Lo-fi music and I have a love / hate relationship going on lately, it seems. On the one hand, the cassette and lo-fi scene can be home to a wealth of creatively daring and often brilliant records put out personally by the artists — or labels who actually care about music in general. On the other hand, sometimes I find myself wanting to reach into the speakers, grab the band by the collar and scream “I WANT TO HEAR WHAT YOU’RE DOING IN THERE!”. I understand that a lot of lo-fi music is born from situations where traditional recording isn’t possible, but at the same time a lot of bands will use it only as a skin-deep stylistic choice.
In the case of KWJAZ’s recently released and self-titled cassette tape, the format completely and perfectly suits the style of songwriting. KWJAZ is a fairly mysterious outfit on a brand new cassette label called Brunch Groupe. I say outfit because I’m not exactly sure what KWJAZ is. There are videos of KWJAZ on YouTube performing as a duo, but I’ve also heard it attributed to the name Peter Berends on the web. Either way I’m digging what they’re doing here.
KWJAZ’s cassette is a hard one to describe, as it literally encompasses a huge variety of genres. Split over two twenty-minute movements (one for each side of the tape), KWJAZ touches on everything from psychedelic drone waves to chilled out dub and electronic, all the way to smooth-jazz like grooves. All of this is interspersed with tape-fuzz, weird found samples, muffled drum beats, and more. I actually really like the way the two sides flow: a beat or groove will play itself out into an ambient passage, and then just before you get tired or bored, a new upbeat section appears like a ray of light on the other side. It makes for great walking music, as your ever-changing surroundings will often meet up with the free-flowing nature of the tape.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t even mention the Mad Lib influence that can be found in here, or the afrobeat guitar lines that pop up from time to time. I’ve even seen blogs reference a “hazily San Franciscan 70s soft hold music/Smooth FM” sound that can be a perfect way to describe it.
Really, the word that keeps popping into my head when listening to KWJAZ is “drifting”. You’re drifting through all of these influences that KWJAZ melt down into two seamless tracks. If you’re into ambient, electronic, jazz, drone — or any kind of experimental music really — this is a release you should be giving a whirl. It’s good to zone out to, but if you really crank it up and listen through the murky production, you’ll hear that the compositions and arrangements are quite sublime. At first I wasn’t willing to say that KWJAZ’s cassette was one of the best of 2011, but the more I really dive into this thing, it reveals itself to be a real contender. If you have the patience, it’s definitely something to experience for yourself.