tape loop – subversive (Review)

You may be familiar with Marcus Amaker as the Poet Laureate of Charleston, a position he was given by the city in 2016. Marcus is the first-ever Poet Laureate of Charleston, but prior to that he had long been involved in the arts community in Charleston and beyond. He has published eight books of poetry, he was once the editor of Charleston Scene, he organizes Free Verse Festival, and he also does graphic design, including for the quarterly roots music journal No Depression. Marcus Amaker is a jack-of-all creative trades, and naturally that also includes music recording and production.

Marcus Amaker’s music project is called tape loop, and as of the release of the newest album, subversive on October 23rd, there are 32 albums in the tape loop catalog.

subversive is free-flowing electronic music interwoven with spoken word poetry vocals. The vibe changes quite a bit throughout, and is sometimes laid-back and easygoing, and at other times jarring and disconnected. Marcus gets the mood going with the beat and then uses poetic verse to expand or change things, and from there its just pure sonic exploration. The album works best as one long piece of music, as all the songs are connected through transitions, some deliberately abrupt, and some just representative of a gradual change in energy.

To me, subversive feels like poetry put into musical form. There aren’t really any rules to the music that Marcus is making here, but rather it seems to just flow around, following and simultaneously conjuring the vibe. The emotion gradually builds in intensity, starting slow, smooth, and comfortable with the first few tracks, yet by the beginning of “Spent” you can tell that there’s something dark churning beneath the surface. The poetics are heavily present in the first few songs while Marcus ponders existential questions that lament lost time and feel confused and exhausted.

By “Sluggard” things have taken a dark turn. “Stammer” is heavy and abrasive, and feels like banging on the walls and trying to escape. There is a lot of distortion through the next tracks while we try to get our bearings in the gloomy atmosphere. While there are occasional moments of clarity, we don’t truly start to see the light again until we reach the hip-hop influenced “Attucks”, and from there it’s mostly chill, with lingering moments of darkness from the earlier psychosis.

There is a clear choice made to exclude the poetic verse until the very end of the final track, “Flummox”. The poem that closes out the album confirms the break from reality that we experience in the middle, as Marcus sounds like he just walked out of a whirlwind. He claims to have no memory of these emotional turmoils, or “natural disasters”, and draws connection to a certain person who may have had something to do with this emotional turmoil. But we never really get our answer, because the album cuts out before Marcus is able to reach a conclusion.

Overall, subversive is a very interesting listen created by an equally interesting person. Give it a listen below, and check out some of the other tape loop releases on Bandcamp here.

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