Blastitude Number Five

 ISSUE #5      FEBRUARY, 2001
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The prodigal son of Russ Waterhouse, White Tapes as an entity/label seems to come and go like a traveling salesman. He arrives at your door after a six months absence, the two of you go out on an all night bender, crash a few after-hour trade show parties and then he disappears again before you wake up the next day, wondering who’s pants you’re wearing and which hotel parking lot this is that you’re sleeping in (and look at that! Right next to my car. And to think I spent an HOUR looking for it last night, and here it was the whole time.).
        And that’s kind of the way it should be. It gives an air of mystery, of hugeness to the label. The old White Tapes webpage showed a past release list that looked like the cast of extras on a Cecil B. DeMille movie…you hadn’t heard of half of these tapes, and you sure as hell didn’t come into personal contact with more than a handful of them. Like kindred spirits American Tapes, there’s that realization that a host of micro-edition tapes has gone out to clusters of suburban sound-sops around the country while you were waiting for the next label update to hit your email box. All it takes to grab onto one of these elusive critters is perhaps to drop Russ an email out of the blue and say "So, what’chew been doing lately?"
        Unlike American Tapes, there’s something blissfully understated about Russ’ empire. Releases don’t go out of print with a bang, or a whimper, more of a nod and a pat on the shoulder. The ones you are privileged to hear will probably change your life in small, sweet ways, and the ones you missed probably would have too. This may well be the best method devised yet to discourage label completionists like myself…the product comes out so fast and tiny, nobody could have a complete set. But in contrast to American, in which each release is like a circus performer, every one more colorful and ostentatious than the last, White Tapes are more like a string of interesting bar patrons. You don’t feel bad if you haven’t had a chance to hear the life story of everybody in the bar, but you enjoy the stories you’ve heard, and you can leave happy at the end of the night.
As this review may have indicated, White Tapes have again hit the road like Ned Beatty in Silver Streak, instigating a happy hubbub at shriners conventions across the land, so grab a stiff drink and your name badge and come with me as we join the action, already in progress…

The SB -- Test Hits CD-R
Early on into the reviews and we’re already seeing a big surprise – Russ has gone at least partly digital! The "Cherries" side label (distinguished from the tape series, which is called "Private Dancer") is putting out new and reissued works on CD-R for a very affordable $5 plus shipping. They come in nice slipcases with airbrush painting on the front, and since they’re the types of slipcases that usually contain computer discs, it’s the ones that are sealed and you have to rip open (eek! Not the special packaging, Maude!) to get to. The two I received in this package looked exactly alike, except for the typewriter-on-transparancy-on-whiteout-blob title sticker on the back, classy and understated.
I had not heard The SB before this, or even heard of them, but it seems they’ve already disbanded. Like the label, elements of the NY free improv clubhouse appear and disappear with nary a blip on the collective radar. It’s a 20 minute EP of group intuition, with a host of gradually shifting and blending instruments such as bass, guitar, oscillator/electronics, saxophone, violin and assorted feedback devices. Doesn’t sound like anything you’ve not heard before, but it’s better, because unlike most of the free-scuttle you’ve picked up last year, it’s delicate and benevolent, rather than cracked and hostile. There are certainly moments where the feedback begins to hovering frighteningly overhead, but The SB never give in to such standard deviations. If someone gets malevolent on the group’s ass, nobody picks up the ball and runs with it! The guitars sometimes play melodies, the bass is very melodic through the start of the recording, and the oscillators never get too harsh. Everywhere you listen, you start to hear things that could sound like standard free improv moves, but they always resolve into something else, something better. A cork-tipped fork in the eye of the never-ending bowed metal drone legions.

Born In East L.A. -- s/t cassette
When the now-mythological free glam junta To Live And Shave In L.A. decided that it was time to hang up the spangles and close the makeup mirror for good, many of their fans, and even some of the band members past a present, brusquely grabbed the dropped torch away and proceeded to burn their own asses with it. Anyone who was a Shave fan has heard of the Shave Clone era, when little replicas of this frenzied and holy cool sleaze corporation started springing up in all parts of the country. Like "After-MASH" and "Trapper John, MD," none of the spin-offs ever captured the magic of the original, but each one probably had some choice moments, whether they were recorded or not.
I have to admit that I really didn’t follow the exploits of these PRE-replicants very closely, but my impression was that each faction seemed to capture some element of the original Shave mythos. To Live and Shave In L.A. 2 made a ham-fisted grab for sheer sonic brutality, while I Live In L.A. ran straight for the audience battering, and I Love L.A. took the route of the fatherband’s more detailed studio releases.
If this model holds up, then Born In East L.A. took the sound and feel of the Shave on their many deleted live tapes…bad fidelity, low turnout and unresponsive audience, and a sweet and humorous pathos in the face of chin-scratching apathy.
Starting with a blast of tape from Label Master Russ that sounds like an argument captured out a window on the streets below, SPITE label head Joel St. Germain adds the sounds of a delay pedal, a robot (?) and a Casio to the mix, UNIVAX-styled synth beeps and calculations over a rough foundation of hoarse voices and movements. It’s only 10 minutes, and comes on a very low-grade 60 minute tape, allowing you to interpret the next 50 minutes of after-show drinking and carousing for yourself. The audience sounds less than enthused, but I play this at least a couple times a week.

