Feature: Bánh Mì Verlag

Amidst many other exciting archival Bandcamp additions, presumably a result of quarantine boredom (make sure to check out newly available past releases from Bob Desaulniers / Translucent Envelope, Francisco Meirino, Lighten Up Sounds, and others), Jack Callahan’s small batch tape label Bánh Mì Verlag has made its entire back catalog available for digital streaming and purchase. If you’re like me and haven’t been able to hear many of these releases before, this is a goldmine for fans of liminal, subversive music. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites so far:

Shots – Up Front (2016)

Even if you haven’t been following this site for very long, you’re probably aware how fond I am of Shots, the enigmatic trio of Matthew Friberg, John Friberg, and Daniel Dimaggio. Up Front is their first standalone document after their initial appearance on Kye’s Nice Weather for War compilation, and already begins to form the purposeful, deliberate creative arc that Shots have followed over the course of their existence. The considered clatter and obvious improvisation remain from “D.C.,” but also involved is an increased sense of location and uncertainty, that elusive void that only expands with ensuing releases.

die Reihe – Toward Agave Expressionism (2019)

An irreverent, parodic, post-internet shtick and an astute ear for the captivatingly unusual are two of the defining features of Bánh Mì Verlag, so it’s unsurprising that these phrases also aptly describe Callahan’s own project die Reihe. Created with fellow artist Alec Sturgis, Toward Agave Expressionism is a programmatic reverse-dissection of an esoteric vision statement that can be found both on the cover of the tape and in undisturbed text-to-speech delivery on the final track. “When do we know that we have rebelled or failed to rebel? And against what?”

Ellen Phan – Ideomotor Response (2018)

Echoing messier releases by another label (with a somewhat similar aesthetic) on which I also did one of these features, fals.ch, Ellen Phan’s only solo cassette is a masterful piece of extreme computer music. Unidentifiable sources are stretched, chopped, and shredded beyond repair into whirling tendrils of raw data. Punchy and percussive at times, delicate and detailed at others, and never afraid to blast the ears with hackle-raising digital destruction. Also, perhaps the most fitting cover design of the bunch.

Skylark Quartet – Skylife (2015)

I’ve previously written about the Skylark Quartet (for last year’s Live in Tokyo CD on Marginal Frequency), but at that time much of my consideration was directed toward the “observers” of the Quartet. On this earlier release the recorded perspective is not nearly as subjective, and the listener is able to retain a reasonably sturdy position over these 11 deconstructed renditions of “Skylark.” The near-constant presence of outdoor noises is an interesting element; the separation between location and music is more defined here.

Lucie Vítková – Music Domestic (2017)

This curious tape embraces a very singular approach to domestic/household improvisation through an “extra step” between observance or performance and presentation: dissection and synthesis. Each track lists the sound objects that were used in its creation, a provision that only makes it easier for their structure to seem reassembled or artificial. Compositions like the queasy “(big fan, preparations, harmonica, voice; coming home, washing dishes)” hover on an impossibly thin tightrope above the border between comfort and malaise.