Sunday, February 22, 2009

Xiphiidae - Crystal Marvelous Fruit (Excitebike Tapes 2XCS)

Just got this brain bender courtesy of Jeff over at Housecraft, though this beautiful double cassette was put out by Uneven Universe Dan's Excitebike Tapes label (often referred to as ExBx Tapes). Need one word to describe this? Awesome. Need two? Massive. Each cassette is just over an hour long, making this one suitable accompaniment only on those long nights where you need Astin's spatial new age zoners most. Of course the beauty is that more is more, and if you're not looking for a commitment the tape can be thrown on anywhere for whatever amount of time and you know you're gonna get that signature scrape and drift freshly cut every time.

Where do you start with something like this? Culled from recordings made over the past few years, this isn't so much an album as it's an anthology that demonstrates the consistent strength of Astin's output. Never one to over saturate his work, each piece here, whether it's a field recording/scratch and scrape duo, a synth sprawler or a tape mangling monolith, has plenty of open space for each sound and gesture to breathe. The result are works that, no matter how far off they take your thoughts, never lose a sense of grit and weight. This is all electronic stuff, sure, but it is also humbly and resolutely human. It just so happens that the human is working in some pretty far reaching areas.

Another result of this tactility is a totally unique and individualized aesthetic which is sadly too hard to come by in a heavily saturated tape scene. Yet Astin's stuff has all of the power of any of the best working in this field--(maybe he'd argue otherwise but... Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never, etc seem to fit right in)--without any thievery at all. His synth undulations are so deep and so in touch with the waves themselves that real life is yanked from these machines, just as pittering contact mic table rubs remind you that yes, there is someone back there twiddling those nobs and yes, dude knows what's going on.

Bummer that this review has to be vague but to some extent the whole release is. Piece by piece slips by, each exploring its own corner of the Xiphiidae universe like some swordfish charting the open waters and discovering here a reef, there a whale, and somewhere else some curious floating bottle filled with green herbs. No specific part ever gets so bold as to become "central," a quality that urges complete entry into the sound world and rewards you unendingly for it. Totally mammoth release on a killer label--nice fold around American Tapes meets Housecraft cover art too (actually, all Dan's artwork is killer...). Definitely a heavy release in the early months of the year, but there's enough here to get you through till 2010 for sure. Another vague review for another rave lagoon...

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