Posts Tagged ‘cassettes’

TUNABUNNY – Genius Fatigue

June 4, 2013

When we were 12, my friends and I formed a band. Our “skills” were best described as rudimentary, matching our shoddy equipment and a feeble understanding of what we were doing. In school, we sold cassettes of ourselves (it was the mid-’90s) trying to articulate the raw sounds that buzzed frantically around our heads; perched awkwardly over a one-channel recording device but oblivious to its restrictions; gleefully obeying the gnawing need to disregard our artistic limits and just create for creation’s sake.

We told our peers we were the greatest band in the world, perhaps even convincing ourselves that three Beatles-obsessed fuckwits using two pencils as drumsticks might be capable of bursting past the surface; melting through the slime; becoming a phenomena for the ages.

Naturally, we were shit. But it’s the most artistically “free” I’ve ever felt in my life – the only time I can honestly say that notions of “how things are supposed to work” (yawn!) or “other people’s standards” (fucksake) or “professionalism” (spit!) were irrelevances. When self-belief and necessity and an inability not to create drove everything more than aspiration or consideration for how other people might perceive it. It was liberating, it was wonderful, it was the impetuosity of youth illustrated in such glorious colours that it’s dazzling to look back. So yeah, I peaked with shitty tapes of poorly-recorded, woefully-played half-songs, and fuck, man, I miss that feeling.

I’ve not thought about this stuff for years (the joy, the excitement, the unrecreatable  sense of wonder), but Tunabunny bring it all flooding back.Genius Fatigue is the third album from the Athens, Georgia four-piece, following the nihilistic avant-sulk of their self-titled debut and its post-punk-inflected follow-up, 2011’s Minima Moralia. Together those two records formed a diptych positing the destruction and ultimate salvation of music; an artform which has chewed itself and spat itself out so many times that any deviation from the tried and tested feels like a minor victory. Rest assured: this band are far from ordinary, and this continues the frankly mind-boggling acceleration of their capabilities. A sped-up image of a flower; growing and bursting and blooming into being. It’s beautiful.

Take that frantic opener, ‘Duchess For Nothing’. Building from panting, staggered urgency to high speed roars of assertion, vocalists Brigette Adair Herron and Mary Jane Hassell kick and punch their way through the song’s two raggedy minutes as though the fate of the world depends on them. “She ain’t a parody of woman – she’s a screaming queen”, they declare, pounding transphobia to dust with voices not wildly dissimilar to those of the Deal sisters (never a bad thing). Lo-fi, raw and bruised, it ain’t the stuff top ten hits are made of. But it is the sort of thing wide-eyed kids fall for with unabashed, undying devotion. We’re so used to the forced passions and staged over-emoting of 21st century pop that it almost feels shocking to hear people actually singing from their hearts – that’s exactly what this record does.

Elsewhere their muse takes hold of dizzy psych (‘Serpents And Lights’), fractured, ethereal balladry (‘Airplanes In Echelon’) and dusty, damaged drone-pop (‘Wrong Kind Of Attention’). Topics leap from Hollywood nepotism to political insurrection, while echoes of Throwing Muses, Sonic Youth and The Fall fly around with heroic abandon, occasionally crashing into each other and tumbling into concussed piles underneath the whole wonderful mess. Tunabunny’s glory shines through in the way their incandescence is more audible than their battered, scratchy instruments – songs are captured upon creation, valuing the rawness of the art and the celebration of its completion far higher than less interesting matters like musical proficiency. The scope of their imagination wins out, and tremendously, triumphantly so.

