Black, with drawings by Brace Paine of Gossip
At first I didn't notice it. Printed in tiny blue ink at the top of ASSS' Stay at Home
tape is a number: 28. It might be a lucky number. Or maybe it's the age of ASSS' Sean Sumler or Alex Smith. Maybe it's totally random. But most likely, the number is a signifier: this tape is rare, one of a kind. Or one of 30.
In the cassette tape underground, you often have to scramble to buy something before it sells out. Most cassette labels release tapes in limited quantity, often making only 50 copies of a new release. It serves a dual purpose, really: both to make the tapes desirable (I have a collectors item!) but also transient. Cassettes have a short shelf life, and people know this. It's one of the reasons that so much of the music released in the format is vital but super relaxed and laid back; a tape might capture the sound of a band on a particular day, but it's just one document. You can always move on.
So while Stay at Home
isn't an official full-length from one of Portland's most promising experimental bands, it's still a worth your money. How much you enjoy this tape also depends on your tolerance for blurry drones. Stay At Home
is a perfect name for this project: this is not music you put on in motion, but rather the kinda stuff you listen to when you need something to clear your head of all the noise you consume each day. The tape is composed of three disparate pieces: side one, “Pink Skin,” is a drone-heavy instrumental recorded live last December at the Hush and side two is taken from an East End show a week earlier and features two pounding tribal-drones, “I Am on a Ship” and “Tea Drinker Meet Destiny.” While the first half of the tape might numb you into a comfortable sleep, when you flip the tape over what you hear might actually scare you—searing noise, dual drumming, weird squiggly little noises and chants.
Sumler and Smith joke on their website that they sound like the Smiths, but with only drums and oscillators. That's not necessarily untrue. These songs aren't catchy at all, but that's not a put-down. There are no real hooks or traditional melodies, just intense, noisy, primal music that comes from the same emotional palette Morrissey was cribbing from: alienation, loneliness, uncertainty. I'm lucky that I was able to find a copy in time.
*I purchased this tape at the wonderful Exiled Records on Hawthorne, one of the few brick-and-mortar places in Portland where you can find these tapes. Mississippi Records also carries a selection of local releases, including things from their own amazing label. The best place to buy new cassettes, ironically, is on the Internet, which I'll get into on a future column.*