Why tapes? They’re cheap, for one. And they’re analog. And they’re awkward. The flat platter of an LP has grace to it, and a CD too, on a smaller scale. A tape is clunky and weird and boxy and as ill-fitting as your 15-year-old self and did I mention cheap? The first albums I ever bought were on tape, and in a way, I feel as in-between generations as a tape must, having been sandwiched in format succession by records and compact discs.
Plus, with some (as with records), you don’t even know where one song is supposed to end and another to begin. So yeah, tapes. And if you’ve ever read anything Chris “Woody” MacDermott has written for this site, or had any interaction with him of any kind, the name “Duuude, Tapes!” for this new feature should make perfect sense.
We start with a couple sent over by Prairie Fire Tapes, an imprint based in Winnipeg that specializes in obscure-type limited whathaveyou from a variety of styles. The sister label to Dub Ditch Picnic, they recently shot over two tapes for me to check out. Oak‘s Silent Spring, which is released on the label, and the 2012 self-titled debut from local sludge devils, Scab Smoker.
Scab Smoker, Scab Smoker
It’s a rough, blown-out, cave-echoing morass of noisy sludge. At times, Scab Smoker‘s Scab Smoker rages with punk animosity — a glued-on and peeling label on the plain cassette itself only enhances that atmosphere — and then the Winnipeg-local three-piece slam on the breaks and effect a huge, fucked-up lurch. The six-song outing — it moves quickly and I’d call it an EP — was self-produced and self-released, and here and there are moments of discernible bass, drums and guitar, particularly in their more Sabbathian moments, and maybe even some burgeoning melodies, but for the most part it’s a rough, demo-sounding barrage of noise, buzzsaw guitar, heavy-reverb vocals and compressed-cymbal lumber. I dig it, but it’s not an easy listen. Still, the sense of worship runs strong throughout and the tones are flat-out mean. “Death by Natural Causes” and “Call of the First Aethyr” make for a sound closing duo, and I’d wager their attack is no less deranged-sounding in a moldy basement than it is coming through the speakers of my tape player. They’re all but absent on the interwebs — no word on whether that’s ideology or they just haven’t gotten around to it — but there’s an old Scab Smoker MySpace page with a demo of “Black Queen” you can check out.
Oak, Silent Spring
An official Prarie Fire release with a pro-printed liner and the label logo screened onto the orange translucent tape itself, Oak‘s Silent Spring harkens to ethereal Sleep worship in its rhythms and vocals and finds the Swedish four-piece with a well-conceived execution of post-stoner ideologies. The riffs that begin opener “The Obligation to Endure” are thick and seem set to climb a holy mountain, but Oak are also relatively quick to play off those ideas by shifting into meandering post-rock jams, making Silent Spring atmospheric in its less brash moments and enhancing the overall listen. The sound is clear and not blown-out, but still rough enough to give the six-track full-length a natural vibe to go with its strong track-to-track flow, and while its groove isn’t built solely on massiveness of tone, Silent Spring satisfies on that level as well, thick reverberations sustaining from hard-hit guitars even as post-metallic flourishes of effects play out alongside. “Tribal”-type percussion feels overly familiar, and they take their time getting where they’re headed, but Oak do a lot to distinguish themselves throughout these tracks, and their efforts aren’t wasted. Hit them up on Thee Facebooks or the Prairie Fire Tapes website for more info, or listen to the 13-minute “The Obligation to Endure” at the Oak Bandcamp.