Welcome to Bliss/Aquamarine - alternative, underground and indie music.


ZYNG TAPES

ZyNg Tapes was founded in 2014 by Rob Kirtley, formerly of The Rabbit's Hat. Early releases all featured artists from the Stone Premonitions collective, with previously released material by The Rabbit's Hat and Census of Hallucinations being compiled especially for ZyNg Tapes, Neon returning under the guise of Spirit of Neon, and the spoken word tape Tramp Wire Stories which features narration and music by Tim Jones, Rob Kirtley and others. Reviews of all ZyNg Tapes' releases to date can be found in the previous issue of Aquamarine. Now ZyNg is diversifying its output to include artists with no connection to Stone Premonitions. Its two latest tapes are both very stylistically different to each other, and to anything the label has released in the past. Both tapes are limited to just 30 copies each.

Solo rock artist Will Dixon has a 4-song tape, The Place to Start EP, which comprises a red cassette and matching case, and the usual impressive graphic design work ZyNg Tapes has become known for. The songs combine strong tunes with heavy riffage that crosses over into metal territory. But if you're not into metal (as I'm generally not), fear not: there are no growling vocals here, and no over the top posturing, just honest melodic songs with a powerful kick. This is a high quality set of songs, which deserves to reach a far wider audience than the limited quantity of tapes that are available (although an unlimited download edition is also on offer). I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more from Will Dixon in future.

Netherlands band Octave Pussy have an 11 track album out on ZyNg Tapes entitled Assfunk. The band name, album title, and cover art, along with song titles like Come On With Yer Come On, Head Full of Hornyness, and Rank My Doodle Gurl, show that this is a band who are majorly preoccupied with sex. Needless to say, this is not an album that prudes will enjoy at all! Octave Pussy define their style as urBANNED Funk. The music starts with a basis in funk, adding aspects of jazz, rock, soul, hip hop, and samples (including some very saucy sound effects in Rank My Doodle Gurl). There's strong female and male vocals, very catchy tunes, and high quality musicianship. They have a willingness to experiment musically, yet this doesn't sound like an underground album; the music has the potential to appeal to a wide audience - that is if they can get past the modern-day Mary Whitehouses who would no doubt want to ban it! Funk, and most of the other genres Octave Pussy draw from, would normally be way off topic for Aquamarine, but I agreed to give this album a listen as ZyNg Tapes is a label I want to support. I'm glad I did, as these songs are a lot of fun.

UPDATE - Since writing the above article I have now received ZyNg Tapes' latest release, the compilation cassette On New Horizons vol 2, released to coincide with Cassette Store Day 2015. The whole package is a complete work of art, as is usual for ZyNg Tapes. The tape itself is clear/yellow/white with on-body printing, and it comes with a full colour pro-printed inlay with background info on the artists, and a free badge. The tape covers a wide variety of music but holds together as a complete album. There's punky powerpop from Bedbound by Summer, indie rock from S J Denney, acoustic pop from Battleship Romance, punky pop from Alice Kat, rock 'n' roll-infused powerpop from The Sylvia Platters, and engagingly off-centre, spiky alternative rock from Will Dixon.

Twist Helix describe themselves as indie pop, though their music gives an alternative definition of indie pop that differs quite sharply from the genre of this name that has its roots in the 1980s. Twist Helix have a very modern approach which combines electronic pop with a melancholic yet punchy alternative vibe. Go Go Midgets are inspired by US hardcore punk, their music being heavy yet melodic. Nev Clay appears with a folky acoustic singer-songwriter piece that is really moving and well-crafted. Minuss appear with a fierce, noisy number somewhere between hardcore punk, grunge, and garage rock. Bedsit Manor makes emotional alternative pop with effective use of atmospheric electronics. Eric Peter Schwartz makes dark and raw acoustic music with a nod to the bleaker side of Americana. Lion Skin contribute a powerful synthesis of alternative rock and punk pop. Kevin Hodge combines country rock with a crass sense of humour in his song Porno Star Who Loves Me. As a particular fan of folk music, my personal favourites on this collection are the tracks by Nev Clay and Eric Peter Schwartz, though everyone here does their chosen style of music well.

