With Black Friday Record Store Day on the way Nov. 29 (the list is out this week, and we have them for you!), the fledgling Cassette Store Day makes a great warmup for this fall celebration. In existence since 2013, CSD has grown in leaps and bounds with events across the world. At the moment more than 300 very limited releases lie in wait for you music fans that are only available for this special day.
Following vinyl's meteoric reemergence, cassettes began their comeback the same year as CSD. Fueled by mostly new releases, the single cassette manufacturing company in the U.S. actually ran out of material to make the tapes with in September 2017 and still gained year-to-year in sales. As of 2019, nearly 50 percent of the tapes sold are new releases (some with as few as 200 pressed) like Lana Del Rey, twentyonepilots and Beck. For 2018, a whopping 219,000 cassettes were sold nationwide, up from 178,000 in the previous year (when they experienced an increase of 35 percent).
If you are asking yourself, Why cassettes now? The answer is simple. They are relatively inexpensive, easily collectable and often a great place to try out an unknown or new artist.
Labels like Burger Records in California have returned the art of making cassettes to its peak form. Their releases are often manufactured to resemble the classic tapes of your old case (the large red block letters common to Columbia Records in the Eighties, for example).
If you are asking yourself, “Is this just another bout of nostalgia?” The answer is “Yes, but in part.”
Cassettes have actually improved in quality (they sound better than streams) but many have extra material or even downloads for you to use as well. While they are manufactured to look very cool ("Guardians of the Galaxy" and its perfect match to the tape in the film have resulted in that being the biggest–selling tape four years running), they make an ideal environment for fledgling punk, hip-hop, instrumental and even indie folk albums. In combination with the race back to old school analog synths and sounds, those antiquated emissions hold up very well on the hottest mastered tapes.
The bad news. The cassette is not here to supplant or even further emphasize the exponential growth in LP sales. However, as new artists struggle to make physical releases, the cassette poses a great point to “get to know” someone unknown. Most early recordings from your favorite artists are fairly low in fidelity compared to where they will go. Therefore, the next big star could be waiting for you on one of these pieces of molded plastic. However, their quality is good enough to enjoy and gain that initial exposure without having to endure ads or postings to website or streaming services that can disappear.
Cassette Store Day 2019 is filled with fantastic product for you collectors and novices alike. Most of these releases are in handfuls (200 copies nationwide on several descending to 50 for some titles.) The large prizes are a trio of Bjork reissues, Jay Reatard on tape for the first time, an exclusive four-cassette set of rapper Sean Price, a tape of songs written by Ingrid Michaelson inspired by "Stranger Things" and even the first American physical release from Youtube pop star Mxmtoon.
There are many prizes to look out for in the pack. Most notably, new music and new mixes. Alabama's Earth Libraries have combined all of their efforts on one cassette that speaks volumes about the width and breadth of music available. "Earth Libraries Vol.1" is punk, surf, Power Pop, Post-Punk, Synth Pop and so much more. Producer/mixer Amerigo Gazaway has earned a position of renown from his expertly mixed "dream collaborations." These lengthy mixes have shared close to a million times via YouTube. He blends UGK and BB King, De La Soul and Fela Kuti with effortlessness and ease. These very limited cassettes really speak to the ability of this medium to give you that one continuous blend of music that is entertaining and enlightening.
Also worth your time, DJ Chris Hound's "Spaghetti Italians" takes the most obscure music to us (Italian instrumental and Library music) and mixes it to an unbelievably level of familiarity. While you may not be familiar with Montreal's Paul Jacobs, his "Easy" cassette gives you the initial chance to hear how dense and dark just one man can make monolithic thought-provoking songs in his bedroom.
Finally, the best aspect of the return of the cassettes is the ability for anyone to make music and grant you first exposure. Hattiesburg's plethora of local musicians are beginning to make the move to tapes. Judy and The Jerks just returned from their East Coast tour and are putting out a very limited edition cassette of their newest EP "Bone Spur." In addition, many other local tapes will be on display and in stock for you.
New Releases: New project is jaw-dropping in its execution
Too much of this business is devoted to the immediate release of music. Whether it is under the guise of protecting the art from duplication or simply using it as a means to mainline it with excitement to the fans, much of the craft is lost in streams and tracks that are cherry picked or tweeted about with gusto.
Dev Hynes newest project is jaw-dropping in both its execution and simplicity. "Angel's Pulse" is billed as a mixtape. However, it is more like flipping your radio around from station to station in search of that lost chord.
Where "Negro Swan" was broken apart by the distraction of its consistent talking between cuts, "Angel's Pulse" flows best where it is not supposed to. The restless Hynes is the most creative. "I Wanna C U" and "Something To Do" are swirling guitar-based love songs.
"Dark & Handsome (with Toro Y Moi)" is everything you could ever want out of our current infatuation with ‘80s production and R&B-based writing. "Benzo" is a darkly written R&B track made helium-light by background vocals and a beautiful horn part. The pure keyboard soul of "Birmingham" is one you will long to hear in Beyonce's hands.
After setting you up for the slow jam, Hynes drops the smooth (yet chaotic) "Good For You" up against the insistent beats of the Arthur Russell-sampled "Baby Florence" furthering your mood.
Like a lightning bolt, the dial switches to brutally honest Hip-Hop ("Gold Teeth"), serpentinely maneuvers back into evocative deep guitar R&B ("Berlin") and Indie Rock gone R&B with Tinashe ("Choose To Stay.") From here, it veers BACK into Hip-Hop with the low-fi "Seven Hours (Part 1)" and ends with the three most realized songs on the album. As you drift through "Take It Back, " Hynes snaps you back with "Happiness" and the benedictory "Today."
Truthfully ALL of these songs belong together in the same way we have all enjoyed "The Love Below" or "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." Hynes may not be writing songs that echo the importance of those albums, however his ability to use his production to either change the mood of a track or create opposition or expose dichotomy in a cut is unparalleled. At a compact 30 minutes, "Angel's Pulse" begs for replaying and further analysis NOT cutting and pasting into playlists. While I am thankful we are receiving the physical release of this album now (two months after it dropped,) as you listen (and please do) one can only wonder about the impact the package would have had all together. With "Angel's Pulse," Dev Hynes has given us all a glimpse into the future of R&B/Hip-Hop.