Around this time last year when I saw Druids selling their excellent Pray For Water EP on cassette at the Gross Domestic Product festival, I still thought the touted “comeback” of the cassette format was just kind of a gimmick. And it is, I suppose. But there being no dominant physical format these days, it does seem like there is certain music that cassette just seems right for. And not only have I found myself digging up some obscure gems from my vast cassette collection lately, I’ve also found that I’m acquiring a startling amount of new music on cassette as well. Here are a few:
The aforementioned Druids- Pray For Water (Ea, Lord Of The Tapes). I think this can also be found on download and CD-R and I think I heard some whisperings about a vinyl version being in the works once. This Iowa doom metal duo sounds epic even on the short fast songs (three of the seven tracks are under two minutes, although one of them is the first of a two-part suite). The longest, “Noise Forest: Ablaze” turns out to be an instrumental built around a Rhodes keyboard or maybe a Wurlitzer, that alternates between post-rock sounding sections and louder heavy parts. I probably can’t do justice in words to how heavy and awesome these guys are and this tape leaves me wanting more every time. They’re playing at Vaudeville Mews the early show this Saturday with In The Face Of War and some other hardcore stuff; Omens, another band with Druids guitarist/vocalist Luke Rauch in it, plays there in the early show March 25 with The Great Sabatini as the headliner and Fetal Pig (which I play bass in, for any of you that are new here) opening. Both are all-ages and get rolling about 5pm.
Pony Time – Pony Time Can Drink 100 Wine Coolers (Dont Stop Believin’ Records). Here’s another two-piece band, but this one from Seattle and doing a kind of sunny-yet-skewed indie pop. My old friend and former Exit Drills / Page 5 Girl bandmate Stacy Peck plays the drums and another guy named Luke (Beetham) plays a chunky-twangy overdriven bass guitar and sings. The vocals have a high-pitched chorusing on them that adds to the weird factor and makes the lyrics hard to make out at times, but the tunes are infectious. Two Billy Childish covers close out the album, and I wouldn’t even have known they weren’t originals if I hadn’t checked the liner notes, because they fit right in to their style. Download code included with tape.
You Are Home – Glacier Grains and Cage (Workerbee Records). Released both at the same time, and I ordered them both at the same time, entries 01 and 03 in Matthew Dake’s noisy, experimental, instrumental solo project’s so-named “Electronic EP Series” (I guess 02 isn’t out yet?). It seems odd to release music this synthesizer-driven on cassette. With both you get intriguing assemblages of loopy mechanized bleepy-bloopy sounds. Reminds me a bit of the early Cabaret Voltaire stuff like what’s on 1974-76.
One of my favorite things in the format is lo-fi cassette compilations. Several have found their way to me lately and I’ve heard some wonderful stuff on them. I’m beginning to think the lo-fi cassette compilation is really an indie/experimental analogue to the hip-hop mixtape.
One was included by Workerbee in the package when my order of the You Are Home tapes arrived, and seems to be an intriguing concept, the “split compilation” — one side from Workerbee and the other from Series Two Records. Series Two’s side is packed with lo-fi pop, folky and shoegazing sounds, while Workerbee’s covers those areas plus some experimental noises and some really great 60s-inspired trashy garage rock. Especially memorable tracks for me come from And Oh So Slowly He Turned, Electric Needle Room (the biographical “James Madison,” almost a lost Schoolhouse Rock song), Flannel, Mike Downey, Shannon and the Clams (awesome spooky-chick 60s rock!), Setting Sun, BAMBRA, Murzik, and The Skeptics.
Rot Box (Unread Records) was of interest for me because it has Samuel Locke-Ward, Ed Gray, and Simon Joyner on it — three midwest songwriters I like a lot and think people ought to know about. Each of them have especially excellent songs on here, and have released cassette albums on this same label as well (including Sam’s legendary Boombox By Bedside) — in fact, pretty much everybody on this comp has. I’d say Sam, Simon, and Ed have probably the best stuff on here, but I could be biased. Woods is on here too, I just don’t remember much about their song right now. Just from those names you probably know to expect lo-fi folk with some experimental twists. I also particularly remember and enjoy Caleb Fraid and Franklin Bruno’s songs. Unread has a pretty extensive catalog worth reading through, you’ll probably find some stuff you want.
I Think I Might Be Autistic (Chthonic Records) also features Sam and Ed (working with Coyote Blood both here and on Rot Box). Sam’s track here has really distorted vocals and while still pretty cool, melodically a slower cousin of “For One Cigarette,” it doesn’t shine quite as brightly for me as his Rot Box track “He’s An Evil Preacher” (possibly one of his best songs ever!). The mix of styles is broader on this than on Rot Box and maybe prevents the compilation from hanging together as a mix, but it has some killer moments. Erik Sahd’s “You Gotta Keep Tryin’” is a big favorite for me on this, a delightful electro-pop tune that gets me laughing and reminds me of Devo, Gary Numan, a little bit of Wire, and The Bassturd. Joe Brook’s “Righteous Man” is a gorgeous folk/country song that I think Why Make Clocks (which I also play bass in) should cover sometime. Gladhands’s “Refrigerator Mother” has “I think I might be autistic” as a line in the lyrics, it’s a feedback-drenched casio-rock number that sounds like it has the guy from Bush on lead vocals, I like it pretty well. Ben Trickey’s “Tangle” is another really nice folk/country tune, and there are some interesting noise pieces too. This label also just put out Sam’s split 7″ EP with Toby Goodshank (The Moldy Peaches) so you know they’re cool.
Different Paths (Greentape 57). No contact info in this one, but a Google search unearthed this. I just got this the other night when I was in Decorah to play at the Elks Lodge with Igloo Martian, Talking Computron, The Ring Toss Twins (aka Moldavite aka circuit-benders Pelzwik and Dinger — check out getlofi.com) and Seeded Plain. The only artist on this I’ve ever heard of before is Office Park, and their track is a droney one rather than a songy one so you don’t get to hear any of Ember’s beautiful voice, but it’s still pretty nifty. The rest is mostly boombox folk, some with banjo, and a couple loopy noise pieces thrown in.
Oh, by the way, that Decorah show was pretty cool. I felt weird being the act that was just playing a guitar and singing songs, and I think I played my stuff much cleaner in practice, but everyone else’s sets were really enjoyable. I did have the distinction of being the set that had people dancing. The same people started doing yoga positions or something during The Ring Toss Twins. I think their set was my favorite, kind of spooky rhythmic ambient electronic circuit-bending and casio sounds that would go over big on My Castle Of Quiet. It really got me thinking about getting my ghetto noise-rig from the early Passage Of Deformed Man Supermarket days back into play (call it a Flight Attendants comeback?). Plus they sell contact mics at their merch, which is brilliant. Talking Computron made chilly electronic sounds, Igloo Martian did a joyful performance art piece, and Seeded Plain opened with their amazing invented-instrument ambient improv (check Public Eyesore Records in the links section of the sidebar). I got one of Nick/Pelzwik’s contact mics and already used it once earlier today to sample a wooden chair and a cymbal stand with a cracked china crash on it into my SK-5. Good times. Here are some pictures:
Ring Toss Twins' gear
And just because it was on my phone, here’s a bonus photo of Pink Villa at the art opening at Ritual Cafe that Why Make Clocks played at last weekend: