. issue XII : ii .

by barathron

. artist : digital natives .
. album : coppeecuffs .
. year : 2012 .
. label : avant archive .
. grade : b plus .


Coppeecuffs is just another shined find for cutup and cassette connoisseur Jeffry Astin (of Isaac Willow, Abolicao, and Xiphiidae). He’s gratuitously, senselessly prolific; his brain, an assembly line for unapt, frustrating montages, seems to be operating at a rate of a cassette or three each month. His experimental, deliciously lo-fi cassette (&c.) label, Housecraft, though beloved and renowned, has been struggling with the economy (receiving successful support through crowdfunding campaigns), and I’m not sure if that’s the reason for Astin’s new, less-Housecraft dependent project. However, the quintupled rebirth as the singular “Digital Natives” (note that Astin’s not one, but that was a given; even if he had been, technically, he wouldn’t be; Astin was the boy who used, unreasonably, those rococo sawtooth scissors instead of a paper cutter straight blade) is understood to be a new incarnation, with refreshed, worthy strategies and concerns. With “Digital Natives,” the previously … monolithically loquacious … Astin’s work gets shorter and shorter, though no less sustained. Here in Coppeecuffs, Astin finds the cognitive timestamp where the listener begins to wander and rail — bucolically, to be sure — so that it might, then, advance track and transform. 12 of the 14 songs are 2:44 or 2:45, and the 2 oddballs are 2:49 and 2:51. This strategic concoction suspends the listener in the moment of terrible angst where they’re no longer satisfied with this the current shade of novel redundancy, they haven’t yet determined to change the song, and they haven’t reconciled themselves to settling in for a reputedly instructive 15 minutes. Coppeecuffs is a mature work because it’s in miniature but thinking broadly and soberly, more quodlibet then mashup, more stamp collecting than gallery shows. While Coppeecuffs is only problematically listenable, that’s the point, and Astin is a veteran and a master craftsman, wasting nothing to be quite exacting and so force the listener to take it seriously. It’s indeed hard to listen seriously to something serious with unserious content, and that’s the corner that Coppeecuffs squeezes the listener into. It’s not unlike the strain of enunciating the (apt) “coppeecuffs” instead of our habitual “coffeecups.” Forget gold deposits; Astin’s laying of hands synthesizes high-strung elements into Stroop Tests.

