Collectors Corner: Madvillain – Madvillainy (2014 Cassette Reissue)

by Dustin

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Ever since we decided to revitalize the Collector’s Corner series of articles back in January, I’ve been racking my brain in an attempt to decide on the next album to showcase. I quite enjoy being able to talk about some of my favorite releases more casually and personally, as opposed to the formal nature of music reviews; however, physical media is not always the most interesting thing in the world. I adore my music collection, and have a bad tendency to put disposable income I don’t actually have into it. Regardless of this, many of the titles I own could be described in a paragraph or less. This simplicity is a wonderful thing, but at the same time it doesn’t make for the most catching of blog posts; however, Rajin recently published his own collectors corner, reminding me not to neglect this particular series. Being the stubborn person I am, I figured the best way to break the slump would be to write about one of the most simplistic releases I own. This may sound counterintuitive, but due to the album’s stature within hip-hop and grandiose sound I actually find the stark contrast quite interesting.

The album in question is Madvillainy, the collaborative effort between underground legends MF DOOM and Madlib under the name Madvillain. The particular version we will be looking at is the cassette re-release which came out under Stones Throw Records (STH2065) in 2014. This is the standard release, which has some minor changes from the Cassette Store Day release though they share the same catalogue number. The biggest variation is that the Cassette Store Day release has a shiny j-card rather than matte.

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Upon first look at this cassette it is evident that a few minor design changes were made to the original cover in order to have it look natural on a j-card. The text from the upper left corner has been removed entirely, and the orange square on the right has been trimmed into a much smaller strip. These alterations don’t take much away from the artwork, and in my opinion Stones Throw did an excellent job reformatting everything. One weird difference, however, is that the signature cover photo of DOOM appears to be slightly darker than on the original. This could just be an illusion due to the fact that his shoulders have been cut out, but it stood out as slightly odd to me. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, as the album artwork is classic and looks just about as good here as it has anywhere else. I’ve seen cassette release adaptations go really poorly, and fortunately Madvillainy is not one of those cases.

The rest of the j-card is also quite minimalistic. Taking a look at the side spine you’ll find the album name and not much else. Around the back it simply says that group is called Madvillain, Madlib did the beats, DOOM did the emceeing, and Stones Throw released the record (in addition to the catalogue number). This serves as the credits portion of the release, weighing in at a whopping eight words. The interior of the j-card has a black and white photo of Madlib with his face partially obscured by a piece of production equipment. That is essentially all there is to see as far as the external packaging goes. It’s basic, but it looks great.

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The cassette itself seems barren (even under-designed) at first, but after taking a closer look at it I realized it is actually quite the unique piece. The tape is housed inside a colourless clear shell with black liners, which in itself does not sound like anything particularly out of the ordinary. If you take a closer look at the liner though, there is a triangular notch cut out of the top which is a shape that I have never personally seen on a cassette before. The black liner is also being used to provide a contrasting backdrop to the white text stamped on both sides of the outer shell, and makes the font pop excellently. It’s a very small design choice, but it adds a sense of flair that would not have otherwise been there. I personally adore it.

The sound quality is about as good as you’re going to get from a cassette, which still isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly passable. I noticed relatively little background hiss, which doesn’t seem to be a frequent issue on newer cassettes anyway. The quality control is appreciated nonetheless.

To summarize, the 2014 cassette reissue of Madvillainy is an exercise in minimalism done correctly. The aesthetic offers few clues as to how the album is going to sound, yet it also compliments the music very well. This particular album always seemed to suit the vinyl format the most, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with the cassette. If you’re interested in picking up one of the many reissues (as of right now Discogs lists 23 versions) of Madvillainy, I would most certainly say that you can’t go wrong with this tape.

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Celebrating the Growing Importance of Physical Media

by Dustin

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To be completely honest, the title to this article might sound odd to most. How can physical media possibly be more important than ever when digital has steamrolled the industry? At the surface level, it is dead. Retailers are pulling the last of the CDs off the shelves, marking the end of a decades-long music media evolutionary process. Yet, many have never spent more money on CDs, vinyl, and cassettes than they do now. I am extremely bad. If I don’t budget a monthly allowance to be spent on music I suddenly find myself in a position where groceries are particularly troublesome. Financial tomfoolery aside, I’ve come to realize that moving back toward physical releases has changed my relationship with music entirely. With today being Record Store Day my friends and I wanted to take a minute to share our passion for this fading corner of the music scene, and hopefully shed some light on why we consider physical releases more important now than they have ever been.

