Shrubsole & Tattersall

Shrubsole & Tattersall, three tapes with drawings of birds

The rusty telephone lines send the late-nineties dial-up connections slowly, and hazardously, through the music. They slip in through Thomas Shrubsole and Craig Tatterall’s music. They sound outdated — they are outdated — but they continue to work. Just. There are no disconnections once you’re inside the music. If anything, the music shields itself with a stable yet constantly shifting core. The lovely sound of tape fuzz and the lively, kinetic energy that the experimental music provides makes this a record you can’t afford to miss.

A television set, turned up to eleven, blasts its muffled sound outwards as it makes its way to next door’s apartment. These common sounds, when rearranged, become something else entirely. They transform like an autobot, becoming music. The duo’s brand new Local Studies imprint is, with this very self-titled album, enjoying a fine start, and this is a fully fleshed-out work of experimental art. It’s an impressive piece of work, highly detailed and methodical despite its live, raw and exploratory content. It’s an experimental trip to an undiscovered place. Recorded over the space of 12 hours in Shrubsole’s Manchester studio, these live improvisations carry their own developing plot. You can hear the ‘hands-on manipulations’ at work as they squash and vibrate under the suffocating weight of duress. In fact, there’s over two and a half hours of music to check out.

Along with the feeling that music can be anything and everywhere, there’s a lovely, natural tone to it all. The kind undulation and the radiant, spectral glow of the tape hiss gives way to some soft, ambient interludes. Like an experimental science class in high school, the music simmers and smokes with sulphuric spirit, frothing at the edges with tape hiss. And we’re lucky to be in the class, because this lesson comes from two of the very best in the experimental field. Like a lesson, we learn through the music. They have a load of experience, and while the music can be thought of as a long-haul flight (thanks to its running length), it never actually feels like a long or tiresome trip. The music’s always changing — from pitch-shifted instruments to a reliable, mechanical beat that shuffles along. The distant, distorted voices of Tape 2 Side A squeeze through the tight cables of the telephone line. This is in a pre-broadband world stuck in the screens of perpetual waiting, and as a result the voice-led messages are hard to discern. Darting, stuttering synths occasionally flash by, but even these seem to be interrupted.

Time travelling into the past, we meet up with throbbing, dark, techno-inspired beats, but they fade against the abrasive squeals. Radio frequencies come in, but they’re interrupted, too. Synths judder and stagger around like zombies, and, later, quiet, sparse moments let the music slowly slide down the chute, where it finds itself firmly on ambient turf. Distorted ruminations screech like clawed fingers grinding down a whiteboard, and the tips rival the sharp points of barbed wire fences. They’re having fun, though. Hazy melodies are left to loop around, and at times the record recalls the music of The Fun Years. Thanks to the recurring beat, it drifts into the fast lane of electronic music, but the experimental side quickly returns, with noisy guitar interludes that contain both artificial and natural harmonics, muted, strangled notes and the feverish, plucked rake of the strings. This is mammoth music.

Clanking away like an old skeleton in the night school science lab, the music eventually turns towards a dull beat that palpitates at irregular intervals; it rhythmically repeats, but it never comes across as completely stable. Somewhere in the ether, a guitar’s minor third becomes a major third, and it cycles between the two, lost in the endless soup of sound. Three tapes later, and you can see just how talented these musicians are. It’s best to divide the music tape by tape — it’s a massive album. Sometimes, as on Tape Three Side B, the music comes to a natural stop, but it then moves onto something different. True, the recurring beat is back with a vengeance — the same stuttering heartbeat tries to drive the music forward, but some other kind of sonic-subversion and subterfuge is now present. A transmission echoes through the music, throwing off the possible scent of danger. The music has its intricacies, but you have to search it thoroughly in order to discover them. It’s nearly impossible to sum up two and a half hours of music (you’d have to brace yourself for a really long review), and there’s so much going on it’s best to just dive right in. You name it, and it’s probably in here; it’s a beast of a release. (Thomas Shrubsole) (Craig Tattersall)

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