I've seen some talk here and there from people who are sceptical about the current tapes revival, dismissing it as a 'hipster fad'; that may be true for some of the newer tape labels (though none that I've run into yet), but I don't see anything hipsterish or faddish about ZyNg Tapes. Being founded by Rob Kirtley of The Rabbit's Hat, who came out of the Stone Premonitions collective which had its own tape label back in the 90s, ZyNg Tapes thus has roots in the original tape label scene, which was the complete antithesis of trendy faddish nonsense. A firm support for DIY grassroots music shines through in the releases of ZyNg Tapes. As they aim to cover all genres, it's inevitable that not everything they feature will line up with my own musical tastes, but even so, ZyNg Tapes is a label I'm proud to support as it is keeping the spirit of underground cassette culture alive.

UPDATE II: Another new release from ZyNg Tapes has just arrived - Lion Skin's five song EP Bones. The appearance of this tape continues in a similarly professional-looking vein, with pro-printed colour artwork, the tape itself being a clear cassette with gold lining and on-body printing, looking indistinguishable from cassettes released by professional record companies back in the late 80s and early 90s. Despite the slick image, I believe these new tapes from ZyNg are still recorded at home rather than factory duplicated. ZyNg Tapes is continuing in the spirit of the underground tape labels of old, but just has a less obviously homemade visual aesthetic than older tape labels, due to the easier access to professional technology available today. I suspect that if the 1980s/1990s tape labels had access to equipment more advanced than typewriters, Letraset, scissors, glue, photocopiers, and shop bought cassettes, perhaps all but the most wilfully lo-tech may well have made more efforts to present their tapes in a less amateurish manner.

Lion Skin's music is somewhere between melodic punk and alternative rock. I haven't really explored much punky or alt-rockish stuff since the 90s, so I'm perhaps not the best person to make comparisons with other better known artists who may be doing a similar thing, but what I can say is Lion Skin have a good balance of strong melody, spiky energy, and emotion-laid-bare, heart-on-sleeve lyrics. They occasionally incorporate bits of keyboard, or a clean guitar sound, setting them apart from more formulaic punk-influenced bands who are all about the fuzz and chug all of the time. Songs like Stranger are nothing short of anthemic, with a huge catchy chorus. Final track Navigating Through the Stars is less noisy, a kind of angsty (yet very catchy) pop, recalling a less lo-fi version of the kind of music that got tagged as 'lo-fi' back in the 90s. Lion Skin make the kind of alternative music that has the potential to go on to much bigger things, whilst being authentic and honest enough to continue appealing to an underground audience. This is a very strong debut from a band I'd be interested to hear more from. The tape is limited to just 30 (!) copies, which are already selling fast, so get your orders in quickly!

UPDATE III: ZyNg Tapes has just released the 5-track self-titled EP by Savage Goth. As usual with this label, the release is a complete work of art, this time issued as a turquoise cassette with on-body printing, matching turquoise case and full colour artwork, limited to just 50 copies. The band's name seems to be deliberately ironic - there is nothing savage about their music, and nothing particularly gothic, unless you're from the school of thought that sees dreampop as falling under the goth umbrella rather than the indie umbrella. Their style is influenced by classic indiepop and dreampop, whilst adding much to their sound that is new and creative. Ghosts is beautifully atmospheric dreampop, with lashings of cathedral-esque reverb, but presented in an updated form with the addition of electronic beats and synths. Manchester Tombstone Surfer Cult is in the best 80s-style DIY indiepop tradition. Lurker is brilliant jangly indiepop with ethereal undercurrents. Bloody Hell Fire is classic songwriting with a touch of laid-back US-style folk-rock, augmented by dreampop-style atmospherics. Revival is a multifaceted track putting an inventive spin on indiepop and dreampop. This is an absolutely fantastic tape; out of ZyNg's recent releases, this is the one that's most in keeping with my usual tastes, and I hope there will be more to follow in this vein from ZyNg in future. The tape has created quite a buzz already, and at the time of writing, only 5 physical copies remain, though a download version is also available for those who prefer that format.

UPDATE IV: Two new tapes have just landed, both very different from each other. The Rayguns have a 7-track mini-album, Never Been to California. The title track is brilliant catchy punk-pop. No Time At All combines the fuzzier kind of 1980s indiepop with a punky kick. Break is super-melodic pop beefed up with a punky snarl and buzzy fuzzy guitar. Faded adds an angular rock touch and an angsty atmosphere to the band's usual punk-pop style. The Rayguns have an exciting sound that balances strong catchy melodies with an energetic kick. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more from them in future! The tape has the usual high standard of visual presentation expected from ZyNg Tapes, and is limited to just 30 copies.

