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A Produce - The Clearing/Various Artists - Tape Excavation (Independent Project)

28 March 2023

With two new releases, Bruce Licher and Independent Project Records continue their exploration of not only the deepest crevasses of their own archives, but the electronic, experimental underground of the American Southwest. As usual, the disks arrive in beautifully wrought packaging with extensive liner notes.

The late A Produce (Barry Craig to his friends) originally released The Clearing in 1988 on his own influential Trance Port Tapes label, one of the first imprints to document what was called the “trance music” scene in the mid-eighties. A sleek blend of electronic rhythms and textures with spaced-out guitar and violin, The Clearing both presages a lot of the electrified ambient music that would come after it, and stands apart from it. Cuts like “The Raw Silk, the Uncarved Block” and “Farming in Arabia” possess a rhythmic drive most ambient artists never concern themselves with, while the addition of violist/nonsense vocalist Josie Roth to “Pulse” indicates a cheeky sense of whimsy. Then there’s “Ashes of Love,” guest-starring bassist/vocalist Daniel Voznick of Craig’s former band Afterimage – with its rock hooks and Voznick’s dramatic delivery, it’s basically a leftover Afterimage tune. Eclectic, imaginative, and entertaining all the way through (including the four bonus cuts added to this edition), The Clearing heralded a bright future for this moody texturalist.

Originally released to accompany Savage Impressions, a book about Licher’s art and design career, Tape Excavations fields a good twenty-two tracks of noise rock, post punk, guitar-based ambient and soundtrack music, all taken from various cassettes of demos, rehearsals, and other ephemera never meant to be heard. The comp begins with slices of proto- Savage Republic noise rock from Licher’s early bands Project 187 and Bridge – including “Early Machinery,” a bass/scrap percussion improvisation that eventually became SR’s “Machinery.” Those are followed by actual SR tracks, mostly demos and excerpts that would be developed later, like “Assembly of the Dead,” which later became “Assembly,” and “First Siege,” later recorded as “Last Grave at Dimbaza.” Most curious is “The Unknown,” a brief, unused piece credited to Final Republic and taken from a rehearsal tape. The rest of the collection is filled out with various Licher projects, including a pair of unrealized Scenic cuts, several demos and unused bits, and collaborations with Lanterna (the lovely “B Minor”) and Boxhead Ensemble’s Michael Krassner (“Advancement,” credited to Rank, after the film for which it was composed), all representing various twangs, shimmers, and sheens as provided by electric guitars. Also notable are two songs Licher produced in partnership with his wife Karen Nielsen Licher: a short, untitled instrumental by Lemon Wedges, and the twelve-string driven “The Great Escape,” from the Lichers’ latest band SR2. There’s a lot of music on this album, but every single note is worth hearing.