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Cassette Culture: Our Favorite Tapes and Cassette Labels of 2012

By ; December 17, 2012 at 9:00 AM 

Over the past few years, the rise of cassette culture has put a spotlight on hundreds of upstart and established cassette labels, as well as those who mix cassettes with vinyl and the occasional CD-R.  This attention had led to an increase in awareness that tapes can be just as viable for musical distribution as vinyl or CD. In fact, with it being cheaper to produce multiple cassettes versus the same amount on vinyl or CD, it should come as no surprise that these boutique and specialty labels are popping up almost overnight.  And in support of Beats Per Minute’s year-end coverage, both myself and senior staff writer Josh Becker, as huge fans of the medium, are going to take a quick look at some of the releases and labels which shaped much of our tape habits in 2012.  Josh Becker takes a look at some of the tape releases which found their way into his musical routines, and I list some cassette labels which anyone with even a passing interest should get to know going into the new year.  The next official Cassette Culture column will be along shortly in January, but in the meantime, enjoy our cassette retrospective of 2012.


Asio Otus

Taivaallisia Tulia

[SicSic]

UFO sightings from the mid-twentieth century provide the inspiration for this odd burst of Finnish freak folk, presented with an electronic twist. Abstraction and chaos in the forest at nighttime.


Huerco S.

Untitled

[Opal Tapes]

Broken techno noise; the devastation of the sublime, and vice versa. This label released a lot of great busted electronica this year, and this tape was the cream of the curious crop.


Le Révélateur

Horizon Fears

[NNA Tapes]

In space, no one can hear you glide–except for this trusty Vermont label. Killer kosmiche for the post-new-age set. A synth orbits the sun.


Buchikamashi

Super Mind

[SicSic]

Another SicSic winner, this time from Japan. Music this placid isn’t usually this interesting, but Buchikamashi isn’t your usual synth maestro. Pillow-soft meditations with a jagged, abstract edge.


Panabrite

Blue Grotto

[Love All Day]

One of the best electronic ambient artists working today, Panabrite released a couple terrific little releases. This was his most charming soundtrack to the exploratorium of the mind.


Motion Sickness of Time Travel

Traces

[A Guide To Saints]

Sure, Rachel Evans made waves with her double LP for Spectrum Spools, but this cassette release is more than an afterthought. She’s got a lovely voice for this sort of thing, and an even lovelier ear for drone music that’s as meditative as it is captivating.


Padme

Wisdom From the Stars

[SicSic]

In case you couldn’t tell, SicSic wins my prestigious award for best cassette label of the year. There must be something in the water over in Frankfurt, something that leads them to find and release just the weirdest synth jams being recorded to tape. This one’s more old school, like a stripped-down take on Tangerine Dream.


M. Geddes Gengras

Purity

[Jugular Forest]

Absolutely insane. Twinkling, short-circuiting electronic abstraction that’ll practically vibrate out of your cassette deck. If you’ve never heard this dude’s stuff before, start with last year’s wonderful This Could Be The Last Time. Rest assured that said cassette is not in fact his last time, and we can all be thankful for that.


Sand Circles

Motor City

[Not Not Fun]

Dusty synthpop that sounds less consciously retro and more like it was unearthed in the back of your dad’s Oldsmobile sedan. A bit motorik, a bit new agey. A whole lot of fun.


Vatican Shadow

Operation Neptune Spear

[Hospital Productions]

Re-released as part of his Ornamented Walls LP for Modern Love, this is among the noisiest and industrialest of industrial noise techno you’ll hear all year. Vatican Shadow seems to have a limited genre scope, but he is very, very good at what he does. He’s released a slew of tapes on Hospital Productions over the last couple years; get your hands (or ears) on whatever you can.


Gimu

A Silent Stroll On Sombre St.

[Constellation Tatsu]

Eerie, nocturnal drones from this rising underground star (“star”) from Brazil. Great for strolling through abandoned industrial parks, empty reservoirs, and the intolerable void of nothingness that creeps up on the corners of your mind as you try to fall asleep.


POTIONS

Sea Legs

[Pretty All Right]

Psychedelic dreamscapes utilizing soft keyboards and atmospheric guitars. Chiller than chill.


Hakobune

Recalling Your Ghostly Thoughts

[Full Of Nothing]

Stars of the Lid-style drones, straight from Kyoto. Ghostly indeed–harmonic fragments haunt the edges of this tape, floating amidst the noisy drifts.


1991

1991

[Astro:Dynamics]

Wilting, reverbed R&B and glacial techno and unsettling synth ambience. I’ve heard it said that this cassette comes with a bag of Cheetos and a VHS compilation of TLC’s greatest music videos, but unfortunately I cannot confirm at this time.


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