Agitated Atmosphere: Gift Tapes/Draft Records

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Gift Tapes/Draft Records.

Seattle’s place among the emerging music underground is difficult to gauge. Once the playground of Sun City Girls and their successors, the Emerald City now stands in a stasis. Venues have sprouted and wilted in an effort to capture modern experimentation with varied results. Bands have forged their own sound in spite of the many Seattle music fads that would spit in their face. Some have gone the truly DIY route, creating their own niche and to hell with anyone who doesn’t take the chance.

The kind spirit of local musician and label head, Jason Anderson, has done as much in recent years through the guise of his Gift Tapes label. It seems to be a secret to most of Seattle—a town known for embracing the weird and seemingly unlovable. But it’s hard to fault a city more interested in politics and reviving the pre-Grunge luster before Cameron Crowe and major label vultures swooped in to disrupt the sleepy hamlet.

Summing up the Gift Tapes aesthetic is fruitless. The label has produced a steady stream of avant releases ranging from synth-heavy jams, slow-rolling drones, and hypnotic ambient melodies. In an effort to shake things up, Anderson recently sliced open a vein and used it to feed a new idea: Draft. The sub-label of Gift Tapes abandons any pretense of style. Draft’s first three offerings showcase Anderson’s willingness to try out anything—a model for continued success (however moderate) to those keen to his releases.

The trio of Flak receives the honor of launching Draft into our consciousness. Dry Vanadis/Tournament City is a chorus of Rolands, Moogs, and Korgs, each delivering a steady stream of nostalgic dance beats mixed with modern synth interpretations. The album is as catchy as any underground release this year, proving that no matter how far out of bounds one might be perceived, everybody’s got an urge to dance; Flak demonstrates a gift for coercing it. A. Diller’s Still Life may be Draft’s ‘difficult’ release. A mess of screeching tones and dramatic keys, Still Life contradicts the placid shipscape that dots its j-card. It’s the field music of our mechanical future; sterilized machines buzzing and clicking, racing around an undermanned cargo floor completing a series of highly skilled tasks passing the time with robotic conversations. If Still Life is what awaits in the new industrial revolution, Voltaic Fits by KPLR represents its painful end. Dexter Brightman and Jair Espinoza produce sporadic synth winds, angry with the pollutants of a species that left innovation to machines for dancing with Flak. It’s the real sound of Skynet gaining awareness, shutting down vital human systems and replicating an army that shoots first.

Yet one hopes that these three cassettes from Draft is the sound of music fans becoming aware. Not only of the local work of Jason Anderson’s labels and live shows but of the wealth of exciting and innovative music are just a PayPal click and a tape deck away.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist whose work can be viewed at his website. He also pens Deserted for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.

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