Anduin: Volume 4B
Richmond Tape Club

Matt Boettke: Volume 8
Richmond Tape Club

Brandon Hurtado: Volume 6
Richmond Tape Club

Mutwawa: Volume 7
Richmond Tape Club

Stephen Vitiello: Volume 5
Richmond Tape Club

In one sense, the artist issuing the first volume in a projected series is at a disadvantage from those that come after as there's no context to help the listener make sense of that inaugural release. Just as a puzzle image assumes increasing clarity as more pieces are added, so too does a series come into better focus as more installments appear. Jonathan Lee's Richmond Tape Club offers a perfect example, given that, with eight volumes having been issued (actually nine, given that Lee has issued two Anduin volumes as 4A and 4B), the listener is now in a better position to develop a coherent impression of the project's character. One of the first things that one notices is that, in contrast to the synthesizer-heavy focus of some cassette labels, Richmond Tape Club points more in the direction of underground ambient-drone forms.

Conceived of as a B-side of sorts to Anduin's Volume Four, Jonathan Lee's 4B features live material recorded during the same period. It very much perpetuates the Anduin style established in past releases, namely a murky, somewhat diseased brand of dark ambient electronica that feels like psychic disturbances welling up from the unconscious during unsettled sleep. Little sunlight penetrates the cassette's five vampiric settings, and creaking doors, crickets, and other nocturnal noises often appear alongside the synthetic rumbles, primal rhythm patterns, and coal-black atmospherics. It's not a music wholly bereft of animation, however, as beats do inject a number of tracks with a conspicuous amount of energy. Amplifying the material's noir-like character are bluesy contributions from guests Jimmy Ghaphery and Noah Saval, whose saxophone purr and harmonica wail come across like the only remaining traces of humanity one might hope to find within Lee's blistered terrain.

The fifth volume comes from Stephen Vitiello, whose EP hews to the processed guitar-oriented style captured on his 12k releases. For his contribution to the Richmond Tape series, Vitiello manipulates the guitar's sound to such a degree it assumes the form of a constantly mutating electrical fuzzball. The three pieces are hardly an undefined barrage, however: guitar tones do sometimes extricate themselves from the background, though even when they do they're trailed by a speckled swarm of electric fire. One of the EP's nicest moments occurs near the end of side one when “Buchla Rhythm” serenades the listener with a becalmed reverie of sparse design. While noisier by comparison, the second side's epic “Captiva Phonogene” impresses also in the ecstatic jangle of its Eastern-flavoured, guitar-speckled radiance. It's a wholly absorbing, single-movement tour de force whose sunblinded churn is up there with anything else Vitiello's released.

Brandon Hurtado, who's previously issued a number of net and cassette releases, flexes his ambient soundsculpting muscles on the sixth installment in the series. Don't be misled by the macabre suggestiveness of the opening side's track titles “Panic Attack” and “Soldering Iron,” as his furtive material is far more peaceful and introspective than such titles might suggest (that being said, “Panic Attack” does exhibit a marked degree of anxiety in its later moments but not to any totally disorienting degree). Smeared with grime and soot, Hurtado's claustrophobic soundscapes lumber woozily through abandoned industrial factory spaces, happy to do so at their own slow and ponderous pace. Blurry voice samples surface during “Soldering Iron” and “Enregistre,” but otherwise the emphasis is on ghostly instrumental design and the Richmond-based producer keeping things minimal and murky.

Considerably noisier by comparison is Mutwawa's Volume Seven, which sees Suppression member Jason Hodges and Gary Stevens aka Head Molt pooling their diseased talents for five shamanistic dance tracks. Primitive tribal-dance rhythms, electro beats, and grinding voice treatments pop up repeatedly within the duo's grinding, industrial mutations. The primitive electro groove and degraded synths of “Don't Care” suggest the track could pass for an outtake from Devo's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! Elsewhere, ghoulish voices well up from the groaning underground during “Rooted Shrine Fever,” while “Haunted Mechanism” batters a plodding hammerhead groove with acidy synths and a convulsive cloudstorm.

The last of the five in the collection arrives courtesy of noise-and-drone advocate Matt Boettke, who spreads the two-part “Oedema” across the cassette's sides. On this first release under his own name (he's also associated with the Scant and Widow's Bath projects), Boettke plunges the listener into a cavernously deep chasm of warbling analog drones. With only one piece featured on the release, Boettke is able to let the material unfold slowly (over the course of the tape's two sides) and grow in volume and intensity at an incremental pace. Of the releases reviewed here, his is the one that's most purely drone-like, and while it's true that Boettke's material does hew to its drone presentation with unwavering determination (a late industrial noise episode notwithstanding), the largely unchanging quality of the piece doesn't come across as unsatisfying when heard after the other four.

Five releases might seem like a lot to digest, but, with each one presenting somewhere in the vicinity of twenty minutes of music, all five can be absorbed quickly and easily. More important perhaps is the fact that there's enough music presented for the listener to gain a clear sense of the Richmond underground-experimental scene being developed by Lee and his fellow conspirators.

June 2014