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Opal Taper, Stephen Bishop's intrepid Basic House project is steadily becoming one of the most fascinating off-road electronic projects around. 'Oats', for Luke Younger's highly esteemed Alter imprint, places him in good company alongside textural and rhythmic explorers such as Jamal Moss, Helm and Damien Dubrovnik. It's his 2nd album of 2013 after the crumbling deconstructions of 'Caim In Bird Form' for Digitalis, and finds his sound at once congealing and diffusing with a unique sonic syntax. Textural decay demarcates its six tracks, flowing from the buckled tape loops and guttural bass thump of 'AR II' to the soiled grunge techno of 'Child Confession' by way of a trans-temporal fag break of porno lite keys and a gasping vocal fragment before heading back into the concrète workshop ambience of 'Interiors' to close the first side. On the second, 'Est Oan' features a chamber group of swirling shapes and acephalic voices, before the grotty expanse of 'B.G. Feathers' crackins with distortion before the sinkhole of 'Dry Contact' slowly swallows its contents in a gurgling muck soup. Like any good and properly *new* music, Basic House is breaking down convention and rebuilding new forms with each subsequent release...- boomkat
I’ve been meaning to check out Basic House anyway because he’s playing round these parts in a couple of weeks with Gnod and Bass Clef, so it’s just as well I’ve wound up with it on my review stack this week. Turns out he’s actually the alter-ego of Opal Tapes honcho Stephen Bishop so you’re in safe hands here. It’s quite busy-sounding warped and fragmented electronica/techno business with gritty pulsing alien beats and all manner of grinding, fluttering, stumbling loops which bring up mental images of horror movie sewer chases with giant spiders and something much bigger following too close behind for comfort (but not close enough to get a proper look).It varies from steadily bumping dystopian post-techno with a bit of a Haxan Cloak feel to full-on experimental noise passages and Hacker Farm-ish swathes of crumbling, splinterered electronic scree. Considering how pitch black the tones are it’s actually going down well in the office with Kim and Li’l Biz both expressing their delight at its ‘orrible soundscapes. Fans of Demdike Stare, Pye Corner Audio, Hacker Farm, Burial Hex, Forest Swords, and all those other chilly modern outsiders of the kind you might find on that ‘Outer Church’ comp, you should get this. It’s good. - Norman Records
For those who haven’t encountered it yet, Helm’s Alter label is a blessing, modestly boasting a catalogue by some of the most idiosyncratic artists around. That the label has now invited Basic House to join the fold is a welcome move, the owner of Opal Tapes coming through in typically stoic style to deliver the album Oats.
Oats digs deeper than Basic House has done before, furrowing through mulch and degradation like a particularly frustrated Robert Frost. Although some uptempo passages occur, most of the tracks are slow, dragging affairs, everything steeped in earthiness and organic debris.
It’s a record that doesn’t sit still, either. ‘AR II’ opens with a haunted house tone that quickly and unexpectedly takes an air of melancholy happiness, an odd mixture that evolves into the kind of melodic sweetness Hieroglyphic Being often employs, albeit around a slow motion grind. Breaking briefly through a sweet, pastoral recorder music sample into ‘Child Confession’, we’re shoved through a harrowing march of sustained bass, eerie bell tones and leaf-sweeping distortion, lifting half way through into some kind of texture-screwed 36 Chambers beat.
‘Interiors’ plays with concrète perceptions of production vs. performance as imaginary tapes are swapped, plunging the listener back and forth between ‘reality’ and construction – although nothing is quite as unreal as the worming modular tone, moans and ethereal, rippling, gasping pads that follows in ‘Est Oan’. ‘B.G. Feathers’ cuts in with a Pete Swanson-like beat and low distortion squeals, but adds a surprise in the form of a submerged Rachmaninov sample bubbling beneath. ‘Dry Contract’ closes on a more traditional noise drone.
