Hiss and Pop: The Cassette Revival Is Upon Us

We at West Coast Sound get a ton of mail, most of it consisting of CDs, press kits and the occasional piece of vinyl. It arrives by the mound in those postal-service bins, and though we love free stuff as much as the next music geek, all those plastic squares containing plastic circles pile high on our desk. They tend to blend in with one another, and sometimes great music gets lost in all of it.

What a terrible problem: getting lots of free music.

So imagine our surprise, and joy, when we were digging through the new arrivals this week and discovered a batch of releases from Burger Records — on those anachronistic rectangles known as cassettes!

Ladies and gentlemen: The cassette revival may be upon us.

It's been coming for a few years, and it's generating a conversation. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and scribe Byron Coley just wrote, via Arthur magazine, that "Some of the best music/sounds is happening on small cassette labels." We've been tracking the revival for the past decade, and humbly consider ourselves experts in the field: As the format was being relegated to history's dustbin, we were on the jury of the 2003 BEIGE World Cassette Jockey Championships in Chicago, and we still consider that participation one of our great achievements. Here in L.A., Family Bookstore on Fairfax has a nice little cassette selection, as does Vacation Vinyl in Los Feliz, and matthewdavid's great Leaving Records imprint has now begun issuing cassettes.

The question of why a cassette revival is occurring is complicated by the fact that cassettes are, on the surface, a pretty sucky format, at least by "technological" standards. All that hiss; the fast-forwarding nonsense; the tape-stuck-in-the-stereo problem. Pain in the ass, yes?

But then: all that hiss! Fast-forwarding is a Zen exercise in patience. If you really want to hear a song, are you not willing to wait a few minutes while the tape deck click-click-clicks to the proper spot?

Okay. It's hard to defend cassettes other than to say that nostalgia, rebellion and cost play a factor in the revival. And, perhaps most important, the jobless with their shitty 1990s cars no doubt have decks that are just dying to be utilized. How many times can you listen to those Queen tapes before you want to toss them into the gutter? (That's a bad example. You can never get sick of Queen tapes.)

So anyway: Burger Records is a label and store in Fullerton best known as home to one of Southern California's best punk bands, Audacity. Burger issues limited-edition cassette runs on most of its releases, and its press kits consist of xeroxed copies of its fliers with barely legible crayon scribbles on the back. It's the lowest of fidelity, basically.

But within this little corner of the music world, Burger is releasing mighty, mighty music. Take the four songs that arrived on Bombon's El Party con Bombon tape (all of which are available to listen to It's fuzzy garage rock that dabbles in surf, is crazy tight and full of energy. Just because it's on a "dead format" doesn't mean it's dead music. On the contrary.

Other tapes that arrived in the package include the cassette reissue of Devon Williams' Careerfree full-length from last year (he's since signed to Slumberland Records); Audacity's 2009 tour EP; and Pipsqueak's self-titled, low-fi stunner.

This is music recorded to be heard on tape. Your ears won't get exhausted trying to wade through all that muddy compression. Rather, it's hissy and wide-open, designed to be played real loud to get all the treble into your ears and scratch your drums. Rock on, Burger.


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