Tasos Stamou and Adam Bohman, The Car Boot Sales (CD-R, Kuruku Recordings)
Tasos Stamou, Marches of the Broken Hearts (Orl26); A Litany of ‘Aishiteru Wa’ (Orl21), The Return of the Long-Lost One (Orl14), all 3-inch CD-Rs and digital downloads on Orila Records.
I first came across Tasos Stamou as one half of a sax’n’objects duo with Adrian Northover on Linear Obsessional ‘s Mantra Gora release last June. The combination of primitive electronics and companion’s horn explorations worked brilliantly, tracks like Chimera’s Brunch tip toe-ing a delicate line between bluesy tonality and claustrophobic ambience.
This was all switched up several notches at their live show at the Hundred Years Gallery in Dalston a few months back, which culminated in a bizarro sax duet, Northover languidly blasting away as Stamou picked up what appeared to be a 1980s electronic horn of some kind – plastic bodied in true Charlie Parker style – and let loose with reedy snake charmer melodies. That both players were strolling around the performance space like a pair of gentlemen at leisure taking their afternoon constitutional couldn’t help but add to the fun.
Desperate for more Stamou goodness, I picked up his collab with veteran junk plucker Adam Bohman that very afternoon, and a few short weeks later, Tasos himself popped up via social media to send me his Marches of the Broken Hearts, the final instalment of a trilogy of works issue on Orila Records, all of which explore an intersection of exotic, eastern-influenced psychedelia and free improvisation.
But, first, back to the Stamou/Bohman double-header, The Car Boot Sales. This is more challenging terrain than the Stamou-Northover partnership, with both players delving deep into their boxes of toolboxes for a set of crusty sound works that evoke images of frantic activity in an inventor’s workshop. Squeals, clatters, scrapes, bangs, rustles and all kinds of related noises are the order of the day here, as the chaps set to their arsenals with gusto.
It’s good stuff, knotty and oily, with some lovely circuit bent electronics adding depth to the sound and the odd blast of maltreated violin and balalaika providing occasional dramatic flourishes. That said, I can’t help feeling it would have been much more fun to witness in person – to which end I would direct you to the video clip-ette below.
March of the Broken Hearts, in contrast, casts its sonic net a little wider. This last chapter in the Stamou’s Orila sequence of solo works cooks up a rich brew of retro-futurist electronics, which cast playful radiophonic bleeps out into the ether, as sinuous, buzzing drones dip and drift through the sonic space. They’re earthed by well-placed clacks and squeaks, occasionally augmented by a violin or zither, all of which add grit and prevent the compositions drifting off into New Age stupor.
Stamou insists that we shouldn’t “look for underlying patterns or influences” in Marches of the Broken Hearts, which is fair enough. There’s enough in the 11 short pieces making up the work to not have to worry about metaphysics and just get down with the quavering, clattering soundscapes. Yet there is playfulness to all of these pieces, which make them even more enjoyable to listen to. In track 04 (they’re all untitled), a gurgling repeated vocal snippet brings a manic extraterrestrial edge to proceedings.
In track 08 a series of overlapping woody, wibbling exhalations are juxtaposed with silvery electronic threads of sound, conjuring up images of UFOs landing in Jutland and setting up a heavy jam session with the local Vikings while roasting a boar over the campfire.
A Litany of ‘Aishiteru Wa’, released in 2013, explores similar terrain, but the mood is more meditative than playful, with ritualistic drones and gamelan shimmer replacing the deep space hum.
Track 04 (no song titles again, folks) lays down deep and righteous harmonia chords, crisscrossed with wavering organ and stylophone squiggles – a motif that returns towards the end of the album, in track 11, supplemented by eccentric wordless vocals.
Track 08 seems to be going the full Tangerine Dream in its proggy synth doodles and track 10 jitters and jumps like a marine full of moored sailing yachts in a midwinter windstorm.
All three of Stamou’s Orila trilogy are available from his Bandcamp site for a relative pittance, but it’s the physical objects you should be getting really, illustrated as they are with beautiful artwork on heavy white card.
The first of the trilogy, Return Of the Long Lost One, recorded back in 2012 but released in March 2013, establishes the template for the series, with a lovely print of a humanoid creature, its head consisting of an annotated thumbprint, clutching a set of bagpipes.
The music, too, beats a path along which A Litany of ‘Aishiteru Wa’ and March of the Broken Hearts will follow, with 10 echoey, low-key tracks that murmur and glow with an almost mystical devotion. The coos and bleats of track 05 are a marvel here, mithering like a crowd of lambs at milking time while a pre-Autobahn era Kratftwerk-style synth spins elegiac melody lines in the background. In track 09 it’s the shepherds who are stepping up to the limelight, their twisting pipes competing for airspace with what sounds like a typewriter bashing away.
All of these three albums make for great listening and show a real dedication to expanding the vocabulary of improvised music. That such inventive, evocative works have been created with relatively basic equipment is a marvel. For Stamou, it seems, less definitely is more.