The second half of the CD version – the vinyl edition is only six tracks long – features another five tracks, different in approach, less anchored and more windswept. ‘Time Table’ leads, floating like a more abrasive, strained WANDA GROUP through hiss, death rattles, gentle bass plucks, bowed cymbals and birdsong. ‘Nurse’ is a blowhole and cave mouth with howling reverberation and harmonics; ‘La Coccinelle’ a termite mound with fitful rhythm and sombre metallic background; ‘C-Beat’ a minimal stringy pulse and overtones somewhere between Africans With Mainframes, Basic Channel and Helm. ‘L-Wave and Comb’ finishes the record on a morose, yet oddly uplifting ten-minute drone fanfare, its semi-organic harshness reminiscent of Fennesz and Rehberg.
Throughout its jostling and eeriness, Oats is a very canny record – and especially when heard in these two halves. Juxtaposing arresting material that doesn’t seem like it could be made to work, Bishop bends and edits parts together with care that belies their aggression. The results feel very much alive; primal, but with the beginnings of emotional understanding. It’s a brilliant experience. - Steve Shaw
Initially, Oats sounds a hell of a lot like its predecessor, as "AR II" offers up a healthy dose of tape hiss and a warbling, obsessively repeating loop. It quickly makes some surprising updates to Bishop's formula though, as an actual house beat(!) appears alongside some very conventional high-hats and a burbling techno bass line. That piece turns out to be an aberration in almost every way though, as the rest of the album is rarely that minimal or that straightforwardly musical. The second piece, "Child Confession," is very much the one that sets the tone of what is to come: dense, murky, crunching soundscapes with subtly hallucinatory synth flourishes and lots of heavy machinery sounds.
The biggest thing that separates Oats from Caim is density: Oats is far more crushing and relentless than broken or crackling. That difference is embodied nicely by "Interiors," which basically sounds like a fleet of street cleaners plowing through a pig farm. Such thick, buzzing soundscapes happily make up a significant portion of the album, as Bishop returns to that theme again (minus the pigs) with both "L Wave & Comb" and the roiling factory noise of "Dry Contact." The remaining pieces are divided up between ominous, pulsing ambient drone ("Time Table" and "Nurse"); haunted, minimalist dub techno variations ("C-Beat" and "La Coccinelle"); and a couple of curious divergences.
The first of Oats' curveballs is "Est Oan," an alternately cartoonish and creepy experiment in pitch-shifted voices amidst brooding dark ambient throbbing and skittering. The other aberration, however, is the album's masterpiece. According to Alter's description, "B.G. Feathers" "evokes the grinding power of Maurizio Bianchi's best '80s material," a claim that I will have to take their word for, as I have never heard anything by Bianchi that sounds quite like it. In any case, it is an absolutely crushing piece and a brilliantly simple one besides: it is essentially just a heavy, endlessly repeating, and blown-out industrial crunch, but the twist is that the crunch is constantly changing in violent ways. In fact, it often sounds like the tape is literally being shredded, which is an extremely neat trick. Few things make me happier than gnarled, unrelenting, mechanized crunches at high volume. It breaks my heart every single day that I do not live in a futuristic dystopia terrorized by mechanized juggernauts, so I deeply appreciate Basic House for at least providing the fleeting illusion of one for me.
