You probably know Demian Castellanos as the man behind the London psyche rock outfit The Oscillation. Cardinal Fuzz and their European best partner in crime Hands In The Dark are teaming-up to release “The Kyvu Tapes Vol.1 (1990-1998)”.
Demian grew up in a house called Kyvu (which means “view of the dog” in local dialect) in a village called The Lizard where the view from his house overlooked Kynance Cove in Cornwall. All of which act as reference points as Demian Castellanos takes you on a sonic exploration on the Kyvu Tapes Vol.1.
The fruit of his 90’s decade-long, obsession for the infinite possibilities offered by the electric guitar – playing it with forks, knives, bits of paper, volume control, and making the most of the effects pedals he had – was countless hours of experimentation and sonic explorations on a 4-track Tascam Porta 3. Largely influenced by new sound of the British psyche/shoegaze scene of that time, his music could be described as analog and guitar based ambient music or room drones, a vast auditory map of sonic places to lose himself in and immerse himself in a surreal/non-real present time of that period.
15 years down the line, Demian decided to dig out his endless night and day recordings of that period, reflecting now a bizarre conversation between his older and younger self.
350 Pressing on Black Vinyl.
Most psychedelia is transportative but Demien Castellanos’ Kyvu Tapes allow you to take an actual step back in time, too. These days Castellanos fronts London kraut-psych botherers The Oscillation, but twenty years ago (20!) he was still growing up in Cornwall and in the middle of a period of deep experimentation. Castellanos’ family home on the Lizard peninsula was called Kyvu (“view of the dog”) and these timeless bedroom instrumentals document his tentative exploration of sound. Captured on 4-track Tascam they are the results of his “playing [the guitar] with forks, knives, bits of paper and making the most of the effects pedals he had.” And, perhaps surprisingly, to his and his equipment’s massive credit they manage also be an engaging, rewarding listen. High on variety these atmospheric takes roam from watery ambience, pretty guitar shuffles and dreamy washes at their most meditative, and then on through oddball composition, free-form tuning and nebulous drones as Castellanos begins to flex his grey matter. The drones become increasingly insistent, culminating in a menacing, Lynchian creep during the seven-minute closer. Cruising-altitude prop engines undulate warmly through “High Road Raga”, its melody made from a collage of backmasked effects and spider guitar echoes.
The collection’s second trippy raga takes hugely reverbed Eastern guitar that bubbles like a lava lamp and introduces it to surging electrical distortion in such a way that it tunes into the brain’s most zen frequencies. This same thrum of high-energy containment earlier courses through the throaty chatter of “Time Slip” while the absorbing “Headless Aztec” runs like a potted history of Mexico, haunting panpipes contorting into a bustling hive of industry in which you can practically smell the blackened pork grease and hear the sizzle of roadside vendors before sliding off to some beach-side idyll for a tequila sunrise to close. Understandably the Kyvu Tapes contain little common narrative. Each cut is instead an evocative window into a mind in the throes of unfettered experimentation, formative steps that most would call a career highlight.
The last bit of the psychedelic overdose that is actually the latest Hands in the Dark batch of releases is an LP by guitar shaman Demian Castellanos. That’s a name that you might have come across if you’re into the modern UK psych scene—The Oscillation in particular, within which he is also playing guitar and taking on vocal duties. If you’re not familiar with that particular scene, imagine a person sitting with a guitar in his lap, behind an enormous pedal board, travelling in the sounds coming from the amp behind him while in the same moment being alone in his room. The Kyvu Tapes Vol. I spans nearly a decade of sketching, demoing, and writing bits and pieces of music. Demian Castellanos’ approach to guitar playing is far from orthodox, so you might find or hear him not only pulling the strings, but treating them with a varying arsenal of tools—from kitchen utensils to pieces of paper. The result, however, may not be radical or ground-breaking, but it’s an enjoyable and engaging listen nonetheless.
In this first volume of The Kyvu Tapes, Castellanos is pretty much milking his guitar and pedal-board dry. The ten pieces most often emerge around sparse psychedelic melodies. When they’re backed by lower frequencies, the music becomes subtle, occasionally escalating to overdriven guitar drones. Whenever there is percussion present, these drones are minimalist and non-intrusive. A lot of the guitar effecting is abstract—the strings and guitar body are no longer an instrument but rather a mere sound source. The Kyvu Tapes is indeed a lesson in making full use of your instrument and gear, plus a reminder that, in music, the means are rarely an obstacle for the ideas.
What I really like about this LP is that even if the pieces range from very short (the shortest being just barely longer than a minute) to what could be considered a ‘normal’ length, they don’t leave anything unsaid. I won’t go so far as to compare the compositions on The Kyvu Tapes to, let’s say, Chopin’s Preludes, but they really do make sense and sound like fully completed, accomplished works. It’s with this understanding that you can listen to the album which—despite essentially being a collection of sketches—feels thorough, and you can sense that somebody really managed to put together a puzzle whose parts actually do fit together perfectly and tell an interesting story as well. I’ll certainly be watching out for Volume II.
Strange place, Cornwall. Or rather, it’s strange what it does to sensitive and artistically young inclined young men growing up there. Richard James (Aphex Twin) reputedly spent lonely formative years concocting mad max techno rigs cannibalised from old tanks or whatever. Then, just a few years later, young Demian Castellanos, better known these days as lynchpin of the rather scrumptiously sounding The Oscillation, spent his downtime wondering what sounds he could wring out of an electric guitar. The results of these bedroom experiments were captured for posterity and have found an outlet as “The Kyvu Tapes Vol 1” named after the family house in which they were performed and a title that suggests that there is probably more of the same lying around somewhere. What we find herein is psychedelically inclined exploratory guitar noodling clearly influenced by the shoegaze arm of the genre and which makes use of vast arrays of pedals and indeed items of cutlery. In that sense it is small wonder that, at times, it sounds like what you might expect from the Glissando Orchestra considering that style of playing seems to involve rubbing tent pegs up and down the fret board.
It’s a lot more interesting and varied and, dare one say, enjoyable than that though. Given that all this was reputedly recorded over a period of many years it all hangs together exceedingly well as a suite of sounds which is why, tempting though it definitely is to do so, I’m not going to single out individual pieces. While you could, if you wish, file under ambient/drone the overall effect while certainly blissed-out and meditative in places is more aurally challenging in a way I’m sure will appeal to quite a lot of our readers. Even so it’s not one that requires endless and undisturbed dissection but is mighty fine with a book or a cryptic crossword or just turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.