Monthly Archives: September 2013

The case for cassettes?

It’s known as the cassette tape, or simply, the tape. It’s rectangular, maybe an ugly beige or plain white or clear plastic, with ribbon inside it. Tapes feel chunky; they make little sounds when you shake them. Sometimes you hated them, other times you loved them; either way, it mattered, to most any music lover in the 80s.

Lloyd Dobler‘s “In Your Eyes” tape was safely encased in his boombox as  he hoisted it high above his shoulders in “Say Anything.” The tape spilled its guts in the aftermath of the party scene from “Sixteen Candles.” And of course there was the mix tape Lafawnduh gave “Napoleon Dynamite,” which changed everything.

Tapes turn 50

Tapes turn 50

The tape has been having a bit of a revival lately. Cassette Store Day was Sept. 7, and a slew of artists released tracks on plastic to celebrate. Musicians on the tape include The Flaming Lips, Suicidal Tendencies, Deerhunter, Animal Collective and Guided By Voices. Parquet Courts’ latest EP, ‘Tally All The Things That You Broke,’ is set to come out with a mix tape of various artists.

As long as you kept your old stereo, it’s still easy to throw your songs on tape (no computer necessary). Bands still do that these days to get their music out.

The tape turned 50 recently, and its birthday certainly deserves a footnote in music history. For all its faults, it got many of us through the “me” decade.

CD-Blank

These days the CD rules. But in the 80s, CDs weren’t readily available. You could go buy your tape at the local Sam Goody, or maybe have a BMG tape-club membership — I thought that was all the rage. (It wasn’t.)

While CDs are miles ahead technically, tapes will always have that little extra something CDs can never erase or duplicate.

I was always felt an excitement unwrapping the slick cellophane wrapper and first opening the tape. It made a slight creak at the hinges, which told you it was brand-spankin’ new.

At that point the plastic was all clear and smooth and pristine. If you were lucky,  your choice of tape came with a little colorful booklet lovingly tucked into its case, showcasing lyrics or a bunch of cool photos. If you were not lucky,  you only had the cover art on the front and the little spine, and nothing else. That was more common on tapes in the early  to mid-80s.

A lot of tapes when they were first opened had a smell to them I likened to candy. The Police’s “Synchronicity” tape smelled like that; probably still does. It’s still in the basement.

The clear plastic on my Synchonicity tape smelled like candy.

The clear plastic on my Synchronicity tape smelled like candy.

There’s not that much excitement when trying to open a CD wrapper — it’s more like —- “Oh great — now I have to go get a knife and hack at the plastic until it finally bows to my pressure.” Shrink wrap is the devil.

Tapes could live almost their entire life span on the bottom of your kids’ closet, underneath grit and broken toy parts. If you were somewhat careless with your cassettes and the ribbon gets pulled out, just take a pencil and wrap it back in– maybe you’d get some sound distortion at that point in the ribbon (which you would always remember from then on, sadly.)

CDs easily get scratched, bent, or just shatter. There’s no coming back from that.

Songs on tape are either on Side A or Side B. The musician had to have a big closer for the end of Side A. This was supposed to entice you to press the eject button to flip the tape over for Side B, unless you were one of those fancy folks who had the kind of tape player that did that for you. Elitist.

CDs have one side, so there really isn’t a big send-off in the middle, or anticipation, such as when the tape is flipped. Press one little button on your CD player and you’re on to the song you want– no sitting, head in hand, pressing fast-forward….. stop, play, — that’s not the right song—- fast-forward…… stop, play….. rewind……. play, give up and listen to whatever comes out.

Which brings us to the biggest difference between tapes and CDs:  The Mix Tape. For the road, for vacation, from one best friend to another, to your lover, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. As a thank-you when you’re not floating in dough.

Half the fun is decorating the cover and coming up with a title, but the biggest draw was playing DJ. It’s like putting a little kiss on each song you picked- hoping the person likes what you chose and how you put the tape together. It was so personal, trying to create that mystery.

mixtape

Yes, you can do a mix tape with either tapes or CDs, but you could “tape over” some songs if you hated them in your mix tape. CDs are burned, and that’s it, so you’d better get it right. Hopefully you didn’t already put your blood and tears into decorating the damn thing.

This is what the floor of my bedroom would have looked like in 1987.

This is what the floor of my bedroom would have looked like in 1987.

But technology waits for no one, and bands need to keep up with whatever format is hot right then to stay relevant. So yes, CDs and mp3s are here now, but maybe Cassette Store Day and mixtapes prove the medium still has some life to it. Maybe musicians these days are looking back on those old tapes, and rethinking them a bit.

(Side B side note: Unfortunately, the tape has the dubious distinction of being the ugly stepsister– it’s the third wheel in the life cycle of how we listen to music. Records came first and were refined over the decades. They are already enjoying a robust resurgence. The 8-track made a very special footnote in the 70s while records still dominated. Cassettes were the transition from records to CDs.

These transitions are clearly getting smaller and smaller. CDs don’t show any sign of stopping, although now we are moving toward the mostly invisible MP3s. Music creates such an emotional connection for people, that having a strictly electronic medium for the song that got you through that breakup somehow seems wrong.)

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With a new release and tour, Mount Kimbie is climbing the ranks

Mount Kimbie: Cold Spring, Heart Less Youth

Mount Kimbie: Cold Spring Fault Less Youth

The house-spun sound of Mount Kimbie‘s latest release, “Cold Spring Fault Less Youth,” has a quiet power about it that is somehow calming and colorful.

Each song is boldly original yet it’s all cohesive. It’s full of a labyrinth of different percussion sounds incorporated around a dance-house beat. Moody inflections meander throughout the tracks, while the lyrics take a comfortable back seat to rhythm and melody.

