90 Miles Out of Atlanta #5: Recent Tapes from Night-People and Joe’s New Akai CS-M3
90 Miles Out of Atlanta is a column about things that you can hold that hold music, written by an aging man who fetishizes them. His address is Woodall Hall 124, 4225 University Avenue, Columbus, Georgia 31907. He shows up here every Friday.
There is a central line of tension here and it’s that I’ve wanted a cassette deck for a very long time but until very recently I haven’t had one. And within that line lie two no less tense sub-lines. Let’s call them A and B. In sub-line A stands Allie with her arms crossed; she doesn’t like cassettes, doesn’t want them in the house; she made this very clear a year or so ago when the UPS man dropped four enormous boxes on our doorstep, all of them stuffed to bursting with concert bootlegs recorded on old Maxells. My friend the record-storeowner sent them to me. I asked Allie ahead of time it was OK, and she said yes, but when the reality of it hit her, when she stood among several thousand of these detestable little dusty broken plastic boxes with bad handwriting all over them stacked all around her in the living room of our cozy southern home, she realized, quite suddenly, and with fierce clarity, that she’d misspoke. We fought. I sent some to Matt Valentine and some to Jeremy Earl, neither of whom I knew, other than through their records, and the rest I took to the office. And sub-line B is the simple difficulty of finding a good deck down here on the border between Alabama and Georgia. I got a Harman Kardon for free from some suburbanite on Craigslist, and a receiver from a junky for $10, and the receiver didn’t work, and the tape deck ran slow. I kept trolling the classifieds and the thrift stores and the best I could find was a $12 boombox not much larger than a Chipotle burrito. After a while that ran slow, too. Then the office secretary let me take the boombox in the supply closet, and it’s about the size of a Chipotle burrito that’s eight or nine times the size of itself. It sounded better, but it still sounded lousy.
Now all this has been resolved, thanks to Steve the Stereo Guy, and I own not one but two Akai CS-M3 cassette decks, and now I can play Night People cassettes on a real system, if not a reel system, and so this column is dedicated to Shawn Reed.
Dylan Ettinger, Crucify Your Love
This is good music to play after dark or as the day is beginning to go dark because there are synthesizers with heavy bass notes and the singer sings with the echo up high. The vocals lean to the anguish side, maybe some anger, a bit of sex, or wanting sex. For the cover, Reed has gone with yellow paper and greenish black ink. On the front there’s a close-up of a woman done up like a clown or a mime, with exaggerated kissy lips and bright eyelashes. She looks sad. A sharp rectangle of curvy op art cuts across her left cheek, and there’s more op art on the spine of the J-card, and on the little foldover part: a lovely flower.
Reed once said: “Making visual artwork for me isn’t therapeutic or about my feelings. It’s about the aesthetic itself. It’s not about my personal narrative. It’s more like a strategy game, a battle with myself, a visual boxing match.”
I would like to say the same of my writing, but no matter how many strands of words I collage together, I never seem to escape the big P.N.
These new speakers make my ears feel good and by extension my brain. The first song on side two stands tall on a plodding bass base, and its head is alive like Medussa’s: snakes of space sounds and scales that writhe and lash out, mostly at the midrange drivers. (Like most men over the age of 40, I can’t hear anything coming out of the super tweeter, but I know it’s there, adding color. I need to give my iPod to someone before I lose it all.)
Femminielli, Carte Blanche Aux Desirs
One of the things I tried to do with Allie was tell her these aren’t cassettes like she remembers, not mass-produced chunks of plasticrap full of prasticrap music from the eighties and early nineties, these are works of art. She didn’t believe me, still didn’t want them in the house, but she eventually gave in because she knew I really wanted them, and she loves me. Yet tension remains. So while she’s stirfrying broccoli slaw and tofu I put on one by Femminielli, because I think Femminielli is from Mexico City, and Allie gravitates toward all things Spanish-speaking. The words are in Spanish, yes, but I soon learn that the artist, Bernardino Femminielli, lives in Montreal. She loves it regardless, loves the long electropulsing opening of side two, loves how it’s like some cross-over-to-the-other-side sci-fi movie scene that goes on and on until it comes crashing down in a pool of dreamy synth. She wants me to keep it in the house, in a drawer.