The Animals -- 7.15.00 cassette
This came as a real shock. I had heard something previously on White Tapes, also credited to The Animals, which sounded nothing like this. That tape had the feel of what I’ve come to term the "Swinging Lavatory Improv" sound. If you’ve heard more than a few American Tapes (and some Rheum) releases, you know the sound. Room ambiance rules the recordings, but not the chapel-sized caverns of Crawl Unit, but the tiled-wall confines of an old movie theatre lavatory, with instruments often droning and creaking like someone endlessly pushing a rusty trash can lid open and closed. I find this type of improv/noise to be endlessly soothing, and different-like-a-snowflake consistent enough to welcome each new addition to the canon into my home with mannered delight.
But this ain’t that at all. It’s instead a guitar/drum improv duo, a la Ascension, recorded live. And although that isn't normally my thing, this rocks me out madly. And mostly because it does rock, and doesn’t try to skronk too hard. I can only get so excited about guitar noise coupled with free drumming, but I can get very excited about almost-metal riffs spiraling into themselves like a suburban John McLaughlin, while the drummer keeps a steady groovebeat beneath. It reminds me more of the first Big Whiskey album than anything on Corpus Hermeticum, or anything with numbers for song titles. I play it more than anything else in this style that I own, and so will you.

Rheum -- Loathsome Idols cassette
Russ is Rheum, and this tape is a 1-sided C-60 "greatest hits" of some of his releases on his own and other labels, including SPITE and Uncut. Rheum is like the noise wing of Swinging Lavatory Improv, again working in very grainy environs but with a deeper and more full-bore thunder. Having only heard his "Solo Joint" tape on SPITE before this, I was taken by the varied approach his project tapes, ranging from hands-off late-esque location pieces to pedal noises in full tilt. Even some manipulated turkish music (the cover is a funny/disturbing/incomprehensible Turkish collage). All of it has those succulent tape-label homey-ness, the kind you always want more, as long as it’s the really good stuff. This is all the really good stuff. The inside cover contains a stamp with the words "Loathsome Idols" and a phone number on it. Anyone care to take a chance and ring it up? You think you’ll get Russ, or maybe "Loathesome Idols Catering Service"?

FKTRN -- 99 - 2000 cassette
This tape was in my package even though I didn’t order it, and it hadn’t been advertised in the White Tapes catalog. Guess it must have been released in the time between my money being sent and the package hitting the USPS (just like I said, tape-label ballet!). I can’t say I’d heard of FKTRN, but as I started to look over the J-card, I recognized some things…familiar box-y checkerboard line art, hand-written/revised track listings, and most importantly, the names…Vanessa and Dino. Wait, wait…Vanessa and Dino? Could it be? Could they have…is it…could it be…
Sure enough, it seems to be one of my favorite could’ve-beens of ’98, the Monotract spin-off Old Bombs. To the best of my knowledge, they only released two one-sided tapes, one 30 minute one on White Tapes, the other a stunning 15 minute tape on SPITE. They did the Monotract thing with noise instead of noise-rock, lots of junk elements, turntable abuse, and what sounded like many homemade instrumentation/noisemakers. I was in love, but my love kept me at a distance by only coming home for these brief, almost conjugal visit stays (15 and 30 minutes? How can I get to know you like that?).
But with FKTRN, Vanessa and Dino area back with a flourish, two sides to the tape, and it seems they’ve added some new equipment, some of it employed for gettin’ it on the good foot. Yep, unlike Old Bombs, you can, er, D.A.N.C.E. to F.K.T.R.N. Well, in that way that you can dance to Wolf Eyes or Jean Street.
The "midwest sickly electronica" sound is on this tape like cheese-flavored on balls. Although certain tracks go totally arrhythmic, most of them clonk and grind along like the electronic messiah we were promised in ’92, but didn’t get until ’99 (see my forthcoming article, "Ha ha, you missed the best electronica of the ‘90s because you listened to Hrvatski instead of cassettes" for more details), the hubbub party jam that nobody picked up when Severed Heads threw it all away to become New Order. Even down to the ‘80s Pat Benetar-meets Cosey Fanni Tutti of the NEW! IMPROVED! Hanson Records style, this tape screams Ann Arbor, Michigan. And you know how we like screaming in this household. Best of all, my tape was recorded on a Eric B. and Rakim tape I don’t yet own, allowing me not only a great soaking of nuts n’ noise, but also a preview of "Follow The Leader." The two taste great together, like they were made for each other. Kind of like a very perverse mixtape, with only two artists per side. Nine stars out of a possible four.

Spykes – Underneath Style CD-R
Starting and closing with CD-R EPs, this one a reissue of an even smaller American Tapes micro release by AT label head John Olson. Spykes (previously GI and the Spykes, previously DL Savings TX) is Olson’s Rheum, the noise/sound project. Like the FKTRN tape, this dips a toe in the Wolf Eyes electronic sound, but the beatz come in half-dozenz this time. It’s mostly oozing and wheezing electronic lincoln logs, piling upon each other in crooked but organized ways. Like Merzbow with homegrown equipment, there are tens of things to be enjoyed in any given second, with the next 10 seconds promising ten completely different events. There’s eight or nine short tracks and a 14+ minute drone at the end to calm you down. Is it worth it to reissue a release in an edition of probably 50 that was probably originally issued in an edition of 9? I think so…there’s probably about 59 people in the world that need to hear this, and you damn sure know who you are. Chop chop!


Write to Russ at for ordering info and shipping prices. These may still be available, but if not, there will be something new on the way that you’ll grok. Don’t be a stranger, Russ; crashing the plumber and pipefitters convention just isn’t the same without you!


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