I’m big fan of Northern Spy. I took notice of the label back in 2012, when they issued an album by the singular Charles Gayle. In the time since, they’ve proved themselves a formidable force – bringing to light a focused stream of eclectic gems. This is a label that won’t be nailed down. They’re virtuously led by their heart and ears. The catalog boasts artists new and old, from noteworthy names to the incredibly obscure – effortlessly shifting from the most ambitious depths of Rock & Roll, to Folk, Free Jazz, diverse realizations of experimental music, Minimalism, Indian Classical music, and beyond. It is in effect, a label whose ambitions capture this author’s heart.
There’s a lot to be said about the resurgence of the cassette. The format of my youth, once thought forever gone, has crept back to life. I’m a fan – first caught in a blanket nostalgia, over time I have come to see their virtues as a great deal more. I’m a vinyl guy, but above all else, the crucial thing is to invest in the physical object of music, artists, and the hard work of the labels which bring them to light. I cherish the relationship which develops when music takes up space in our lives (against some ethereal stream on a hard drive, or server in a far off land). To create an object takes risk, time, and thought. In an era of slipping sales, and the evaporating bottom line, when a label makes a commitment to offer their audiences a physical thing, they make an unrequired and conscious choice to give everyone more. Bubbling below the recent surge in vinyl sales, are worrying trends which may prove to undermine this all. Anyone who has bought records for more than a few years will have noticed the striking increase in cost. Where only a short while ago, the average cost of a new LP hovered between $10 and $15, now you feel lucky if you can pick one up for under the $20 mark. Somewhere between $25 and $30 is becoming the norm. I’ve heard explanations of supply and demand – that overworked pressing plants have increased their fee, but in a era of the stagnated wage, and overall slipping sales, I can’t imagine that this won’t lead to dire effect – in fact, according to data polled by Vinyl Factory, this year is looking to be the first in many to see vinyl sales fall.
What’s important to remember, is that spirit of adventure – of buying unfamiliar music, and allowing it to offer life to the unknown. A great many arrangements of sound take time to unfold (or understand). When you invest it in, when it has presence on a table or shelf, it pesters and demands you return. This above all else it the virtue of investing in a physical thing. It’s very nature facilitates it’s being all it can be. This is the great beauty of cassettes. They occupy a wonderful middle ground which facilitates risk. They are inexpensive to produce, and thus labels are more willing to gamble on artists who may not garner otherwise worthy sales, while new fans are offered an affordable object to take into their lives – usually costing roughly the same as a drink in a bar.
All of this spirit and more is wrapped into Northern Spy’s new triple bundle of cassettes, released tomorrow as part of Cassette Store Day. Three artists, worthy of risk, each bringing strange and diverse sounds – with all their glory and joy, whistling into our lives.
Padang Food Tigers & Sigbjørn Apeland – Bumblin’ Creed (2016)
I fell in love with this one the moment I heard it. Padang Food Tigers is the London based duo of Stephen Lewis and Spencer Grady. Within Bumblin’ Creed, we find them joined by the Norwegian harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland. For years, the pair has straddled the worlds of folk and experiential music – issuing recordings marked by depth of space and ambience, and bridging the Atlantic for shards of sound. Now joined by Apeland, they’ve upped their game. The album is a beautiful masterstroke – unplaceable in time and space, and brave enough to take it slow. For roughly half an hour we’re coaxed from our cocoon with rippling harmonics, harmonium, carefully placed guitar and banjo tones, against a hint of drone – almost becoming a British portrait of American decay. This one is sure to be a rewarding favorite of cassette store day. Check out the sample below. Grab it quick from your favorite shop, or skip the lines and get it direct from Northern Spy.
Joe Westerlund – Mojave Interlude (2016)
This fucker is a beast! In typical Northern Spy fashion, we’re forced about face, and taken far afield from the previous release. Joe Westerlund is a composer, improviser, percussionist, and vocalist based out of LA – working independently, as well as with about as diverse a group of artists as you could find – Califone, William Tyler, Bon Iver, Megafaun, Sharon Van Etten, Arnold Dreyblatt, and beyond. As far as I can tell, this is his first release of solo work. Given his background, it was not what I was inclined to expect. Joined by Mike Lewis on Saxophone, Trever Hagen on Trumpet and Electronics, as well as Robert Pence on Bass Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone, and Trombone, Westerlund jumps off the deep end with both sides of Mojave Interlude. The work draws from the depths of history the avant-garde – sounding like a hellbent hybrid of 1950’s tape collage and scrappy 1960’s and 70’s English Free-Improv (AMM, Scratch Orchestra, Alterations, etc), while becoming a thing all its own. It’s aggressive and grinding, filled with intricate detail, sensitivity, and sophistication – an incredibly rewarding listen, which makes me hope the composer will dedicate more time to his own work, and makes me excited for what is next to come. Check out the second side below, and get it before it goes.
Horselover Fats – Liberty Ashes (2016)
Horselover Fats’ Liberty Ashes sent me tumbling back. There was a time when sounds like these tore through my life. Early days in NY – when underground loft shows (Mighty Robot, etc) and crazy incongruous noise, marked days and weeks. I can’t tell you much about Horselover Fats. It’s a scrappy eclectic duo, but their album highlights so much of what I love about the format of tape. Their sound wraps me in the blanket of a bygone age – a wall of fed back and distorted guitar with frantic beat, drafty Bushwick walls, a mattress on the floor, and the present smell of an overturned bong. Like my life in those years, Liberty Ashes is a dirty grinding affair. One I don’t return to much, but in this moment, I’m glad I have. The truth is, had this been a $20 LP, I wouldn’t have made it past the first minute or two, but because it’s a tape, I brought something into my life that is beyond what I normally would – with all its rewards, and proofs of the form. The two sides of Liberty Ashes are markedly different. The first is solid hit of driving sound – swirling guitar, momentary drenched vocals, and shattering drums – effectively falling between Punk, Metal, Psychedelia, and Noise. The second side is a stranger more rambling affair – processed electronic drums, howling vocals, and drifting guitar, breaking with category and any tangible claim. Definitely one to grow with over time. The second side is below, get it from Northern Spy, or where ever it can be found.