NYC’s OSR-Tapes have quietly been pushing the most alluring, ecstatic, quirky pop tapes you could ever dream of since 2007. I’ve had the pleasure of, every now and again, finding myself unable to put down their tapes. Hellier Ulysses’ latest is a prime example, landing smack-dab in the middle of my year-end best-tapes-listicle. And, were it not for the wish to keep said list from overlapping with full-length articles, I can assure you it would’ve been crawling with additional OSR titles.
Alas, the OSR party has reached its end. I know not whether to blame nosy neighbors, a dwindling supply of party juice, or the inevitable onset of ennui for this. But I am grateful to OSR for leaving us with a giant mass of party favors – 25 new, decidedly OSR music albums. And, while one can be sure OSR’s core players will pop up here and there from time to time in various guises, with various projects on various new labels, we ought not neglect to celebrate what was. In that spirit, let us examine a few of the farewell batch’s offerings.
Jo Miller-Gamble – Free
Miller-Gamble has a roundabout approach to pop music, weaving layers of processed sounds in and around a tireless rhythm section comprised of buoyant basslines and trustworthy drum samples. His guitar work, often detuned and distant, flickers in and out of the stereosphere. Like a coy lover, his compositions often only tease at definite melody. But the careful listener, in synthesizing the myriad and competing lines swirling about, is rewarded with a cosmically beautiful harmonic series.
Brave Radar – High Season Blues
For much of its existence, twee has been far too unassuming. It’s assumed harmonic complexity, dissonance, meanderings, etcetera are better left alone. Needless to say, there have been a few brave bands to advance the twee frontier into these uncharted (and, fundamentally un-twee) waters, with “High Season Blues” the most recent to pop up on my radar. Guitarist Conor Prendergast flits about between block chords and smooth, jazz-colored leads, while vocalist Tessa Smith sits just low enough in the mix to remind you someone’s at the wheel. Unsung session heroes Andrew Forsythe and Gabriel Ng make for a dutiful, synchronous rhythm section, tying the duo’s breezy compositions to anchor.
Mega Bog – Shadows Break / For The Old World
Before I praise this cassingle effusively, let me say that I have generally avoided cassingles. I don’t know what to do with only one or two songs. I don’t know what to do with U-Cards. It seems, however, that Erin Birgy and her merry pop outfit have had the answers all along. Drummer Zachary Burba’s lush watercolor art goes expertly with Mega Bog’s art-pop audio, which, conveniently, repeats on both sides. Burba also knows exactly how to groove on the kit, lending a firm foundation to Elizabeth Birgy’s Stereolab-esque compositions. I should hope to hear more from these fellows, perhaps even on a cassingle if the occasion calls for it.
Mark Beer – OSR74
With the 80s craze that’s taking over the airwaves, I’m somewhat surprised we haven’t heard more from the artists who were there. Then again, we are talking about the underground in this lil’ article. Perhaps there’s a thriving DIY scene of 80s holdovers somewhere, just waiting to be discovered. If not, we can at least content ourselves with this fantastic exception to the best music generation’s* radio silence: Mark Beer’s untitled OSR debut. The cassette comprises the Englishman Beer’s first published work since 1986, including a pair of tracks recorded in 1980s, and is well worth the price of admission for the excellent cut “Love Dances Warm” alone.
* This opinion is the author’s alone, and United Cassettes is not necessarily willing to defend it.
CE Schneider – Violence Etcetera
Anyone who picks up this tape is guaranteed to scramble in search of more Schneider (hint: look around the OSR catalogue, it won’t take long). Her approach to pop composition is like that of many of her OSR counterparts: melodically challenging, complex, and above all, deft. The songs on “Violence Etcetera” are brief and bursting with ideas – insofar as anything shrouded in the hiss and haze of a Tascam 8-track can be considered bursting – recalling experimental poppers Mahogany on more than one occasion (cf. “From the Nun”). Driven by clean, expressive guitars, Schneider’s record benefits from judicious overdubbing of vocal harmonies, guitar leads, and occasional percussion.