Side-by-Side: Fall Guitar Releases from Cabin Floor Esoterica

Posted by on December 19, 2014

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Cabin Floor Esoterica has had ample opportunity to impress this year and many of their releases were standouts, but as winter swung into full gear a few of us at Decoder picked up on one particular presence in their catalog this year, that is, their trio of beautiful guitar releases from mid-fall. Though the label’s unique packaging routine gives them particular poise in the experimental community (“beautiful” is an adjective born for writing about Cabin Floor releases, all of them and all of their constituent parts, including rusty nails), the subtle triangulation of the guitar’s full range and presence — which we’ll attempt to describe in our own ways below — does them at least as much credit.

In order to give the batch a more varied and lively treatment, we collected three Decoder contributors to comment one to each. The notion of treating these releases side-by-side came up after their tiny cassette editions had already sold out, but digital copies are a measly $4 at the Cabin Floor Bandcamp, so consider taking a chance on these if you haven’t already. The batch begins with a texturally varied collaboration from Tashi Dorji and Frank Meadows, but acquires its full range in the company off both Rag Lore’s looping collage of 12 string guitar and Egyptian field recordings, and a surprisingly expressive outing from Maine’s Matt Lajoie (Herbcraft, Endless Caverns).

Please enjoy, and feel free to keep a consecrated altar going for either (or both) Cabin Floor Esoterica and Decoder over the holidays (we’ll do likewise for you).

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Tashi & Frank

Tashi Dorji & Frank Meadows — Number Six is Sacred

Tashi Dorji began playing guitar as a teenager in his native Bhutan. Originally isolated from much of the music happening outside of his home country, it was a move to the United States that led him to discover the world of jazz and free improv, particularly the non-idiomatic and ostensibly challenging approach to the guitar taken by Derek Bailey. Situating himself in the culturally rich town of Asheville, NC, Dorji quickly got to work, enriching his musical paradigm with these new influences. A series of releases – primarily available on cassette – eventually saw Dorji both embracing and transcending notions such as style, form and genre in his own playing. On display was a singular, almost visionary instrumentalist who had torn apart and rebuilt what it truly meant to be called a guitarist. Ripping free improv sessions with discontinuous runs of notes, chords, scrapes, clatter and fret-slapping emerged alongside pretty solo ditties rife with melody. The Yellow Tape epitomizes the more oblique nature of this early work, while All This World is Like This Valley demonstrates Dorji’s more melodious side, with Guitar Improvisations occupying a territory somewhere in between. As the guitarist’s catalogue grew, so did the interest of others in what he was doing.

Enter Cabin Floor Esoterica, which is one of the few labels in the American sub-underground that hasn’t given up on the lowly guitar. The Number Six is Sacred cassette – the label’s fifty-second – pits Dorji’s freely improvised guitar gales alongside the double bass work of Frank Meadows. The two immediately gel, with Meadows’ low-end throb almost intertwining completely with Dorji’s own vine-like passages. Most of the pieces hover around the two-and-a-half minute time frame, allowing the duo to prepare and execute their ideas with a heightened vigour perfect for such short bursts. Exemplary is “No Tonge Tele,” in which Dorji fills his guitar with loose change and hammers away. Lengthier sessions (the slow-burning “Flint,” the electrically-charged “Keep it Quiet” and “There is Nothing Better”) allow the pair to feel each other out, circling around like a pair of facón-wielding knife fighters. Both directions are highly effective, which ultimately results in a tape that is gripping from start to finish.

Bryon Hayes

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lajoie

Matt LajoieUnlifted

Maine resident Matt Lajoie has been a staple in the psych-jam scene for years, with his bands Herbcraft and Cursillistas, solo outings like Endless Caverns, and split cassettes where he goes as simply “Lajoie.” The projects see him exploring various mind-expanding realms, from jingly guitar jams tinged with accompanying percussion to heady 7″ singles that reach #1 on Japan House Music charts. It’s clear that LaJoie is out to tap into something deeper with these lengthy excursions, using his guitar as a sonic pickax.

His cassette on Cabin Floor Esoterica, Unlifted, is the first under his own name and the songs see him really investigating the nuances and different strata of guitar work. While Unlifted maintains some of the thick fuzz from his Endless Caverns recordings, these tracks have more distinct, shifting layers with sonic waves and peals that disappear and re-appear. The opener, “Lotta Bottle,” builds slowly with strumming and wah-wahs that move like molasses in a jar, hypnotizing but always changing. Lajoie has reportedly never taken acid, but experienced his first “trip” when he was five in church, listening to organs and smelling myrrh. The songs on Unlifted serve well as transporters to that mental space — the recurring, resonant nature of the guitar takes on the character of a droning church bell or the pendulum of a clock. The middle track, “Loser [Garcia]” begins with a watery jangle that morphs into ripples of reverb and then further into an ocean; it becomes almost hallucinogenic, especially when listened to with headphones. The last and longest track, “Unlifted,” may be the album’s most “active”, starting out with gentle noodling layered over a backbone of fuzz. Lajoie’s guitar playing becomes more complex as the track progresses, driving deeper and faster into some kind of psychic mountain, gathering elements as it moves forward, until by the end, you’re wrapped in a thick cocoon of sound that hurts to leave. 

Liz Pavlovic

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misrenvirons

Rag Lore — Misr Environs: Cairo Road Recordings and Other Half Truths

Rag Lore is Virginia born, now Houston-based musician and designer Matthew Russell Boteilho, who started the project as a home for his solo lap slide guitar recordings after a several years old collaboration with Olivia Grey Lewis morphed into the appellation for his own small press operation. The name of his latest full length collection, Misr Environs: Cairo Road Recordings and Other Half Truths, says it all; Boteilho’s truly gorgeous guitar playing trades prominence with a well-treated menagerie of field recordings from a half year spent in Cairo, from summer to winter 2013. “Misr” is the Arabic name for Egypt and though I don’t know its environs now enough to place the Cairo Road reference to an anecdote or an actual street, it fits appropriately in the vein of half-truths whether it invokes a contemporary reality or the terminal portion of the road that Britain once planned to connect its African colonies. Musically Misr Environs is possessed by its own revery and resists association with anything as whimsical as politics, but its simple juxtaposition expands at least the sympathetic presence of a real, and sometimes beset, place, whether it travels in snippets of radio broadcasts or conversation, cars accelerating, or a slowly roiling collection of urban echos.

That wholly unconscious “revery” colors Boteilho’s guitar when it takes the fore, ragas that aren’t quite comment or counterpoint to the segments of field recording that hinge between each. Their proximity gives a certain mechanical impression that breaks often and brightly when Boteilho rushes forward in a wave of quick notes, swelling and directing the latent emotion of Boteilho himself? Cairo and its people? The sense of conflation is accentuated further by snippets that appear to preserve bits of conversation between Boteilho and those he met in Cairo, even more so when an unrelated guitar seems to play in the background. The second half of the collection contrasts strongly with the first in terms of the themes and variations played, though parts are still “heady” the active conflation of Boteilho’s indigenous background as a guitar player and his new environment becomes more ambitious. In that context the inflection of eastern-influenced American playing becomes a more charged quantity, one that Boteilho straddles ably, in part by manipulating transitions around the texture and character of his field recordings… strings that are bright and vibrant recede almost slickly at the tape’s end, as if their diminishing presence had literally shifted away from the listener and into being merely an artifact in Boteilho’s environment.

As a sort of follow-up to Misr Environs, Boteilho has also recently shared a trio of related demo loops titled Blue For al​-​Watawit of Yashkur that you can stream below.

Dwight Pavlovic