Agitated Atmosphere: Year-End Cassette Review

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as microlabels.

As was birthed last year, it’s time once more for Agitated Atmosphere to turn its teeny spotlight onto the world of cassettes. If you haven’t dug out and dusted off your Walkman (or bought a South Korean-made one for $5 from eBay) perhaps this edition of AA will move you to such feats. It’s admirable to want to kill of the 1980s but cassettes are the lifeblood of bands working to improve their craft while spreading their sound in a cheap(er) medium. And much like the hiss of ancient vinyl, so goes the nascent clicks and turns of a tape deck as it unspools the jams.

Japan continues to play accommodating host to a wealth of experimental sounds. Though Ginjoha popped up on our radar with its sensational art and drone-heavy aesthetic, the biggest hit from Japan came from psychedelic throwbacks, Topping Bottoms. Early in the year, venerable undie Not Not Fun unleashed Towers of Spines, lending the world a renewed listen of what 60s psychedelia is becoming in the hands of the world community.

Topping Bottoms - “Towers of Spines”

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On the opposite end of the scale fell 1958-2009--the duo of Alex Twomey and Matthew Sullivan who gave ambient tribute to the life of Michael Jackson without sequined gloves, red jackets, and singed hair. Beginning with I at the end of 2009, the pair finished up their trilogy this year with the inspirational drones of II and III, both released on Sullivan’s equally uplifting Ekhein label.

1958-2009 - “Untitled”

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The idea of the troubadour is one that is dying a quick death thanks to an increasing reliance on technology and isolated entertainment, but it’s the life of The Savage Young Taterbug. He’s a vagabond in the grandest sense. Throughout a select list of releases, Taterbug has delved into the weird and wonderful of the world that goes ignored, but Syrupy Evenings encapsulates an America that won’t go extinct as long as its guardians stand resolute. The tape is a carnivalesque display of freaks, weirdos, and perversions that spikes a nail deep into the brain of folk nostalgia. Only Shawn Reed’s Night People would dare to touch it.

The Savage Young Taterbug - “Slumber Lordy”

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There were plenty of great releases that it is too hard not to give them “honorary” mention: Danielle Long’s posthumous solo debut as Chubby Wolf, Orintheology (her husband continues to release their collaborative work as Celer, of which there is still a lengthy catalog of unreleased material), released via Digitalis; Chris Weisman’s ode to the fun and innovation of pop, Fresh Sip, on Autumn; Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Generators from Root Strata that was just one of many fantastic Whitman releases in 2010; the wealth of the Stunned catalog -- the year was kind to cassette releases.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist whose work can be viewed at his website. He also pens Deserted for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. Justin Dloski
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Awesome! I love cassettes, bring them back yeah!

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