Tape complex

A peek inside the Richmond County Archives
By RICHARD BECK  |  February 27, 2009

The sneaky flutes are back: Swirlies revisit a legacy of noisy goodness. By Richard Beck.
Andy Bernick set up the on-line Richmond County Archives while he was living on Staten Island (hence the name). Its geographic specificity is appropriate; the 175-or-so audio files collected there sound like field recordings from an almost excessively creative moment in indie rock, a moment that's been lost for a while now.

TROLLIN' WITHDRAWAL | "LIVE ON WHRB, 1995" | The RCA's essential document, recorded in the dingy basement of a Harvard dorm. As artist Ron Rege and enigmatic lead singer Non-Robot #27 free-associate brainy hip-hop-style rhyme nonsense — "Memo documenting my realization that from that moment on I had utilized this principle of blending and masking and refining and evolving and regularly lying" — Bernick lays down geometric drum patterns. The weirdness can transform abruptly into pathos: "I also used to be involved in a serious relationship, and a serious relationship is the only thing that keeps me here in Boston . . . or here in general." Just as often, everything disintegrates into know-it-all snickering and radio-nerd posturing.

FRANK | "FRANK'S MOM" | A truly astonishing listen. A woman with a comical whine of a voice — Frank's mom — berates her son, completely unaware that a cassette recorder is preserving the insults. What thousands of parents thought of the slacker generation — "You have no intentions of doing anything with your life" — and an uncomfortably intimate listen. Funny, grotesque, and scary, all at once.

________ | "LOVE IS A COCKROACH" | Eerie adolescent dread sung-whispered by Non-Robot #27. "Mysteries exist, dude/And I don't have enough food to bait a rat trap." Like the Mountain Goats on the edge of a soft nightmare, with conversations droning on in the background.

MEW AND THE YES GIRLS | "BONES" | A sinister lullaby. Fear and friendship intermingle freely. An absolutely gorgeous xylophone figure is icing on the cake.

ANONYMOUS FIELD RECORDING | "GOVERNOR'S ISLAND OCTOBER 2003" | "We have squirrels, we have rats, we have a duck, and we have a falcon. One falcon, one duck, many geese, and many squirrels. Eh, can you think of anything else we have?" Context and humor are mortal enemies, and these field recordings are hilarious.

Editor's Note: In a previous version of this article, Andy Bernick of the Richmond County Archives was said to be living on Long Island when he was in fact living on Staten Island. The correction was made above.

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