May 4, 2012

Tape Trade #5: Tolmie Terrapin Press

I found out about Tolmie Terrapin Press almost entirely accidentally. The first and prime motivator: I saw a link and enjoyed the use of the word "Press". Simple enough. The second totally incidental detail that recommended it was a tape titled I Sincerely Want to Move to the Mountains. Being a sentimental West Virginian on the move, it got me pretty thoroughly onboard, and about now is where I say "woah, did they  ever transcend all that incidental crap" and boy howdy, I assure you they did . Tolmie is governed by a grungier punk sensibility than we've tended to sample with our tape features - totally incidentally, we've ended up frequenting imprints with special projects that fit into the weirder nooks on the axis of electronic music and software production techniques. This particular trade was a good reminder that active tape labels continue to draw elements of their ethos from a wide range of historical influences, making the contemporary resurgence an even more diverse game than the proliferation of niche music might already make it seem. Anyway, thanks for reading with us and hopefully you find something you like in this batch.

TTP2: Mole People, S/T - With that devil-may-care pink mole, the unsettling black, and the terror of photo-copied inserts, I was sure that Greg's self-titled Mole People cassette - the earliest Tolmie Terrapin release he sent me - would be the thrashingest of the lot and best exemplify the "stab rock" genre that he identified with on this one. It does and it doesn't; Tolmie releases are all true to their ethos and the keyword for this whole trade is variety, emotional variety in particular. My first thought after finishing the tape: Mole People is definitely the rockingest Tolmie tape, but it can't mimic the more conceptual sound of no-wave, which comes in spades with the next tape I'll talk about, though the b-side steps up the competition with some serious choral screaming. For my second listen, I spent some more serious time with the lyrics and pulled up the volume, then all of a sudden I'm "vomiting bones into a pot" (pit?) and every other tenth word is a synonym for fetid. The song's internal complexity, some suggestions of psych-pop in more nuanced rhythms and fun melodies, tricked me and realizing just how much on the second listen was pretty great. 

TTP5: The Dictaphone, Past.Future.Void. - There's something great about an opening track called "A Close Shave (Alt Take)" on an album that sounds like the "Alt Take" was an even closer shave; the heads completely off. It doesn't shred quite that much and the tone moderates and shifts throughout, but this stuff is just great. No wave and punk flags immediately go up, but this is more diverse, with an attitude toward reverb that ranges from being maxed out to nothing and a serious recurring affinity for machine noise. Sometimes its dark and sometimes the guitars are what you might and has oft been called "morose", but even at its most remote, all no-wave and industrial wastes, there's a buoyancy that belies any emotional suppositions you might make.

The Dictaphone is a French "one man band" and Tolmie's oblique note on their release page, "Starring: J", is the only indication of identity or authorship I can find, but it makes sense and the secretive Frenchman wears his identity well; enclosed with the tape comes a photo-copied banner emblazoned with the assumed name. Dictaphone incidentally is a register trademark and an extant company, owned by Nuance Communications. In the same vein, I wonder if "Dictaphone" is word play, a play on the similarity of "dicta-" to "dictator"? Or is that too on the nose? Either way, the vocals are almost "snotty" in the most anthropological sense possible, but consistently well delivered;  not exactly intelligible at all times, but still distinct even through much of the gloom. Here's some further points for research - he's got a tape out on Nantes post-punk label Schmalzgrub Audiokassetten, which is still available here, and a new album out on Cocktail Pueblo, another French imprint.

TTP8: Blood Lake, I Sincerely Want to Move to the Mountains - As a West Virginian living in California at the time I spotted this tape the title was of immediate interest; it was probably what first inclined me to contact Tolmie. The affinity continues; Blood Lake is a Flordian, Kyle Frasure, so if his sincerity is sincere, I think we might know why. Nonetheless, his music doesn't seem to have much direct affinity with either locales, unless his keyboard heavy, lo-fi pop is supposed to be more like the mountains and the opposite, heat and hi-fi arena pop, holds true; track titles like "I Want It to be October" and "I Am So Goddamn Sunburnt" are evocative enough to strengthen those gestures toward the hills. Internally, the album is as varied as the geographical divide it seems to document. I said "lo-fi" earlier. Really, the fidelity varies more than convention tends to consider appropriate and the emphasis on low-tech electronic production techniques, when it manifests, responds to a vocal heavy agenda. That is to say, for whatever reason, tracks feel most produced and beat-oriented when vocals are at their least distinct and most ambient. For most listeners, the album may feel most complete when Frasure hits moments where the vocals fade or are entirely replaced by samples, though the juxtaposing of the two tones is most rewarding and a few exceptions to the rule shine most spectacularly of all. If you stay long enough to hit a melancholy R&B beat and an engrossing looped sample of infantile gibberish, than odds are you found the tape as incredible as we did.

TTP9: Minthill, Mintville - The insert that accompanies Mintville informs me that "Mintville is a town I used to know", a line that echoes through this cassette, more or less literally, constantly evoking the ambiguity that comes to a sense of place when periods of separation drag on. As far as I can tell, if there currently is a town of Mintville in the south - Minthill is Angela Saylor, originally of Mintville, North Carolina - it must be thoroughly small, because google's first search result is this album and references to a "village" of Mintville exist only in digital archives. Adding complications to the equation, the four track album was recorded in Washington and followed later by a self-released, two track EP called Minteville, as if the alternate spelling that could have been used in ages past needed a personality. Of the continuation, Minthill writes on their bandcamp "second release: part of thesis/multi-media installation utilizing video stills, color theory, flash animation, and collective memories of the south" - Tolmie Terrapin proprietor Greg Mole tells me that both releases are fairly old, Mintville from 2004 and Minteville from 2006, the first from a two year period when Mole and Saylor lived together in Washington. "Weird right?" he asks, but God knows it must have been satisfying to put it out after a seven year wait.

Without further digression into the tape's origins, Tolmie Terrapin reissued it last year and this really is a diamond in the rough. Full of quirky samples, an avant-garde dynamic between voice, percussion, and minimalist keys, the result feels like an anxious probing into the past, whatever history may have haunted the attic the songs were recorded in. In spite of the personal experience it encapsulates, mediated by layers of oddity and playful redirection, the vibe is a very accessible blending of experimental minimalist sensibilities with catchier tunes than that intersection might tend to produce.

Treat yourself to some Tolmie tapes here when God frees up some of our debt slavery. The proprietor is an environmental advocate by day and God knows some of that debt was earmarked for some fellow greens.

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