“In a world where streaming makes music easier to consume than ever, it seems as though its value is continuously decreasing. For a long time now, I’ve been confronted with the question “why buy a song when I can download it for free?” However, with the increasing prevalence of streaming, which poses as a way to “support” artists in a cheap (potentially free) way, the statement seems to just be given more validation. I’ve always felt that streaming is dissatisfying in many ways; there’s no connection between fan and artist. Physical albums allow that connection to exist. You have something tangible to hold, you have to store and maintain them, you get to surround yourself with what you love. They allow the music to keep its value in a market where it’s more dispensable than ever.”
@RajinBuu

“Buying records means reading liner notes. It means learning about the friends and family involved with the project and glimpsing into their world. It also meant (like in the case of Outkast) learning just exactly what they were saying in the days before OHHLA or Genius.”
@deaconlf

“As both an artist and a music lover I appreciate something tangible and it warmed my heart as an artist to know that so many fans wanted to buy a physical copy of our debut project, my mom bought one my dad bought one it was something that they can look at and say “wow my kid did this” and fans can look at and say “yeah I can touch this, I can hold on to it, I can frame it” it’s like a time capsule from a forgotten period where projects stayed in your rotation for longer than a week and reviews weren’t done instantly but it’s an incredible thing to be apart of, physical music goes right along with t shirts and posters as genuine mercy.”
@MTFRyourmom of @_Nobodies

“Physical releases, no matter the format, are more important than ever now. Much of our lives exist between ones and zeros, so holding and hearing and smelling something like a record can really fill the binary void… Establish a sense of connection beyond the internet. As soon as the needle hits the groove something real happens and it is fucking beautiful. It’s almost primal at this point. I think this is true with vinyl, cassettes and CDs. All formats provide a tangible experience that sounds better than streaming, hope people stop arguing about ‘superior’ formats and just focus on making something beautiful and real. Physical releases are awesome”
@FilthyBrokeRex

For myself it’s much of the same. I crave the connection to art that only physical media can provide. From the beauty of large format cover art to the excitement of finding carefully placed easter eggs inside the album booklet, there is a tactile appeal to the senses that cannot be found anywhere else. For me, it transforms listening to an album from a simple act of consumption to an event that feels special and unique every single time. The thrill of entering a record store or thrift shop and crate digging can only be surmounted by the childlike wonder I feel when my hands finally reach something that I want. My music collection at any given moment is a treasure trove of memories, personal discovery, and adventure. It’s something I curated for myself and nobody else; a scrapbook of self-assuredness that carries all my convictions in taste. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world.

There’s also the element of showing that you care. The artists I love create music that becomes an integral part of who I am, and as such I want to support them in any way that I can. Attending concerts isn’t realistic all the time, but buying something that I can hold, show people, and proudly display is always an option. Digital media feels so incredibly disposable, and to me that undermines the effort and dedication these individuals pour into creating something for us to enjoy. Sure, I can acknowledge that 25 or 30 dollars for a vinyl record sounds expensive; however, when you start to consider the entire process behind the album’s existence, it really isn’t that much money. Support keeps people creating. At the end of the day, I’m more than willing to shell out extra if it helps my favorite musicians are able to stick around a little longer. Fraction of a penny streams don’t pay the bills for anybody who isn’t already a star, and that fact alone would be enough for me to proclaim physical media’s importance in the modern climate.

If you still carry any doubts, please take the time to visit a record store today (or at any point in the near future). If you’ve never been fortunate enough to take the time, it is a vastly different experience than endlessly perusing music on Spotify or Google Play. It’s a world that not enough people take advantage of these days, yet there’s a reason it pulls so many of us in. We could sit here for days and try to explain, but really you won’t get it until you try for yourself. Who knows, you could just end up catching the same bug that bit the rest of us from the very moment we purchased our first albums. Apologize to your wallet on my behalf, and have fun!

Happy Record Store Day.

Album Review: V8 – One Dog Night

by Dustin

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8/10

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to our very first review of 2017. This is actually a very special review for us, as it’s the very first piece of “early press” we’ve been able to contribute. When our friends at Filthy Broke Recordings agreed to send us a press kit, we were absolutely overjoyed. Though we didn’t get this out as early as we would have liked (stupid actual job causing mayhem), it has still been a pleasure.

Now, onto the review itself. You may be asking, “what album are they so hyped up about?” The answer is One Dog Night, by alternative rapper V8.

The first thing that stands out about One Dog Night is that V8’s vocal performances are really quite monstrous. You won’t find raps full of quotable punches and one-liners on One Dog Night, but it remains an unapologetically gripping listen. V8 has a charming gravel to his delivery on this album, coupled with a wonderful willingness to explore a range of vocal inflections. Whilst drawing you in with what he’s saying, V8 simultaneously begins to construct this dark-sounding environment vocally. The rasp and strain to his voice perfectly sets the atmosphere for what is a grungy album.

