I can’t say that I had some grand idea of what the Haute Magie sound would be, but what I can say is that I was way off. Reaching for release no. twenty with this pair of tapes from PAN (#16) and Michum (#19), the young label is clearly a serious endeavor (see the sophisticated website and professionalism in production), with forays into cassettes, CDs, and vinyl. Still, there has yet to gel a sense of aesthetic from these precious fragments, the visual, textual, and most important, sonic. But I’m getting ahead of themselves, and their emergent roster of artists.
The first of this pair of mysteries is the latest from PAN, a C60 of seven tracks evoking that frontier of bedside postrock charted by Excavacations and Warm Climate on Stunned, or the Tristeza one-offs on Sanity Muffin. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this development, and yet I am entirely grateful that figures like PAN approach the terrain with care, mindful of those core tenants of ambience and melody. Forsaking the institution of ‘the song’ in the name of ‘the hook’ and ‘the texture,’ tunes like “Rae” evoke the philosopher Geoff Barrow: conjure a media space, not a composition; get the sound, not the instrument; and sing something you both want to hear, not “what comes next”. It’s the logical progression of the remix, without an original. Though guitar and voice thread throughout the album, neither is essential, nor primary. Chords and syllables throb as brazenly as tape licks, treated to a perfection of glossy metal or hammered fabric; the onset of static wash turns the tone – in many ways, all there is – and there is no pretense of some narrative being “troubled” or complicated. Beat, too, is reconstructed: no longer a grid to which the form snaps, the manifestation of rhythm permeates plods, but also guitar, voice, effects on “Beahr.” The effect is ethereal, optimistic – that is, after the initial eeriness of “Breath” – think Tortoise and Do Make Say Think. Best summarized in the recurrent plumb of “Roots”, with its grafted Growing riff and hotly-decayed odes, PAN reaches the stratospheric distance of a noble discography, all from the modern convenience of the cassette’s sleeping bag warmth. Cassette comes labeled with a J-card, edition of 125 copies. Recommended!
And then there’s the debut by Michum: evoking a similar return to the fin de siècle North American Midwest (with stops in London and NYC), the unnamed artist disarms us with 17 tracks in an LP’s duration. Yet he or she (probably he) pursues the inverse, sequencing a decade of recorded sounds into a (home) studio hip hop straight out of early, drizzly Thrill Jockey and the likes of Ui, Fridge, and yes, Tortoise. The sound selection is warm, jazz-informed, pre-millennial without a doubt; most have a trip-hop patina, increasingly a sense of self-enclosure rather than technological futurism (ala Barrow). The effect is irreversibly nostalgic, and pitch-perfect. The tracks fade in, out with the measured regularity of edits off a sampler, but at the same time disabuses us of the notion that there is something more we’re not getting. In this sense, Michum works in an older grammar than labelmate PAN, producing a modular modernism still thriving regardless of (and not because of) the cassette which assembles it. Similarly would it be indifferent to vinyl, MP3, VHS, ringtone, whatever. The media is its carrying capacity, nothing more. But how else you gonna get it in your Tercel? Edition of 50 C48s with pro-pressed cassettes and beautifully-screened covers.
Haute Magie cassette