“In late 2000s many sex scandals have rocked Italy involving high profile politicians (e.g., former President of Lazio, Piero Marrazzo) and transsexual sex workers often of Latin American descent, who are usually referred to as transessuali (shortened to trans) in Italian media. In 2009 the term femminiello gained some notoriety in Italian media after a Naples native femminiello Camorra mobster Ketty Gabriele (legal name Ugo Gabriele) was arrested. Gabriele had engaged in prostitution prior to becoming a capo. Gabriele has been referred to both as a femminiello and transessuale or trans in Italian media.”
For this release Reed chose deepgreen on butteryellow, a picture of a man and a woman sitting on a bench against a wall. The man has on a tanktop and shorts and the woman appears to be naked, though her long hair covers her breasts, and she’s very pretty. Four yellow circles in a long green rectangle cover half the man’s face, and there are stripes all around.
I handed the case to Allie and she looked at it for a few seconds and smiled and gave it back to me.
Cellophane Spill, Season 2
I went looking for information about Cellophane Spill and there isn’t much. But I came across a music site I used to read daily but haven’t read for a long time because I’ve been busy, and all around the review were incongruous ads, so many I couldn’t read the review. The banner across the top said: Sports! Think with your mouth. BIG MAC. So did two more along the right hand side. And on the left were two tall skinny ads, one for a free night at Best Western, and the other showing the leftmost two thirds a young man in a gingham shirt with a buttondown collar. He had curly hair, cut up off the ear, and a day’s worth of beard stubble. He stared away from my eyes, toward my armpit, unblinking, a freakishly possessed preppy. Across his midsection floated a simple drawing of a fish, like a Christian fish symbol, one that’s been fleshed out in Chicken-of-the-Sea colors, and below that, two words: SOUTHERN TIDE. Who do they think I am?
Night People say Cellophane Spill is a sci-fi loner from Austin. Others say he’s mysterious and he’s an alien. And of course by now I needn’t tell you that his debut seveninch, a 2011 edition of four on clear, lathe-cut vinyl, was a worldwide sensation. And now there’s this. Night People say: Headphones recommended for a truly unique listening experience. I have no headphones, I gave my iPod to a man who’s going through a divorce, but I moved a chair out of the room so I could spread the speakers farther apart, and I nudged my zero-gravity chair closer to the sweet spot, so I understand.
At first Cellophane Spill is kind of annoying, his voice and his diction, it’s like a dude from England who’s so eccentric you suspect he’s putting on an act, but you stick with him because there’s all this weird synthesizer glow pulsating all around behind him, and as he yammers on, the synth grows loud and it twists in on itself and absorbs his voice, and before long you feel like you’ve fallen into an early Nam June Paik. It’s arranged in episodes, like a buried-deep series on Netflix.
The cover: bronze on baby blue, concentric squares and rectangles, a face, two rows of tiny circles, one blue, one bronze. I hear a buzz in the Akai when nothing is playing. That wasn’t there before.
Ryan Garbes, Young Mona Lisa
Today the mailman brought four shirts I ordered a month ago from Shawn Reed.
They’re called Double Feature, Modern, Grids, and Dream. Allie likes them, and I think my fellow professors will, too. If I had control of the visiting artist funds at my university I would invite Reed, and his friend and band mate, Ryan Garbes. Reed let Garbes design this cover, and it’s a gatefold, insomuch as a J-card can be. There are so many things going on here that I can only share a small number of them: Mona Lisa, of course, maybe a quarter of her face, her right eye, and there’s part of a samurai’s face, the word DO, and the words GOT IT IN!, and Mickey Mouse ears, a hand, a finger, and so on. It’s black on white.
For a while I was thinking I would start a record label and reissue Night People cassettes on vinyl, and this is the tape that gave me that idea. I wanted to hear it on something other than that jam box in my office, and I was willing to spend $500 for the privilege. It’s such a magnificent joyride of an album, wave after wave of old and worn-in synthesizers, Garbes has such a strong and singular compositional voice. But now finally it’s part of our home, playable on my main system, along with a couple hundred more weird and wonderful artifacts like it, in their own little drawer, second from the bottom, third from the top, and just as I’m thinking I don’t need to go into the business, I go looking again, and it seems as though Garbes might’ve remixed American Beauty, but that appears to be gone, so we’ll see, maybe the biz calls after all.