Buckle up, because the concept of musical atmosphere and environment are going to be overwhelmingly prevalent while discussing this album.

Backing up his vocals is an assortment of absolutely grimy production that feels nostalgic, yet fresh. One Dog Night’s instrumentation draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources, and it is ever changing throughout the duration of the tape. It’ll have you jamming to a powerful boom-bap beat, then immediately slap you over the head with something completely out of the box and experimental. To be frank, any attempt to verbally explain how diverse-yet-cohesive the production is on One Dog Night will not do it justice. That filthy grunge sound kicked into motion vocally was really well supplemented by the production on this album. A seamless marriage, if you will.

That filth (said affectionately) is further built upon by the usage of interview, news, and other samples between tracks. Though the frequency in which these appear is jarring at first, it quickly becomes a necessary part of One Dog Night.

One Dog Night is the kind of tape that taps into the essence of indie hip-hop that was established through the late nineties and early two-thousands. Those who grew up fascinated by the likes of Myka 9, Radioinactive, Busdriver, and any artist from the Project Blowed heyday will find a welcoming comfort in this album. It’s not the most accessible hip-hop release, but it’s not supposed to be. There are times where One Dog Night almost feels like too much at once; however, the energy and thought that is evident on this album rivals early indie-scene juggernauts, ultimately leading to an incredibly satisfying record. V8 goes against the grain, and his efforts serve as a reminder that abrasiveness can be done tastefully.

Those looking for something to throw on in the background will probably not enjoy this record, and it is beautiful in that way. One Dog Night forces you to pay attention with an in-your-face confidence that many would not be able to pull off.

The cassette release, coming via Filthy Broke, also looks quite intriguing. It is on top end of price point for a tape, but every order comes with a handmade leather case, so the dollar amount is definitely understandable. If you’re a cassette collector looking for something quite unusual, it might be worth having a look at. The cases are super unique, and it’s cool to witness an artist doing something out-of-the-box for a physical release. Really, it’s about as true to the indie mindset as you can get.

Though, they could be gone at this point as only a handful were created. So, you may just be shit out of luck. If that be the case, we sincerely apologize (just kidding, if you snooze you lose).

Collectors Corner: Meme Vivaldi, clipping, and Offsite & Wontu.

by Dustin

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Welcome to the Collectors Corner, a new article series on Extraordinary Nobodies where we will be taking a look at physical media from all sorts of record labels and artists. Most of these will be coming from my own collection, but my (kind of) wonderful co-writer Apu will also be contributing from his assortment of music on occasion. Collectors Corner will be a little more relaxed (and a little less hip-hop focused) than some of our other articles, serving as break from the usual… Mostly for myself, but I’m sure variation in content is healthy, right?

Primarily, I just thought it would be fun to spotlight some of the cool and weird physical releases that constantly pop up in the music scene. We’ll also get the chance to throw in some mini-reviews of albums we otherwise wouldn’t have the time to review… Wow, this is great, right? Right?!

Now, let’s just jump right into the first batch of albums in the collectors corner spotlight:

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From Poor Little Music, an underground Canadian label that deals primarily in cassette and floppy disk (yes, you’ve read that right) releases, I picked up Meme Vivaldi’s Smile on tape. The art on the packaging itself is really nice. There’s something about it that I found to be somewhat vaporwave inspired, particularly on the inside of the j-card insert. The cassette itself is a brilliant orange, and features a sticker rather than stamping.

Smile basically sounds like the soundtrack to an artificial intelligence having a mental breakdown. It is an incredibly odd little electronic album, but it’s also a lot of fun. I hadn’t personally heard Smile when I purchased it (yay, impulse buys), but I was pleasantly surprised once I got a chance. The sounds here definitely aren’t for everyone, but those looking for a mind-fuck will probably enjoy it.

Smile is also a limited edition of 30, so if you’re looking to own a cassette you may want to get on that soon. Hell, they could already be sold out by the time you read this. Sorry.

clippin

From SubPop Records and Deathbomb Arc, I also picked up the cassette version of clipping.’s Splendor & Misery. There were a few different physical media options for this album, but ultimately I ended up going with the cassette because the packaging is gorgeous. The cassette itself is wonderfully industrial looking, coming coloured in a clean light gray.

The insert has a very classy foil look to it, complimented by a retro feel to the rest of the packaging. This is very honestly one of the nicest looking cassette releases I’ve seen this year and I would fully recommend it to anyone looking to add to their collection. Plus, something about listening to glitched-out experimental hip-hop on cassette just feels right… And that is the most pretentious sentence I will ever write in my life.

Splendor & Misery is one of my absolute favorite releases this year; you can read more about my thoughts on this album in my full-length review.

