Crate-Digging: Tyler Powell – Outgoing Messages

tyler powell

(Dismal Niche, 2015)

I could probably go on and on about the process Tyler Powell utilized while putting this tape together, because it’s pretty interesting. He compiled discarded answering machine cassettes along with guitar meditations and field recordings and created a bunch of infinite, meditative loops that he potentially should have released on vinyl as a full record of locked grooves. But what do I know, I’m not Tyler Powell, and I have no idea how to make locked grooves, or if even a full record of them is possible (or desirable). What I do know is that, if you’re going to pore over such delicate compositions between 2012 (when these pieces were recorded) and now, your end result is going to exhibit that sort of attention to detail you put into it. It’s up to us as listeners to give it a fair shake, to plug in deeply and recognize the deep power of reflective repetition.

So yeah, I could talk about process, but that’s boring. It wouldn’t give you any inclination on how the tape is supposed to make you feel, so it’s almost a disservice to you, the gentle reader, and I’d never, ever want to do you a disservice. (OK, maybe if I was repulsed by your record or something, I’d pwwn your @$$ so hard, but this isn’t that kind of blog, and I’m not that kind of dude. I’m a nice dude.) Tyler Powell definitely wants to make you feel – Outgoing Messages is referred to, in the promo copy, as “a personal exploration of inner space,” and it also acknowledges “the grieving contemplation of aging and eventual death,” notably in the works of William Basinski. But what I’ve noticed is that the tape really breathes, and by that I mean it has an inherent ebb and flow that pairs perfectly with the oxygen I’m drawing into my lungs and the carbon dioxide that I’m expelling, perpetuating one of the endless cycles of life. (I’m certainly not a greedy man – I’m constantly giving back to the planet exactly what trees and plants need! Right? Right???) While listening, I’m acutely aware of the part that I’m currently playing within our natural environment, and I’m also fairly cognizant that I’ll be giving up more than my carbon dioxide to these amazing plants once I kick the proverbial bucket. They get the nutrients of my decayed body too! See? Powell’s got me thinking about “aging and eventual death” myself.

Basinski’s presence here is felt right from the beginning. The chiming church bells of “Jesus Loves Me” are treated with the crackle of an old recording, and the track even drifts into periodic Basinski-esque “disintegration” of its source material. The bells and the title shoot me right back in time to Sunday school renditions of “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so,” and I’m driven to aching nostalgia for that innocent time before I realized that god is really an ancient galactic scorpion that is almost certainly going to destroy us all at some point. I kid, of course, but Powell’s still doing what he’s promised, and I’m powerless to stop it (plus I have a vividly idiotic imagination). “Soft Sadness” is probably my favorite  piece here, as it shimmers in waves over its almost nine-minute length, the chord progressions burying deeply into my subconscious, expanding, and invading my waking moments with remarkable calm. That’s not to say the other tracks are inferior in any way – the small guitar bursts of “Semblance” through the ambient haze are gorgeous, “Le Basket” is a short(er) ambient meditation, and “PingPonging” feels like a music box being played in the next room through a warm 1960s tube speaker, and it also features overt “disintegration” of its source material.

There is no way you get through this tape without at least some emotional reaction – it’s gorgeous and relaxing, but it also tugs at places that will transport you to periods of your life where things were simpler. That’s how nostalgia works folks, and no matter how sensitive you are to those periods in your past, you won’t escape them while listening to Outgoing Messages. Embrace it, though – Tyler Powell is here to take you to your happy place, and it’s OK to get a little misty about it. Or, you could probably just turn on Outgoing Messages in the background while you’re reading a book. It works just as well that way too.

RIYL: William Basinski, Oval