Ultimately, Oats hits higher highs than Caim while also being significantly more accessible, as Bishop's more beat-driven pieces offer enough of a semblance of normalcy to probably draw in the more adventurous strain of underground dance enthusiasts (especially given Stephen's role in the scene). Part of me laments Bishop's evolution a bit though, as Caim in Bird Form was front-to-back otherwordly insanity. Oats is certainly a logical and impressive leap forward, but Basic House's newfound force and quasi-professionalism necessarily comes at the expense of some of its its rickety predecessor's "outsider art" charm. I still love both though. - Anthony D'Amico
Caim In Bird Form (2013)
Opal Tapes' visionary bossman Stephen Bishop synthesises spellbinding post-techno ecologies on his debut slab of wax as Basic House. 'Caim In Bird Form' is an engrossing refinement of the arcane, buckled structures and textures best heard on his 'I'm Not A Heaven Man' album and an excellent split with Prostitutes for Blowing Up The Workshop. It's a sound that was conceived in relative isolation, yet feels intrinsically plugged into the zeitgeist and highly aware of fringe actions in the wake of punk whilst making a real virtue of creating dialogue between technoid, rhythm-driven engines, and esoteric, avant dimensions. This dilated yet microscopic sonic vision takes in stoic, Eliane Radigue-like drone and gone-midnight TV samples in opener, 'Aspirin Telepath' and scans out over vast internal warehouse scapes mixing field recordings and creaking electronics on 'I Found U'. With 'Don't Remember Acid' he hears "dance" music from a sly outsider's stance, probably admitting that he was listening to The New Blockaders when everyone else was raving, whilst '64 Bummer' crunches polymetric gears in a sort of lucid concrète nightmare. With the scraped textures and phosphorescing ambient tones of 'Field 0.08' he gives a modern update of certain Zoviet*France aesthetics, and on 'Ultra-Misted' hews close to the collapsed techno on the Kassem Mosse 'Siege Of Troy' album, whilst the title track feels like skulking around a train graveyard with Steve Roden, and the miasmic 'TV Illness' dials into shared headspace between Helm and Bellows. Great stuff.- boomkat
Stephen Bishop is best known as the man behind Opal Tapes, but he also releases some very deviant and noteworthy music of his own as the deceptively named Basic House. While both of these albums were released in 2013, they take Bishop's otherworldly wrongness in two very different directions. Caim in Bird Form is the much weirder (and arguably more unique) of the two, but the more recent Oats compensates for its comparative lack of derangement by incorporating a heavy noise/industrial influence that yields some impressively brutal results.
Caim has one of the more eerie and wrong-footing openings in my recent memory, as Bishop takes the hackneyed trope of using film dialogue to a bizarre extreme with "Aspirin Telepath." Aside from some murky, throbbing synths, the piece is little more than a tense monologue pitch-shifted and taken wholesale. Then that is followed by "I Found U," which opens with a crackling, near-incomprehensible answering machine message. That message ultimately gives way to something resembling music, but just barely: it features only looped swells of static, a repeating hollow thump, and some uneasy echoing and machine noise. It is certainly a very sparse and minimalist piece, but it is also quite an enjoyable one, recalling some sort of deep subterranean or sci-fi twist on The Loop Orchestra's mad brilliance.
While part of me hoped the album would continue to sound like an enigmatic radio transmission from deep space forever (or just listening to late night television on lots of hard drugs), the album arguably begins in earnest with the third piece "I Don't Remember Acid." At the very least, it feels structured and has a clear beat/rhythm of sorts. Bishop's "songs," however, are not techno/dance in any conventional sense–rather, they are a ruined, rusted, sickly sounding, and grotesque caricature of the genre. Everything sounds scratchy, queasy, and anemic. That is, except on the rare occasions when it does not, such as with the bassy, spaced-out dub techno anomaly of "64 Bummer."
While that piece is reassuring in that it shows that Stephen could competently make something more straight-forward if he felt like it, I am (predictably) far more impressed with his more outré excursions, like the blearily dissonant haze of "Field 0.08" or the shivering rhythm in "Ultra-Misted" that gradually degenerates into backwards-sounding whooshes. Or the beat in the title track, which basically sounds like someone rhythmically sharpening a long knife.
My favorite piece, however, is the closing "TV Illness," which sounds like it appropriates the same string piece used in Severed Heads' "Wonder of All the World." Bishop takes that beautifully melancholy piece in a very different direction though, as it sounds like it is fitfully reverberating through a cavernous parking garage. It makes for a very hallucinatory and bittersweet listening experience, which is happily reprised as "In Illness Form," a remix by Scuba Death (the sole real difference being the addition of more hissing and a metallic machine-noise rhythm).
If Caim can be said to have a flaw, it would be that the individual pieces are all based on a few simple, repeating motifs–the sort of thing that other musicians might see as little more than studio experiments or the beginnings of something larger. That did not bother me at all though, as they cumulatively form one hell of a bizarre and unique album. Also, anything more elaborate or musical would have ruined my pleasing illusion that these are field recording collages made by a serial killer or madman hiding in a sewer: Caim works so wonderfully precisely because of Bishop's unwavering commitment to his broken, crackling aesthetic of cryptic dispatches. Stephen certainly recorded some great individual pieces, but Basic House's brilliance lies far more in how it sounds than in the actual beats and notes being played. - Anthony D'Amico