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Third is Offsite & Wontu’s collaborative effort After Shenron. This album comes via Every Dejavu. The packaging on this tape is a really an aesthetic treat. From the incredible blue colour on the casing itself, to the beautiful album art. It looks great in my collection, but more importantly it is also a wonderful little project musically.

The production and rapping, are a very chill alternative brand that fans of rappers such as Open Mike Eagle and milo will certainly enjoy. After Shenron is short, but it feels like it packs enough content to sink your teeth into.

The Media That Refuses to Die: Cassette

by Dustin

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“What is that?” my buddy asks as I pull another parcel from the mailbox, “don’t tell me you’re still collecting music”.

You see, my friend doesn’t quite understand the point of collecting physical media when it comes to music. He sees CDs and vinyl as a waste of money when I’ve already got a Spotify subscription. The argument that I want better sound quality usually shuts him up, since streaming can be questionable at times in that regard.

Unfortunately that argument will not work with this shipment.

My friend remains interested as I rip apart the yellow envelope from Darling Recordings. I explained to him that the album is by a really cool experimental group called FLANCH. He seems interested in the sound and implies that he would like to listen to it once I finish my painfully slow unwrap job; however, his interest turns to confusion as I reveal the contents of the envelope.

He looks at me and his face screws up into an indescribable expression. In a moment of baffled realization he asks the question, “is that a fucking cassette?”

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Though this may sound ridiculous to some, cassette has seen a huge resurgence in the past couple years via the independent scene. The companies which produce cassette tapes are reportedly having their best years since the 1960s. For example, the National Audio Company reportedly produced over ten million cassettes in 2014 alone. For something once considered defunct this is a huge comeback, and it is almost rooted entirely in the independent music scene.

But why? To help answer that question we touched base with Nick Faidley. Nick is the founder of independent label Darling Recordings, an outfit which has released multiple cassettes (including FLANCH, mentioned earlier in this article). He offered up the following insight as to why cassettes have seen such a heavy revival:

Darling Recordings has turned to tapes for the many of the same reasons as other independent labels and musicians: cassettes are low cost, low hassle, and easy for bands to use on the merch table. For us it’s really that simple. Tapes are affordable at low quantities, unlike vinyl (incredibly expensive) and CDs (large minimum orders), and they can be completely DIY.

Darling runs its cassette manufacturing with a wonderful company out of Ohio called A to Z Audio.

As Nick stated, cost is a huge factor. Unlike major outfits, most independent labels only do limited releases for physical editions of records. These are generally in the 20-100 copies range. The price per unit for limited runs is cheaper on cassette than any other physical media; moreover, a price per unit quote (on a 100 album order) from a Canadian duplication company shows that the difference is extreme:

CD with Jewel Case and Insert: $4.90/each
Vinyl Record with Colour Cover: $9.00/each
Cassette with Clear Case and J-Card Insert: $1.85/each

Cassette is the clear cut choice based on cost alone, and for small independent labels every dollar counts. Perhaps physical media is no longer a necessity with the rise of digital distribution, but fans will always be looking to get their hands on merch. Cassettes are a cost effective way to provide this to fans (whether it be online, in a record store, or at a show). In addition to it being good for the label, cassette releases are generally cheaper for the consumer as well. It’s very much a win-win for those interested.

Though more subjective, there’s also a collectible feel to cassettes that seems to offer up a lot of appeal. There’s certainly a degree of nostalgia involved to a particular generation, but to others they just seem “cool”. They’re just so much different when compared to CDs and vinyl. Cassettes have a particular minimalistic and rugged appearance that seems to draw a certain crowd in. Even the listening experience, though maybe not the best in terms of sound quality, is incredibly unique. The tape hiss, the sound of the cassette deck mechanism, the sudden jarring click when a side runs out…

It’s something that can’t really be compared to anything other music media, for better or worse.

Interestingly, this wave of cassette revival has become big enough that some major labels have started to jump on the bandwagon. A recent example of this is Shady Records re-issuing Eminem’s major imprint debut, The Slim Shady LP, on a translucent purple cassette. To no ones surprise, the re-issue was incredibly popular. It doesn’t seem like this will be a regular trend such as vinyl releases, but it definitely speaks to the size of cassettes resurgence.

For all intents and purposes cassette should be dead, but it’s not. They’ve found their way back into the music scene by carving a niche which no other media can really occupy. What cassette lacks in sound quality it more than makes up for in affordability, making them the ultimate budget merchandise. It’s a revival that maybe no one expected, but it’s working out beautifully for artists around the globe.

So, the next time you see a cassette just remember: your uncle who owns a Mustang from the 1980s with a tape-deck isn’t the only person looking to buy cassettes anymore.