The Music Tapes

Nine years is a long wait between albums, especially in the now-you-see-them, now-you-don't world of underground rock. But if you are Julian Koster, founder and leader of the recording and performance aggregation known as The Music Tapes, nine years is merely a tick of the 7 Foot Tall Metronome that stands by your bed while you are sleeping.

Julian established his singular musical presence while he was still in high school in the early 90s. By the middle of the decade, Julian's unique abilities on the singing saw, the banjo, and a multitude of other instruments became widely acknowledged. He appeared on stage and in the studio with Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control, and other fabled members of what came to be known as the Elephant 6 Collective.

First Imaginary Symphony For Nomad, the first album from The Music Tapes, was released in 1999 on Merge Records after several years in the making. The musical vision it offered, along with the surreally ambitious live tours mounted around that time, heralded the arrival of an uncompromisingly idiosyncratic experimental pop genius. Julian and his associates shared the reverence for classic pop and rock conventions of their Elephant 6 contemporaries, but presented a more fully formed glimpse into a total alternate universe by integrating fantastic working mechanical musicians and devices into their recordings and live shows.

Julian has hidden himself away concocting new games, inventing new band members, such as the Orbiting Human Circus Tapdancing Machine, and hosting an occasional magical gathering for those lucky enough to stumble upon his secret invitations. He has also been working on a story album entitled 2nd Imaginary Symphony for Cloudmaking, narrated by Brian Dewan and accompanied by bowed banjos, singing saws and sound effects. Portions of the story were aired in early 2003 on WNYC in New York, and were met with great enthusiasm by Music Tapes' fans longing for new material.

Ongoing recording for the second album from The Music Tapes, entitled Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes, took place over a long period of time in Julian's bedroom. The bedroom, itself, moved often between places ranging from Athens, Georgia to a series of locations inhabited "coincidentally," he says, "by the ghosts of old amusement parks who'd passed away," including the Nantucket Beach peninsula in Massachusetts, New York's Coney Island, and an island off the coast of Maine.

The album spotlights Julian Koster's songcraft and distinctive vocals, his almost religious devotion to the singing saw, and numerous contributions from other musicians in the Elephant 6 orbit. As on previous efforts, recording was done using an array of antique hardware, giving Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes a timeless, texturally rich sonic palette. It is the sound of Julian's world poking through the curtain surrounding objective reality. In his words, "I just find the imaginary more real than the physical. Magic, the way we find things beautiful, the light behind eyes, kindness, and how we want to serve and protect the things we care about, these things seem like the real foundation of the world to me. I hope that the songs on this record can be more that just postcards from a world, but an invitation to it, to anyone at all who may find such a place comforting and nice."

The Music Tapes also played at...