A mere 6 months after their brilliant live album (reviewed here), Dutch psyche/Southern/retro explorers DeWolff are back with ‘Tascam Tapes’. And no, that’s not a typo. Having misread it as ‘trashcan’, this reviewer investigated – A Tascam Porta Two is a long defunct 4-track cassette recorder from the mists of the dim and distant 80’s and is what DeWolff have chosen to record this album on. And not without difficulties. The bands trusty Tascam was, in fact, not so trusty – refusing to co-operate on several occasions. The band even managed to source a second Tascam, which, it turns out, was even more inefficient than the first. So, with the aid of patience and gaffer tape, they forged ahead.
Lo-fi is definitely the name of the game here. The album was written and recorded on the road, more often than not in less than luxurious conditions (ie: the back of the tour bus). Instrumentation too, was minimal – a guitar, a battery powered 80’s synthesizer and a collection of sampled rare soul/funk drumbeats loaded onto the Tascam…into which every instrument used was plugged in! And all for under 50 Euro’s!
This, of course, is not without precedent. In 2014 Neil Young released ‘A Letter Home’ – recorded in a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph vinyl recording booth. But while that was lazy and scratchy to the point of being unlistenable, DeWolff’s offering is a warm, expansive, creative audio experiment.
The aforementioned soul and funk backbeats inform the whole sound of the album. It’s a definite step away from DeWolffs usual jamtastic Hammond-drenched wig out’s. It’s mellower, more soulful (much more soulful). It’s Al Green with occasional fuzz.
Opening track ‘Northpole Blues’ is, urm…bluesy. The female backing vocals adding a glossy sheen of gospel. It’s a surprisingly full sound – scratchy and a tad distorted, yes, but lacking nothing. The panning synth squelches add a welcome touch of wobbly 80’s neon.
And on it goes. ‘Blood Meridian I & II’ are sonic tributes to the blood-soaked Cormac McCarthy novels of the same name. There’s a lot of sonic ingenuity going on here, the band aren’t about to let the self-imposed recording restrictions hamper their creativity. There’a a lovely, dirty, fuzzed out bass…which probably isn’t an actual bass. But hey, who cares. The guitar is suitably dirty and the sampled beats are a geeky vinyl hound’s delight.
There’s a deft lightness of touch throughout. The album continues to slow dow, chill out and head into full on blue-eyed soul territory. Several of the songs also seem to address the woes (and joys) of life on the road. “The rain don’t smell like it does at home” laments vocalist Pablo van de Poel at one point. It steadily becomes a woozy, nocturnal perambulate – a glorious melding of fuzz and synth. And funk. Fuzz funk…fuzzunk?
Heavier shit begins to appear, DeWolff reminding us that, hey, they can rock dude. ‘Awesomeness Of Love’ is a bluesy electro stomp – a tres cool mash up of styles and genres…and mostly all wrapped up in bitesize two minute chunks. Jamming wouldn’t really cut it in these spartan surroundings.
There’s more steel-edged funk, wrapped in mucho distorto harmonica while ‘Love Is Such A Waste’ is a late highlight, with it’s Northern Soul beat and sampled howls of despair, it’s a …well, who knows what it is other than a great song by a great band.
Yes, this is low budget but don’t go lowering your expectations. The limited tools at the bands disposal have an interesting reverse effect – they highlight the bands songwriting talents and their questing creativity. The restrictions are obstacles to be sidetracked and bypassed – defeated, not adhered to. It’s a triumph of creativity and fun. it’s almost a concept album. Life on tour, away from home and loved ones in less than ideal surroundings and living conditions is what this is about – from writing to performance and recording. A tale of victory snatched from the jaws of oppression. Possibly. Who knows. It’s good is what it is.
Review by Gary Cordwell
Released by Mascot Label Group on 10 January 2020
- Northpole Blues
- Blood Meridian I
- It Ain’t Easy
- Made It To 27
- Nothing’s Changing
- Let It Fly
- Blood Meridian II
- Awesomeness Of Love
- Love Is Such A Waste
- Am I Losing My Mind
- Life In A Fish Tank