Takuroku Springtime Speedrun

Thursday 22 April 2021

One year into global pandemic conditions and we’re all getting a bit jaded as lives settle into a routine of reduced dimensions. Cafe Oto’s Takuroku series has become a musical documentation of this prolonged, wearisome event and themes have become apparent. In particular, there is the presence of lockdown conditions as an obstacle to be either confounded (collaborations, typically conducted remotely or by stealth) or accepted (ruminative solos). Sorting through the recent batches on my playlist, I can find in the former category:

Duncan Chapman, Supriya Nagarajan & Rhodri Davies – Slowly Drifting. Carnatic singing with drones will usually end up either taut and compelling, or in a box next to the checkout at the organic shop. There’s plenty of slack between the vocal phrases here, rescued in the mix by Davies’ bowed harp, which hooks into all that free space and gives it a breath and a sense of direction.

Rebecca Wilcox & Hannah Ellul – sweeping, at least. Collaborative free improv as mumblecore. The meaning is obfuscated and any overtly musical content is all but incidental, although they do dress it up a little for our benefit. It gets said that collaboration is a form of conversation, so here we get the act of exchange as the subject itself. As in true conversation, the content doesn’t matter, or is at least none of our business.

Maria Chavez & Jordi Wheeler – The Kitchen Sessions: 1-5, 2020. Prepared instruments and electronic whatnot jostle with each other in a set of miniatures with a restlessness that makes even the longer tracks feel small. Feels like loosening up for something more, preferably outisde a venue that needs an artist credit.

Blanca Regina & Wade Matthews – Shortcuts. I used to get these duos confused with the Chavez & Wheeler set, but these four pieces stay still enough to give you some expectations to subvert, plus a hidden purpose: coming back to them, moments of preciousness in the sound come across like mock field recordings, a documentarian’s precision in capturing a phenomenon that doesn’t exist.

And in the latter:

Bridget Hayden – Transmissions. Descended electric guitar curls up in slow, sulking coils of fuzz, all but smothering the wisps of atmospheric effects that provoke and sustain the stasis. Bleak but alive.

Tina Jander – Ice Cubes. An hour of cello with field recordings that swiftly lures and traps you into something prolonged, nasal and sour, refusing to let you go. Bleak but bracing, striking in an unpleasant way that will compel you either to return to it or to remember to stay away.

Xisco Rojo – Axial Tilt. 12-string guitar played with physical and electrical bows that buzzes as much as the Hayden and sneers as much as the Jander but less bleak, even as the only backdrop for the instrument is clear silence. The sharp contrasts between the friction and the pure tones merge and then separate out as a structural device.

I’m trying to be pithy with these thumbnail impressions but it keeps sounding snarky in my head, so forgive me for continuing to note down some more at the risk of coming across as glib.

Goodiepal – The Pole Imposter & The Databar. The second of his Takuroku audio memoirs documenting the arcana of fin de siècle underground Euroculture, nostalgia qualified by questions of authenticity. As far as I can tell, the fakery here is genuine and honestly presented, except I think he just made me unwittingly listen to a… podcast?

United Bible Studies – The Night Fell Off Its Axis. The goup gets described as a “magickal conglomerate” but thankfully not as a collective. This one, big-ass track further condemns and redeems by opening itself to accusations of being art through sheer refusal to stop, pushing for further consequences to their musical actions that may not be forseen. It’s rare to find magick that questions its certitude.

Josephine Foster – Spellbinder / Experiment. The second track is revisionist weird for the sake of it, rather like that early 80s new wave form of po-faced hedonism. The hedonism throws the first track into context, a tapestry of woozy instruments making something eclectically and eccentrically sumptuous that rebuffs the usual British need for justification, shamanism, ley lines etc.

Pete Um – A British Passport. Speaking of new wave, these songs (don’t be shy) have that same fuzzy, sheltered sound which is dry and dull unless you’re on that same wavelength and then it connects hard. I don’t hear it myself, but on this album I can hear how it might work better than I can when listening to more celebrated post-punk cult figures. This is due to the artist’s insight, as are the synth patches which manage to sound both fresh and comfortable all at once.