The other new tape is Globule by Glodblug, which returns ZyNg to its roots as a label closely associated with the Stone Premonitions collective. ZyNg label founder Rob Kirtley (ex-Rabbit's Hat) is joined here by John Simms and Maxine Marten (Clear Blue Sky, Census of Hallucinations) and Tim Jones (The Rabbit's Hat, Census of Hallucinations) for this album of 7 long instrumental tracks titled simply Glob 1 - Glob 7. The tape is packaged within a card slipcase with kaleidoscopic artwork by Kevin Heard. Glob 1 takes in elements of ambient, experimental, vintage electronica, and prog rock, for a sound that is simultaneously soothing and uplifting. Glob 2 is ambient/spacerock, with relaxing drones and gently undulating, pulsating rhythms. Glob 3 begins with a more unsettling feel, like music from a dystopian sci-fi movie, before introducing some calming washes of synth and a section with backwards instrumentation providing a hypnotic psychedelic atmosphere. Glob 4 combines vintage synth with intense and expressive guitar work. Glob 5 is an ominous, tense, feverish experimental piece, giving way to peaceful, relaxing ambient music. This is a really impressive album of creative, genre-transcending music. Again the tape is limited to just 30 copies. For those who prefer the CD format, the album is released jointly by Stone Premonitions as a CD, available from www.stonepremonitionswebshop.com.

UPDATE V: Hot on the heels of the Rayguns and Glodblug tapes comes a new 4-song EP, Michael Ceramist by Cool Tara, limited to just 40 copies on bright blue opaque cassette. The A-side features two studio tracks. 325 straddles the fine line between punk and powerpop, offsetting strong melody with squalling guitar noise and sweary lyrics. Jason Leg is noisepop that reminds me a little of Boyracer, as well as Jigsaw Records' noisier bands such as Suretoss. Over on the B-side there are two live tracks, 8/10, hard-edged powerpop with a multifaceted song structure, and Airliner, a million-miles-an-hour, energetic, noisy punk-pop track giving way to an effective atmospheric noise section with intense guitar noise and whooshing electronic effects. A fine homemade noisepop release, bursting with energy and DIY spirit.

UPDATE VI: Out now on ZyNg Tapes is the new album from Eric Peter Schwartz, Boney Finger in the Sweet Spot, released on cassette limited to 40 copies, and also on non-limited CD. Ghosts of Manhattan is a collaboration with Dan Hogan, which effectively blends bluesy Americana with electronic dance rhythms. Without a Moon on Lovers' Lane is sparse acoustic US folk. Boney Finger in the Sweet Spot has intense narrated lyrics depicting the appearance of the Grim Reaper in a whiskey-soaked bar, set to a suitably bleak and raw blues arrangement. Sleeping With My Watch On is raw and dirty retro rock 'n' roll. White Gypsum and John Wayne's Ghost is an American road movie in song, its well-crafted lyrics weaving a vivid story. Holes in His Kiss combines the classic singer-songwriter style with DIY electronic bleepery brought in from an older home recording from 1999, an effective mixture that adds extra distinctiveness and homemade charm to the singer-songwriter genre. This Time, Inside is vintage style rock with US folk and blues undercurrents. Eric Peter Schwartz's lyrics are meaningful, observational tales rooted in the American landscape. The musical settings draw from well established genres such as folk, blues and vintage rock, yet are firmly stamped with Eric's own personality. Another great release from this talented songwriter.

UPDATE VII: Brand new on ZyNg Tapes is the cassette album Pawrawnaw by The Nosuns, which is packaged within a fold-out card sleeve with lyric booklet and free badge, and is limited to just 42 copies. The Nosuns are two brothers from Aberdeen, though their album was recorded in Seoul and Cádiz. This is a great album of noisy lo-fi indiepop, each track named after a fictional character the brothers have created. Professor 200 is lo-fi punky noisepop with quirky lyrics like "There's a girl beside me/Who smells like a man". Sir Daniel Danielson is noisy indiepop with fuzzy distorted vocals. Iona McCloud is raw bedroom pop, melodic with an off-centre edge. Bo Merton is brilliant rough-around-the-edges indiepop in the spirit of the noisier bands from the genre's classic era. Mr Stagg combines punk energy with pop melody and a shoegaze-esque wall of atmospheric noise. Whilst the whole album is great, the absolute highlight must surely be Hanna McNim, fantastic catchy noisepop with attitude - I love this track and have found its addictive tune hard to shift from my brain! This tape is selling quickly so get a copy while you still can!

Order tapes or download the music from www.zyngtapes.co.uk. They are also seeking musicians of any genre for possible inclusion on future cassettes.

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