This year saw several trends emerge in the world of cassettes. First and foremost, the “tape scene” of artists and labels creating ambient/experimental/neo-kosmische bliss-outs (packaged in suitably eye-expanding sleeve art) spread across the globe at an increasingly prolific pace. Whether via merch tables, mail trades or digitized rips, cassettes piled up from all directions.
Portland’s clarinet and electronics duo Golden Retriever crafted a soundworld worth returning to time and time again on Arda Viraf and the earlier Emergent Layer, while Nite Lite’s Marlene is fascinating musique concrète. However, 2011’s music honours go to Helsinki’s Olli Aarni for the tape-hiss meditation Ylitse.
Montreal’s Fadeaway Tapes delivered outernational mellowtude from the likes of Élément Kuuda, 56k, flagship act Sundrips and assorted offshoots, yet the must-grip from the Dripsters is One Hundred Hints on Orange Milk Records. Of course, few can keep up with Hobo Cubes/Cult mastermind Francesco De Gallo with releases for seemingly every underground label worldwide (Digitalis Ltd., Gold Timers, Hooker Vision, Sacred Phrases, Tranquility Tapes, Deep Tapes and even Calgary’s USSR).
On a larger scale, musicians of all genres embraced the tape for its cost-effective ease of production. Some of this can surely be chalked up to trend-jumping, yet the format still provided an inspired tactic for slapping music into listeners’ hands.
Edmonton’s Totally Disconnected killed it this year, from the lush pop of Makeout Videotape to Thomas’s silky R&B, from Babysitter’s endless scummer to the stoned age of Krang. Toronto’s Odonis Odonis supercharge shoegaze on Hollandaze. Winnipeg lowlanders Prairie Fire Tapes and Dub Ditch Picnic Records had a strong showing with Secret Girls, Tim Hoover and the White Dog Family Band, but Fletcher Pratt’s Dub Sessions Vol. 1 took the cake with its echo-heavy blaze. Look for 10 more cassettes from DDP in 2012.
Calgary’s Bug Incision crew delivered dreamlike incidentals as Mama Safari and shambling slacker pop as Lab Coast, while spaceways traveller Yankee Yankee blasted off on Empty Room. Bitter Fictions’ Looper Pedal Blues is a must for noise-rock jammers, and Radiophonic Workshop devotees would be remiss to miss anything from Monroeville Music Center. Montrealer Andy Boay (one half of Tonstartssbandht) also dropped a trippy hit with Born to Fully on Bruised Tongue.
Drifting further east, Halifax’s Craft Singles series offered quick hitters from The Ether, Grand Trine, Crosss and more. That said, the Maritime-related tape of the year goes to Taking Trips by Each Other, the latest math-pop masterpiece from the Long, Long, Long/York Redoubt clan.
In a converse trend, 2011 saw many cassette labels leap into vinyl, including Calgary’s Bart Records, Vermont’s NNA Tapes, Beijing’s Rose Mansion Analog and Truro, Nova Scotia’s Electric Voice. It’s an ambitious move, but increased attention inspired them to take the gamble.
Of course, Bart still found time for tapes from Crow Eater, Mahria and Sissys, plus its Dad Jamz compilation featuring label artists’ take on beloved classic rock boners. Similarly, NNA’s recent LPs from Co La and Nate Young wouldn’t have existed without its trademark half-circle design gracing cassettes from Hubble, Laurel Halo and Montreal noisenik Drainolith.
On a similar tip, this year’s final trend saw Canadians crossing over to international waters. Iowa’s long-running Night People imprint dropped cassettes from Montreal no-fi creepers The Pink Noise, Toronto/New York stunners Hot & Cold, and Halifax-born proto-punks Lantern. Hamilton, Ontario’s Hunting Rituals even saw an earlier cassette reissued on vinyl by Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace. Heavy.
Combing all of these strategies and more, the most impressive tape label launched in 2011 was Montreal’s Los Discos Enfantasmes. From its stylish die-cut sleeves to like-minded releases from Femminielli, JLK and Jean-Sébastien Truchy (of Fly Pan Am fame) in constantly shifting incarnations, LDE’s reputation as a purveyor of perception-shifting experimental sounds has been set. Hallmarks of the label include eerie minimal electronics, trance-inducing cosmic drones and a general air of unease, pointing the way to the future of cassette culture for 2012.