Doing cassette reviews may seem like a pretty pathetic spectacle to you, but let me give you the lowdown…
Over the last 15 years or so, I have, through various means, managed to amass a whole box full of pre-recorded cassettes. Dozens and dozens of them. That is, not tapes that I’ve personally made up and taped on at home, but commercially available music sold on cassettes. How the hell did this happen? Don’t ask me… I mean, who buys cassettes? Not me! They’re a pain in the ass, all that rewinding and forward winding, that hopelessly truncated cover art, that sound quality that starts degenerating after about a dozen listens. It’s vinyl or CDs all the way, baby, but due to four unique factors, which I shall go into, I have a massive box full of them.
These four factors are:
1) When I was 17-19 and mail-ordering from places like Shimmy-Disc and SST, I’d occasionally order cassettes because they were cheap as hell and even cheaper to ship.
2) Shops like the old Au-go-go and Virgin megastore used to dump old cassettes in their bargain bin for usually .99 cents each, making a gambler of an otherwise sure-bet guy like myself.
3) From roughly ’92-’95 I was a big enthusiast of the underground tape/noise scene, with labels like RRR, Zero Cabal, Blank, Shrimper, etc. and bought the things en masse.
4) In the early to late ‘90s, when I was producing my own fanzines, just about every putz on Earth with a cassette recorder and instrument of any kind sent me their unsolicited “demo” for review.
So anyway, I was cleaning up the spare room the other day when I was clearing aside a mammoth stack of magazines and suddenly noticed the big box of cassettes sitting in the corner. I forgot I even owned the damn things, so I scoured the box, pulled out a few gems and have decided to do the obligatory rant, but before I do I should explain my unique relationship with the cassette format, which is the same as it is the hallowed 7”.
It’s as simple as this: no matter how bogus it is, I never sell it. I have never sold a single cassette or 7” I’ve ever owned (excluding the bogus pop stuff I bought back in primary school). If I’m given, or buy, a particularly lame LP or CD then I have no qualms in trading it in the next day for something better. I don’t have the time or room for music I won’t listen to on those formats, and often I need the spare cash. But cassettes? 7”s? How much room do they take up? How much money would you get for them anyway? Why not just hang on to them and have the occasional listening binge for the mandatory 5-year re-evaluation? That’s what I’m doing now…
BOREDOMS – Soul Discharge
I can’t believe I have the cassette of this thing! All that lovely full-colour LP art shrunk down to this pitiful spectacle on a piddling cassette cover, it’s enough to make a man weep. The music still kicks the proverbial, though, and if you need me to explain who the Boredoms are, then you’re probably reading the wrong site. Bought via mailorder from Shimmy-Disc in ’91.
KING MISSILE – They/Fluting on the Hump
Whooaahh!! Did he just say KING MISSILE?? That lame-beyond-comprehension band who had that one-joke/not-even-remotely-funny “hit” “Man with the Detachable Penis” back in the mid ‘90s? Well, I believe I did. It may seem hard, nay – impossible – to imagine, but before King Missile signed their life away to a career or homicide-worthy “comedy rock” for college geeks, and when they had the mighty Dogbowl in the band, they were indeed a very fine outfit, as this tape stands testament. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but mix up that classic Shimmy sound with a swig of Van Dyke Parks and even a touch of acid-fried Simon & Garfunkel(!!), and that’s somewhere near King Missile’s ballpark. I’ve been perusing this one a bit lately in the car stereo and, though it may seem mighty hard to believe, I think it holds up disturbingly well. So fuckin’ shoot me, OK? Bought in ’91 w/ the Boredoms.
