The most interesting, well-curated homemade/small-batch labels come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and aesthetics, but especially all locations. I’d wager one could stop a spinning globe on any random point there’d be a good chance something to this effect is going on somewhere nearby, whether it’s tapes and CD-Rs tucked in scribbled-on paper sleeves or zine exchange networks or alleyway film screenings, and most will probably go completely unnoticed by the other 99.999% of people in the world; which, of course, is usually part of the point. Some places, however (for reasons as various as art itself), become unlikely, often ramshackle hubs for one or several convergences of fringe interests, and one of those places is southern Ontario, a fecund patch of lakeside tilth for DIY sprouts and shoots. From Fossils/Cardinal Records (as well as David Payne’s Offensive Orange project and Middle James Co.) to Thoughts on Air/Low Orbit and Beach Vicodin/Hamilton Tapes, the Hammer is definitely a hotspot, but a bit farther south in Niagara resides Vacancy Recs. and its associated artists, a new favorite of mine that’s having a modest but superb year so far.
Sick Days – The Calm Before (Aug 19)
The work of woodshed sound art project Sick Days comprises much of Vacancy’s output, of which The Calm Before is the latest. Like the 2020 self-titled double CD, the release that introduced me to the project, a simple formula of taped field recordings and choice effects comprising a sort of stripped-down performance installation. There’s little variation for much of the two 45-minute sides, the minimal yet enthralling soundscapes lulling with homespun hypnosis; I’m reminded of Jørgen Brønlund Quartet in that the passivity and agency of the nature being observed is retained, but there are just enough details that it’s apparent human intentionality is at play. Not only do both untitled cuts seem to dissolve time with their careful, artful simplicity, they also have spare moments of dynamic shift that will leave any close listener breathless (I won’t spoil… hear it for yourself). I can already see this being one of my most-played tapes this year.
Pool Pervert – Young Sleep Whispers (Sep 20)
Disregarding any less than ideal connotations with which the artist’s name might imbue it, Young Sleep Whispers is a fitting, if still cryptic title for this new tape from the prolific Dutch newcomer—this reticent near-hour feels not just dreamlike and hushed but also embryonic, forming movement and emotion before it even forms (or is formed) itself. In part one, meditative cross-currents of simmering moonlit water, blurred piano musings, and rhythmic respirations from somewhere beyond settle into place with the organic, unhurried ease of the tides themselves. The surface of this distilled primordial soup is later brushed by what could either be windswept branches or cosmic clouds of ice, widening the music’s spatial presence even further; the results are at once massive and miniature. The following part is even looser, more earthy and psychedelic (though don’t take that too literally—the binaural voice snatches at the beginning will have you looking over your shoulder the whole night).