Mount Kimbie is a British electronic-music group with two people – Dominic Maker and Kai Campos. They are known for putting their mark on the post-dubstep sound, which  uses instruments like sequencers, turntables and personal computers. Back in 2011, Mount Kimbie was listed among 10 influential post-dubstep artists.  For new listeners to the genre, picture a technically clean sound landscape with precise tonal details in its rhythym and melody.

Mount Kimbie is Dominic Maker and Kai Campos

Mount Kimbie is Dominic Maker and Kai Campos

Their full-length debut, 2010’s “Crooks & Lovers,” appeared near the top of many critics’ must-have lists. Along with a string of EPs, released mostly through vinyl or download, they’ve been planted squarely at the epicenter of this burgeoning electro-techno sound.

The music on “Cold Spring Fault Less Youth” at times sounds like the music you hear if you were shopping in the type of high-end clothing store, with security guards and pocketbooks under glass. It’s classy. This does not in any way mean their music is artificial, just that it’s peaceful and introspective.

The young indie singer-songwriter King Krule provides help on two tracks. He deadpans on the song “You Took Your Time,” as the organ lays over it all. His voice then moves into another realm in the song; continuous cymbal tapping adds a level of funk.

The tune “Meter, Pale, Tone” has Krule singing dark and deadpan against a backdrop of tribal drum and frantic tone. Check out Krule and Kimbie’s collaboration on a recent BBC session.

“Blood and Form” also contains weird percussion, a stark single drum echoed in a dark room, like a heavy footstep or a deliberate stomp. By contrast, “Sullen Ground” is dueling percussion, as if someone is knocking on heavy metal doors. Competing tempos on “Fall Out” offer more variety amid an already vibrant set of tracks. Sounds morph into other sounds, like synth and guitar, such as on “So Many Times So Many Ways.”

On “Lie Near,” drums sound like a heartbeat as the song closes. Throughout “Cold Spring,” sounds are woven together in an electronic tapestry of bass and cymbals.

“Made to Stray’ portrays more weird but vibrant percussion; it’s as if the drumbeat is in the room with you. The organ provides a thin veil of calmness; the tone, almost primal as it builds toward the chorus. Listen to “Made to Stray” here.

The sounds in “Home Recording” hearken to the days of typewriters and tape decks. A homey organ spreads out spiritual notes.  When those notes and lines are on repeat, it almost becomes a holy chant, as if in a cathedral.

Mount Kimbie has now embarked on a world tour through December, hitting LA, Boston, NYC and a lot in between through October, before trekking through Denmark, London, Italy and a host of other countries to round out the year.

You can find “Cold Spring Fault Less Youth,” released May 28, on Warp Records.

Mount Kimbie seems very sure of their future and their music reflects that confidence and style. With all the cookie-cutter sound that floods the airwaves, it’s nice to know these guys are here to break down those barriers.

Dig It or Ditch It: Definitely dig it.

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Filed under Dubstep, Electronic, Indie, Post-dubstep, Uncategorized

Punk-rockers Deap Vally hit hard, don’t let go

Guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Troy and drummer Julie Edwards of California’s Deap Vally met in 2011 at a craft class and shared a love of … crochet.

And, thankfully, the blues.

The band has been simmering out in the U.K. since 2012, appearing at the Latitude and Reading festivals. A couple singles were released last year: “Gonna Make My Own Money” and “End of the World”; they were signed, recorded an album, toured with the Vaccines and Muse, and have shot skyward since then.

Deap Vally1

Lindsey Troy and Julle Edwards spew rock fire.

The band mines the early rage of White Stripes and the fuzz and earthiness of Led Zeppelin and Dead Weather. Each song is jam-packed with melody and power. Deap Vally puts you in your place, then leaves you breathless. Pounding drums, ragged punk-rock guitar and raging vocals marry in some strange underworld union.

Their full-length debut, Sistrionix, unleashed in June, is already making waves in England. According to Deap Vally’s website, Sistrionix will be released in the U.S. Oct. 8.

We must wait. Until then, here’s four songs to whet your appetite:

deap-vally-sistrionix

On “Lies,” Troy’s tough voice mirrors the raw guitar licks. She takes the song by the neck and beckons it toward its end. “I thought we agreed/ you wouldn’t have the need to spread your seed/ but it’s a fact you broke your contract. You’re gonna pay tenfold…..”

The defiance of “Gonna Make My Own Money” spits in your face with a fire that’s tangible. Troy’s voice vibrates and cracks and rips through the song. Edwards’ cascading drums and Troy’s high-pitched lead guitar catch your attention first. Troy screeches and shakes with an urgency and passion that rivals the most seasoned singers. “I’m gonna make my own money/Gonna buy my own man,” she declares.

“Baby I Call Hell” carries an angry blues riff on its back and doesn’t let it fall. “Whoa….” snakes through the tune as you get the sense the devil is right around the corner. The ghost of Karen O sneaks through now and then as Troy, with a defiant sneer, demands her proper love.

Buzzing guitar holds the beat at the intro of “End of the World,” as Troy uses a deep soul snarl to message a story about peace and love. Heavy guitar riffs fill with reverb as the song swirls back and forth while powerful drums march everything forward.

“There’s no time like the present to open up our hearts and let love shine in,” she sings.  The lyrics seem out of place with Deap Vally’s hard-punk sensibilities, but that unexpectedness is almost shocking, and makes it work.

Deap Vally seem as if they’re hanging on the edge of a cliff, about to fall, as a torrent of feelings of love, then betrayal, pours forth. Better catch it before it drops.

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Filed under Noise Punk, Post-punk, Punk, Uncategorized