Hamilton, Ontario label Old Frontiers is a unique entity in the music game. While you can locate some CDs and art on their website, they almost exclusively deal in (incredibly fascinating) cassettes. Every entry is a story – a mystical puzzle box – waiting to be unfolded by the right person, the next more enticing than the last. Take for instance, Reedbed’s Heirloom Rust Garden. This soothing album is a worthy addition to any eclectic music collection, offering two sides of pure instrumental joy.
Both sides are very similar, which isn’t to say you’ll confuse the two. Rather, listening to the cassette compares to visiting a gallery; each side is its own floor with a carefully curated exhibit. The cassette fades in and out between songs, continuing this analogy; the mental symphony conducts as you consider a piece of artwork, and then dissipates as you travel to the next texture that begins the cycle again.
It is a few minutes before the first impressions of crackling static fully builds into a “song,” but this is well-executed. It begins with a melody that arises from the plucking of a very pleasant ukulele-like instrument. The production utilizes a great deal of looping, strategically composed to fluctuate just as you get comfortable. In fact, that statement is a great way to describe the cassette as a whole; it’s repetitious and familiar enough to create a song, without being predictable and uninteresting. And just as soon as it seems to have faded in, we’re onto the next exhibit.
This is a good example of how each song plays out. It’s unimportant to do a track-by-track analysis of each side, because they’re all variations on the same theme. Again, I really don’t want to give the impression it all sounds similar or follows any formula. It is just hard to describe each bit without the descriptions running into each other. This is by design, as the cassette excels in creating expectations only to defy them moments later. It makes for an incredibly satisfying experience of comfortably walking the line between conventional and experimental.
As far as what you can expect to hear, there is a substantial amount of looping and backmasked instrumentation, limited to mostly a few stringed and electronic instruments. The sounds are very calming and tranquil. The different instruments playing together are absolutely entrancing and I found it very hard to keep my concentration during every listen, whether it was my focus or it was only playing in the background. It just makes your mind flow and jumpstarts whatever part of your imagination causes you to spontaneously daydream. I really enjoyed that aspect of the work.
This is present through most of the work, but it was on the first listen (about halfway into Side B) that I first noticed the two guitars playing entirely different compositions over complementary electronics and the single harmony it created, without harmonizing. The dual guitars (or any instruments they’re using at the time) blend without dueling, combining to be one. Whenever that’s done properly, and this cassette is a prime example, it is simply beautiful. That alone is worth the price of admission. Highly recommend as with anything released by Old Frontiers. Great for anyone who likes calming music that will take their imaginations for a chariot ride across the stars.
Review by Roth’s Child