialogue or strong visuals in cinema. Given that, if the material evokes any strong imagery, your probably not the first one for whom it’s done so.
FH023: Grapefruit – S/T (Field Hymns)
I actually wrote about this album several weeks before the trade, so excuse me if I quote myself at length, which is preparing to happen even as you read on…
“On his soundcloud account, composer Grapefruit’s little sidebar bio is a quote from a20JazzFunkGreats review, referencing Vangelis’ soundtrack for Blade Runner and commenting on the similarities in Grapefruit’s new self-titled album, out tomorrow on Portland tape label Field Hymns Records, which are too manifest in these recordings to not mention. Though similar sensations pervade the album, the similarities are best exemplified in the anxious grandeur of album opener “Science Wars“; the resemblance would be stronger throughout, but a pronounced kosmische influence makes Grapefruit’s universe a happier one than the dystopia that Vangelis scored for Ridley Scott. Along with the influence of film soundtracks and 70s prog-rock that Grapefruit cites for his work, he points to Theodore Sturgeon, the mid-century science fiction author. The positive themes in his best known speculative works – altered and alternative states of consciousness, empowerment, and the liberation that all good sci-fi implies – are at the heart of Grapefruit’s refraction of Vangelis and similar sounds; ambient scores that sometimes feel too ambiguous for their sheer associative openness, given more definition through synthscaping.” (Original Post).
FH025: Foton – The Way to Omega (Field Hymns)
Foton, McConnell laconically notes in a profile for Impose Magazine, is a “fellow from Siberia” – which seems like an appropriate venue for The Way to Omega with the windswept sound of a light ambient hiss, minimalist arrangements, and elegant synths that seem for all the world to muse on the history of Russia’s frozen desert. Sounds begin and end suddenly, voices rise and fall, all punctuated by frantic moments of intensity from various instrument tracks. Every element of Field Hymns’ description resonates: “RIYL: early synthesis, library music, the inside of your eyelids on a sunny day” at the beginning of their press material and “For fans of Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop” at the end! What could be more appetizing?
Secret Decoder Magazine’s website
Crash Symbols’ bandcamp and Field Hymns’ bandcamp (with a lot to listen to)