Tablehooter Fever

Recent times have seen a surge in “tablehooter” music — a terminology I heard from Hal McGee, and which I’ve embraced for its non-brand-specific superiority over “casio” — that being music made on cheap consumer-level electronic keyboards. I think the boundaries of exactly what models of keyboards qualify as tablehooter or casio might not be clear. Maybe it’s more of an aesthetic. Anyway here’s some good stuff for getting your keyboard vibe:

“Cheap and Plastic” compilation — A newly released huge (49 tracks!) download compilation instigated and compiled by the incomparable Hal McGee and dedicated to tablehooter music. Des Moines is well-represented on it, by the way, as it sports tracks by yours truly, Moulttrigger (Dave Wren), and Brian Noring. This has probably some of the noisiest and most experimental approaches to tablehooters you’re likely to hear, with many of the artists going beyond just overdubbing or adding effects to actually circuit-bending the devices, that is, modifying the devices themselves with custom homemade hacks to their circuitry.

Larry “The Wizard” Sievers “Wizard in a Trancedelic Dream” — Folks not from around Iowa City may not be familiar with Larry, but he’s definitely deserving of wider recognition in the homemade music scene, so here’s the dirt: he’s a 60-something fellow who sorta looks kinda like J Mascis with a mustache, has a devoted love of metal music, and composes these really cool instrumentals on his keyboard. Here is an article about him from the University of Iowa’s newspaper The Daily Iowan. A fair amount of his music has been recorded and come out for public consumption, but fuck knows how much more he has written or locked up in his head. I picked this tape up at Record Collector in Iowa City and it seems to have been put out by one Adam Luksetich (a member of Bongrider and probably active in some other capacities as well), the only contact info being his email address, that being his name all together as one word at gmail. Otherwise you can listen and download at Larry’s bandcamp. It’s a lot of fun, both for reveling in the kitchy keyboard sound and the way that the simple pre-programmed drum parts fall off beat when Larry goes into meters like 5/4 on occasion, and for the triumphant, epic melodic style of the pieces, which are all about cool stuff like wizards, dragons, vampires, you get the idea — good stuff to put on to get yourself pumped up and in the mood to go out and conquer the world.

New Future Wanderer “Palace In My Room” — So Leah and I have been house-shopping lately now that we’re able to qualify for mortgages again. A while ago we hit an open house up in Urbandale. The house was total late-80’s Suburban Playset, built in 1987, and touring it was honestly like walking into a 1987 time warp with its weirdly bland style. Pretty much everything in it was original — the beige paint, blotchy-patterned carpeting, the popcorn ceilings, the beige touch-tone telephone on the wall with the extra long receiver cord, the appliances with that goofy cursive lettering on them, the showers all having those massage-piks with the big clunky head on them that you can rotate the collar to switch it between like 12 different spray patterns. The whole thing flipped this weird late-’80s switch in my head that keeps getting jammed now. I was overtaken with a longing to buy this house and recreate 1987 in it just to hide in. Find an old used Fisher component system, set up my Apple IIe again, take up a Tae Kwon Do class. I felt like the world was just better when I was 12 and it shouldn’t have changed. Lately though, I begin to think it hasn’t actually changed that much.

Had I gone through with this nutty plan, I would right away begin seeking out more music like New Future Wanderer to play in my new place. The artist trading card says that Jeff Roman hails from the “overwhelmingly underwhelming suburbs of central New Jersey,” and from that phrase I get a mental picture of his neighborhood being full of houses like that one.

Despite the name, it’s really on old future that New Future Wanderer conjures up, sounding like a 1980s bedroom-recorded shot at sci-fi synth-pop. Sure, ’80s nostalgia and retrofuturism are probably passé to a lot of you now, but I really love the way Roman does it here. Everything is blown out and distorted, making for some really noisy moments that might seem more modern, but this patina just adds to the effect since it sounds like an amateurish cassette recording like on some underground tape release back in the day. It also makes it hard to make out much of the lyrics apart from a few phrases like “I’m a future man” and stuff about feelin’ good on a spaceship, but the lyrics are secondary; what I think keeps me coming back to this tape is the atmosphere and all the little catchy four-note keyboard melodies.

I was going to stick the bandcamp widget of it here, but Lava Church seems to have taken the album down from their account. The tape is still available on their store, currently on sale for $3.50.

Lovebrrd — speaking of the Lava Church label, it’s run by Patrick McBratney who is also totally owns the casio vibe as Lovebrrd. Lovebrrd recordings sound very homemade, a real basement/boombox vibe, and the keyboards sound kind of blown-out like he’s playing them through the overdrive channel of a guitar amp (he probably is). The keyboard melodies and deadpan vocals, always sung through enough effects that you pretty much give up on trying to decipher the lyrics, have a definite gothy darkwave streak to them. Pat has since applied the Lovebrrd name to a wider variety of sounds and sonic experiments, so it remains to be seen whether he comes back to this tablehooter vibe but he was ahead of the curve on it in the beginning and did it nicely.

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