Aybee, Ancient Tones

[Further Records] (buy cassette)

I had a conversation maybe a year ago with a friend’s boyfriend, an unrepentant devotee to underground music’s outer reaches, about the re-emergence of the cassette tape as a legitimate, if not preferred, music format. As someone who sits pretty firmly in the music-should-sound-good camp (I was once ejected from a friends’ birthday party for picking a fight over another guest’s nonchalance about his turntable’s busted stylus), I was perplexed. But as the boyfriend explained, so much of the vaguely experimental music being released on tape — what has variably been called “hypnagogic music,” “chillwave,” and (the boyfriend’s memorable term for it that night) “shitwave” — was enhanced both by the imperfections of the format (dull sound, lots of hiss) and the implications of the object itself (it’s outdated, inherently difficult to play, and considered “ironic”). So much crusty art kid music right now wants to sound “found,” not “created,” and said crusty art kids — releasing music for play on a machine you probably threw out a decade ago — are capitalizing on their chosen medium.

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A similar conceit drives Lerosa’s Dual Nature, Seattle-based Further Records’ first cassette release and maybe the best album of 2010 so far. Like Zomby’s Where Were U In ’92?, the album feels like the greatest hits of some fictional, ancient record collection, not an artist album from a single producer. And Further’s decision to place these widely varied tracks on cassette advanced the illusion that Lerosa was some bearded eccentric with a vault of 20,000 B-movie soundtracks instead of an A-list house artist. It had the intimacy of something secret. Improbably and at odds with the intentions of the “shitwave” artists, the cassette also sounded pretty amazing — clear, deep, and warm, with the cassette’s trademark hiss enveloping you like a bear-hug. For the 100 techno heads who snagged one, it was probably their best cassette purchase ever.

Released subsequently but inexplicably featuring an earlier catalog number, Oakland native Aybee’s Ancient Tones doesn’t emit the kind of geekish madman vibe I get from Dual Nature. But the format does enforce certain constraints, mainly that one must plop one’s ass on the nearest couch and listen to it from start to finish. It’s a pretty great collection, and more of a cohesive piece of music than Lerosa’s tape. But almost from the downbeat, you realize you might require the encouragement of a sofa.

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The album unfortunately opens with its weakest cut, an unwelcome ambient dirge called “Slyde.” Oakland’s Armon Bazile, releasing as Aybee on his own Deepblak label since 2001 and recently making contact with the Underground Quality crew, has long mined the muddiest depths of what might be called soul music. But the unquantized haze of “Slyde” takes his aesthetic to slovenly, boring extremes. It honestly sounds like the dude’s just fucking around with his MPC, albeit randomly pushing buttons on his most epic and mystical sample bank. I appreciate that Aybee is pitching these tracks a good distance away from clubs, but he’s not at his most engaging here. Given what follows on this side, I’m willing to let this slide. On “Shelf In Space” and “A Wind For Wayman,” Aybee continues with slow tempos but thankfully ups the funk. You sense they’re getting some of the same wonky vapors up in the Bay Area as they are in Los Angeles. “A Wind For Wayman,” especially, cooks up the greasiness of Flying Lotus and the trunk-bumping of J Dilla and Stones Throw with house-style dance floor focus.

But this nastiness does little to prepare you for the thump of the flip. Aybee’s tempos tick up considerably, and his future-soul aspirations accordingly blast into space. “Vertigo” pairs smooth, fusion-y Rhodes noodling with bass stabs and breakbeats that would sound at home on a Hyperdub single. As all but ping-ponging beats recede into the void, the track takes a turn for the weird, breaking into Villalobos-style percussion jamming that almost sounds like an awesomely fudged beatmatch. A brief ambient interlude makes way for “Sun Of Cycle,” the most direct and engaging track in this collection. It has the potential to be utterly destructive on the floor (this is one of those rare occasions when it’s actually recommendable to make a digital copy of something analog), but its hefty dollop of ambience insures that it will serve your living room well, too. Despite its inauspicious beginnings, Aybee ends up making one hell of a statement on Ancient Tones. And with a cassette-only catalog now featuring material from Donato Dozzy and Conrad Schnitzer, Further Records is quickly establishing itself as one of the least practical buy-on-sights around.

tibal  on May 28, 2010 at 3:13 AM

Too bad it’s on tape only, i don’ t have a K7 player.Too bad cause the music is good and… i won’t buy a tape player.The funny thing is the label name: “further records”.Maybe you should name it “further cassettes”

mark  on June 7, 2010 at 6:24 AM

Hi tibal,

check the link again. we put some vinyl up as a trial. If enough people order we’ll have it pressed up, otherwise refunds all round.

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