OXYMORONS – demo cassette
I had to laugh when I dug this one out. This is definitely a discovery from the dark days of the early ‘90s. Back in 1990, when I was still an avid reader of Maximum Rock’n’Roll (don’t laugh, I intend on writing an article “In Defence of MRR” one day), I’d always pour through their classifieds to find interesting people to write to, zines to buy, cassettes to trade or bands to correspond with. Hey, I was 18, OK? I’d just spent eight years in an all-boys private school and I felt it was my God-given right to search out kindred spirits, and if that meant using the classifieds of MRR, then so be it. One caught my attention: OXYMORONS. I can’t recall what the ad said, exactly, but from memory it noted something about an Ohio punk band who’d give their demo away for free to anyone who’d write to them. I did exactly that and received this tape (with a stack of stickers) in the mail a few weeks later. I wrote to the band a bit over the next couple of years but lost touch by probably ’93 or so. What ever happened to the Oxymorons? Did they ever put a proper album out? Well, strangely enough, this tape still sounds great! As per usual, I gave it the driving test (that is, play it in the car whilst aimlessly – or aimfully – cruising), and it passed with flying colours. Mix up raging drunk-punk shenanigans with a more melodic Husker Du/Squirrel Bait inflection and that the Oxymorons in a basket. Yeah, OK, that probably makes them sound completely worthless, and maybe they are/were, but when the songs are this good, I really don't care. The last track, “Walking Backwards”, shoulda been a hit. No shit. I wonder what these guys are doing now…
Endnote: my good friend Richard Stanley (Dropkick Records/The Onyas) and I howled collectively in laughter a few years ago when we both discovered that we owned this tape, as he, too, as an alienated 18-year-old, had responded to their MRR ad. Great minds think alike, huh? No?…
SACCHARINE TRUST – Worldbroken
I can’t for the life of me figure out how this cassette came into my possession; I never mail-ordered it or bought it in a bargain bin, and, browsing through my LPs, I’ve just noticed I also have it on vinyl. Huh? I think it was given to me by a friend, but who? Beats me, but whatever, I’ve got the thing now, and I’m stuck with it.
A name that means nothing to just about everyone, Saccharine Trust, the LA jazz-punk juggernaut of the ‘80s (along with the Minutemen, of course), are still one of my all-time fave bands, no matter what anyone says. Weirdly enough, they’re back together again and are playing London next month with Sonic Youth(!!), so maybe this is a timely review. I did actually review this album many a year back for a webzine and kinda bagged it, saying it was a self-indulgent mess not worthy of their other, finer efforts, but having given this the Car Test over the last few days, I can state without shame that such an opinion is baloney. Essentially this is the band – with the God-like Mike Watt on bass – improvising in the studio, whacking it on tape and sending it out there. For most bands that’d be disaster in a teacup, but for ‘Trust, it’s their ace in the hole. Free-jazz-punk-poetry? You think it all sucks? Of course it does! Except for this. Bite me.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Wailing Ultimate
Oh man, now here’s a bargain-bin stocking filler, if ever there was. I’m pretty sure I bought this at Au-go-go in the early ‘90s for about a dollar and a free bowl of soup. Lord knows I certainly never paid more than two dollars for it. I hope. Essentially it’s a sampler cassette for the Homestead label in 1987, at the time run by Matador founder/CEO Gerard Cosloy, and it’s a predictable mix of whitebread “cutting-edge” post-HC college rock at its, uh, mostest. There is actually some pretty cool stuff here: pre-garbage Dinosaur with “Repulsion” from their 1985 debut; the under-rated Volcano Suns throw in some anthemic Bostonian post-punk; Squirrel Bait with their righteous “Sun God”, probably the best song they ever wrote (and I can just imagine the smart alecs chiming in with “That wouldn’t be very hard”); and even more anthemic righteousness from the unbelievably great and under-appreciated Naked Raygun (when is the hipster cognoscenti going to give them a reappraisal?)… Whoo, boy, but amongst all that you’ve got some fairly dull stuff clogging up the scene: Phantom Tollbooth, anyone? Death of Samantha? Antietam? Breaking Circus? Big Dipper? Salem 66? All just sundry, second-string names of the day; nothing harmful, though nothing particularly inspiring either. If you want real pain, in the year 2004, try sitting down and listen to an entire Big Black song. There’s one here. Now that hurts. Time has been very brutal to Mr. Albini.
More to come soon…