“Answer” has a disco-floor growl (pit bulls and dobermans) and a voiceover that’s dementia, deep south chauvinism, and mustachioed. The spindled brindle tones wave form to the side like oscilloscope weebles, which, lopsided, constantly capsize. “Ingang Tilt” is some jungle that’s actually jungle — har — it’s sly, limpid and teeming with Bolivian kitsch, orthnithological collage, and congo monomania. “Godde” (the Middle English spelling of Guess Who) is a bingo-club polka; it’s less than underwhelming (“I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” / “I think you can in Europe”). “Godde” is opaque and unaccountable — how cute — and therefore it’s one of the most valuable on this album. Give a listen and see if you know what you’re getting out of it! “Be It Agreement” is a HAM radio delight (“Operation Poland to Chinese”) or maybe a dissociated Risk game of single player multifluence, including echoes. It’s a bow-tie-and-corduroy air control monologue from a sophistic nerd who’s traded his models for something ‘better.’ There’s also a post-punky riff here (from Echo and the Bunnymen or Tears for Fears or The Smiths?), the articulate generic embodiment of which makes it hard to care ‘who’ did ‘what’ — conceits that Astin disavowed and consistently nullifies. A dazzled, dusty lighted searchlight strafe distresses “Agreement,” which is surely one of the most re-listenable pieces on Coppeecuffs, both a pleasant compromise for innovation and enjoyment. Another successful composition (though from a completely different its-been-done-before angle) “On All My” […what?] is a skeezy cabasa and walking bassline number full of silly ribbits, vocal sac bellows, deep crucifer cheeps, and pleasantly willowisp marshland dusk. The voice-over makes “On All My” trite: a pretentious mid-40’s vitamin salesman is drowning in Pretoria zoo, his eyeball juice splattered like egregious bird sh-t on the bay window of a life-size cage, like a windshield minefield. “Whaas” is the distastefully flamboyant live performance at a gallery open house for South American modern art, and with a keyboardist, too — forget these paintings! no more! The best — and most ridiculous — part is played by the tambourines and claves, which seem to be wielded by ten year olds dunces relegated by a balding band teacher and who have the temerity to brag. (“Yeah? What do you play?” “The tambourine.”) A consumptive sound grows throughout “Whaas,” becoming a dim jaw of Wheaties mastication opened wide and ahhh.“Tourable” is all that can be said for itself; it is, at that; it’s living in a sterile room with turned-down sepia coverlets and a bucket of ice for five days at 80 bucks a night. It’s a snappy and cloggy glitch contradance, the most pedestrian musique concrete become elevator music; the IKEA national anthem, a pant-suited curator show-n-telling a decolonizing country’s lifted legacy like a cheap thief, a pawn shop that’s not open on Mondays. There is an interestingly occasional syncopation like a castanet loom typewriter (shuttle shuttle shuttle shuttle wooden lick ZOOM). “Spun Beautiful” is an ogre in a tutu four-on-the-floor where every gyration is seismic, the turntables are physically decaying from extended play, and the backup dancers dance for their lives in a bizarre, torturous extortion. “That Sunders Em” is funky but self-conscious; mellow and bored, trite and recite, with a ‘smattering’ of applause like a cardstock wheel of fortune, or high five high five high five. Richard Simmons is running a bingo club. “And Not Go” features the Andrews Sisters in early-fall frosted-plains-morning cardigans, on the range, mincing around the mic with a soft, irrelevant scat. It’s hard to tell if the twinkling extension dominating this piece is a dobro or slide whistle. Saddle bells and a tight drum roll keep the endeavor lassoed tight together. “With Garzelle” is a beat boxing twist it pull it (bop it) ney flute fiasco, flighty and smudged in higher ligatures and on its desperate tumble to low C. There’s a sort of mechanical ambience underneath, like locomotion’s steam, vaporous, hollow, and in motion. It’s a cauldron suite of tepid flute. “Christs Sake” (no apostrophe) is a drunken sailor bop in extreme slow motion, a prom from the 60’s, with stampings on wood and a high hat rattle like jazz hands; it’s diseased and keeling over in the same way that “Answer” is, and with (effectively), the same troublesome voice-over. It’s so aslant and profane that it’s hard to listen to, even oblique as it is, essentially listing underwater, divorced and detuned, with wobbly pitches. “Christs Sake” makes manifest Astin’s success. “Mealtub” is about as appetizing as an oatmeal bath, true. It’s got a particular texture that’s not quite perpendicular, but certainly viscous, even runny, and confused. It’s housey, sentimental, foxy and askew, with a prominent skanky high hat collapse and wood block, shakers and other latin-jazz sects. Goodness gracious. “Sodhe Gudhe” (it’s from Finnegan’s Wake; no one’s surprised) is a prodigious trilling flute mockingjay; you can smell the bees smelling flowers moving, ants tunneling through crumbly, saturated sod, and anteaters doing their thang. Elephants cavort, trumpeting their elefun. It’s over the top, brightly colored, with neon ferns smacking you in the face and draping you in neon fern shirts. Cunjevoi hang low … waddle waddle.

Coffeecuffs is loosely thematic — monologous, nodding to funk, well-read, tongue-in-cheek and parodying the sheen of cultural snappiness. It’s an album to place your trust in — an album that can be trusted to challenge and frustrate you. It’s also engaging and fun. Astin is au fait; his work embodies a constantly rewarding tension. And certainly Astin is so prolific that one has to stop thinking of ‘listening’ and start thinking of ‘stamp collecting.’ Coppeecuffs makes them the right size, and so facilitates an appraisal to it — a reckoning. Coppeecuffs forces the listener to size things up.

by Brittany Tracy