The unassuming and simple cover of Tile’s Universal does not reflect the catchy content of the cassette lying underneath. Tile is the song-oriented incarnation of Jeff Roman, who was previously known under the moniker Sky Stadium, where he created blurry, drifting ambient passages.
Universal is a collection of 8 lo-fi synth pop songs with somewhat shoegazey vocals – quite a departure from his “usual” work in the musical sense, but not in chronological sense. After all, the 80’s were not only the era of ambient pioneers and post-hippie New Age masters, but also of young people cranking out hymns of the generation using synthesizers and rediscovering psychedelia through the use of walls of guitar and vocals distortion. Roman channels these sentiments through triumphant hymns with a certain bedroom pop sensitivity – though most tracks are light-hearted and somewhat nostalgic (but then again, what music referring to the previous decades can’t be described as nostalgic?), the tape tends to hit more “far out” moments, like the drifting “Nightship”, closer to Jeff’s work as Sky Stadium than the pop miniatures of the rest of the album, or the cheesily creepy “The Haunters”, which takes numerous cues from old (by old I mean the 80’s/early 90’s) video game soundtracks, bringing images of pixelated monsters and simple graphics.
Universal is one of numerous examples that the tape scene is slowly getting fed up on analog drone and moving in new directions; whether it’s the simple pop format or the minimal techno structures, it’s a sign that (to paraphrase Enfer Boreal’s album name) drone is dead (or dying) and it’s simply time to move on and explore new territories.
To a person non-familiar with the work of Seattle’s Midday Veil, the first few minutes of Subterranean Ritual II, released on Translinguistic Other label is one of the many synth drone cassettes, with a slowly unveiling synthesizer drone leading to dreamy, meditative zones. But it soon turns out that the opening drone is just the canvas, upon which layers and layers of new sounds are painted.
Side A’s monster jam “Naxos” (nearly 24 minutes long!) slowly adds new elements to the tripped out concoction. The drums, initially shy and hidden with barely audible cymbal play, finally sets the steady, echoed rhythm over which shamanic moans rise and fall – like a more desert-friendly, slightly orientalized version of Ash Ra Tempel. For the majority of the track, the guitar is just barely there, noodling psychedelically in the background, while the reverbed invocations and the pulsing drone merge for a cosmic synergy. It gets more audible toward the end of the track, where the music finally topples and gains incredible momentum, resulting in a fuzzed-out, spastic jam, with six strings burning from frenetic soloing in the vein of Manuel Gottsching or Kawabata Makoto.
Side B’s “Naxos”, besides being considerably ten minutes shorter (a somewhat untypical move, especially for a cassette, where most artists tend to make both sides roughly identical in length) continues the slow, peyotic trance of side A. The music here is more rock-oriented, but it doesn’t mean it’s droneless – the massive drone appears after a few minutes and doesn’t live until the very end, pulsing relentlessly while the guitar spews out lonely, ominous notes and the slow drumming interrupted by washes of cymbal white noise set the mood for the desert ritual.
The dark, evocative atmosphere is amplified by the cassette’s artwork, featuring blurry, purple-hued images of a woman holding a candle, bringing images of 1960’s Satanist gatherings and LaVey/LSD based exploitation mania. Midday Veil sure managed to possess the spirits of the greats of psychedelic rock (Ash Ra Tempel, especially) and more importantly, they managed to let these spirits flow and release them onto the tape, where they etched their forms in form of music. Recommended.