The “genius fatigue” of the title refers to the band’s disillusion with the same old artistic figures being held up as sources of inspiration; of the same old source material being devoured and excreted and devoured and excreted, again and again, in increasingly tedious ways. Maybe it’s time we cast off the old guard and developed new ways of appreciating art. Let’s give up on championing the fixed legends of received wisdom and abandon notions of aspiration or imitation over genuine heartfelt artistry (after all, where have they got us? Fucking Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran, that’s where – a patriarchy of mediocrity and smooth-edged tedium). Why don’t we try celebrating ideas that challenge? Or cheer at the accumulation of potential, instead of glib approximations of overly comfortable sentiment? We need a revolution. Maybe, just maybe, Tunabunny are the band to lead the way. (8/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 29/03/2013)

Mix Tapes 1: “i dubbed the tunes in perfect form”

July 19, 2010

One of the most exciting things about music is sharing it. Whether you’re a casual fan with open ears or an obsessive who just loves to give the gift of perfect sound, it’s a great feeling to know you’ve turned someone on to something new that you can both love. It’s easy to do that in the wake of the digital revolution – mp3s, Spotify playlists or even quick links to Youtube/Myspace have ensured that no-one need wonder what a band sounds like for too long. But in the not-too-distant past, we used mix tapes.

Far more eloquent articles have been written about mix tapes than these humble pages are likely to host, and in any case WHTB was part of the last generation to maintain any interest in the cassette format. I’m certainly writing more in the manner of a grumpy old coot than I have any right to at the age of 28, no matter how deftly I dust off my newly-acquired rose-tinted spectacles. It therefore seems daft, dear reader, to bore you at length with theory. But here’s a few words you may have heard used to describe magnetic tape: outdated, clunky and bereft of many of the conveniences of newer technology. Strange, then, that a new wave of hipsters have apparently deemed it a valid format in this day and age. Surely it should have died out by now?

And yet there is something magical about cassettes – or more specifically, the art of the mix tape. A properly constructed compilation demands time, effort, draftsmanship and a real mastery of the pause button. Whilst mix CDs are not without their charm, there’s something infinitely less romantic about a selection of songs ripped from a computer hard drive and burned to disc in mere minutes. Mix tapes are made with love – which is why they make such ideal presents for a friend or lover. As a teenager, WHTB learned at least as much about certain friends from this simple craft as he ever did from the hours blissfully wasted in their company.

That’s why I’ve decided to put together this occasional series – I’ll be going through my mix tapes and analysing them. Perhaps not in too great detail – just enough to trigger some memories and wallow in simple nostalgia. I’m a sentimental fool these days.

Please feel free to share any memories of your favourite mix tapes below.

Just William / Muses + Shakers – Crushed By Eyeliner

The first tape I’m going to look at was a present in 1999… it was given to me at an open day at Liverpool University, by a friend that i regretfully don’t see too often these days. In any case, it’s a prized item in the mix tape library.

Side A (Just William) is pretty eclectic – I’ve not received many tapes with an opener as surprising, fun or indicative of the compiler as Science Fiction from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then it’s straight into a track by late-90s Liverpool punks Dog Flambé (who featured a young Doc Horror of Zombina & The Skeletones fame), which is as good a reminder as I’m ever likely to get of the time. There are tracks from forgotten 90s nearly-weres like Octopus, Black Box Recorder and Drugstore. There’s a track by unlamented never-weres Spy ’51 (who i liked at the time, perhaps because of the band’s association with Fierce Panda Records). Most significantly, there are tracks by bands whose names I can’t hear without at least thinking in passing of the maker of the tape: Veruca Salt and The Dandy Warhols. Even looking at the tracklist eleven years on, I’m immediately transported back to a summer holiday that I spent listening to this tape over and over again. Ah, trusty walkman, you were good to this one.

Then there’s the second side, Muses + Shakers. Again, this consists entirely of acts who are inextricably linked to the guy who put them together onto 45 minutes of tape: Kristin Hersh, Throwing Muses and Belly. This run of 14 songs was a perfect introduction to three great acts – they’re all wonderful.

I’m still very, very grateful for this tape. It’s superb. It’s a reminder of a great summer, and also of an afternoon spent in the company of old friends who have all moved away or drifted into different social groups. Which happens to us all, of course, but sometimes it’s just nice to have little reminders like this – a soundtrack to the narratives we create around our lives, to ensure certain scenes will always have their songs.

Just in case I didn’t say it at the time, thank you.