Well, Texas duo Stone Machine Electric didn’t call it Garage Tape because they broke the bank and spent half a million dollars recording it, but don’t be put off. While the title speaks to the DIY nature of its origins, Garage Tape actually sounds clear and warm enough to get its message across. Guitarist William “Dub” Irvin and drummer Mark Kitchens tracked the release — which is comprised of two extended improvisations — in the actual garage of the latter with Erik Carson of Tin Can Records, who also mixed and mastered the tape, on July 26, 2014. Their mission, as they put it, was to give listeners a raw look at their creative process, and as time goes on, they seem to be driving further toward making jamming central to that. The chemistry between Irvin and Kitchens is undeniable (their connection has resulted in a number of come-and-gone-again bassists) across each of Garage Tape‘s component halves, duly named on the translucent blue cassette as “Side A” (20:52) and “Side B” (21;39), and the languid, thick-toned rollout that ensues is only given more of a demo feel with the analog hiss of a tape beneath.
At one point relatively late into side A, Irvin seems to loop a rhythm track and proceeds to solo over it. That’s a progression that fades out as the first of the tape ends (there’s a bit of silence since “Side B’ is longer) and in again as the second half begins, so yeah, I have no trouble believing that Stone Machine Electric played out the material for Garage Tape live in one whole jam. In that way, breaking it up into two sides actually kind of interrupts the flow for a minute, but honestly, if after the 20 minutes of “Side A” are done, you’re not completely immersed in Irvin and Kitchens‘ hypnotic repetitions, it probably wasn’t going to happen at all. As they push closer to the core of their own creativity, their material becomes more fluid, extended and accomplished, but if you can’t get down with improv heavy jamming, Garage Tape isn’t the place to start, even with Irvin‘s effects experiments throughout, “Side B” seeming to bubble with Echoplex-style pulsations behind its airy soloing and rhythm track to which, to Kitchens‘ credit, the drums hold firm, shifting as the six-minute mark of “Side B” approaches to drive the jam into its next stage. This conversation between drummer and guitarist takes place in the several movements of “Side A” as well, and it’s clearly a language that’s developed between the two players over their time together.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who can hang with a 40-minute getdown, Stone Machine Electric‘s Garage Tape cycles through this-could-be-a-song-oh-wait-let’s-try-this riffy movements with an utter lack of pretense and a molten fluidity that a still-limited number of bands in the US seem keen on portraying at all, let alone developing or using as the basis for their approach. That makes Garage Tape a bolder release, though honestly it’s not like Stone Machine Electric have been stifling impulses to-date, whether it’s their 2013 self-titled full-length (review here) or subsequent live outing, 2013.02.07. One could easily see that live set as a manifestation of the same impulse driving Garage Tape — to put as little space as possible between the band’s processes and the listener’s experience — but Garage Tape gets more to the heart of where they’re coming from and what they have to offer those who’d take them on. It’s an admirable goal and an admirable jam, and with their experimental will reinforced via a download called “Side C” that collaborates with Arlington-based noisemaker the owl and the octopus to remix and retool a 20-minute version of the initial Kitchens and Irvin jam, Garage Tape still shows there’s more weirdness to come from the duo, who’ve always excelled in that regard.