The Media That Refuses to Die: Cassette

by Dustin

cassette

“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?”

cassette2

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.

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Album Review: FLANCH – FLANCH

by Dustin

flanch

8.75/10

Enter FLANCH, Peter Timberlake and Ben Peterson’s music and visual project. The sixth release on Darling Records, FLANCH is an ambitious project to say the least. It took risks to create something that could stand alone as unique.

These risks were certainly worth taking.

Topically, FLANCH is rooted in stressing confusion brought as a byproduct of social changes; moreover, there is a strong emphasis on how this impacts the individual at a multitude of levels. Primarily the focus seems to be on the conflicting nature of losing ones religion after being deeply entrenched in its values. There’s also an apparent battle between the diminishing religiosity and an active lust for hedonistic pleasures (relative to the previously rooted religious values) in the individual.

No discretion, and no protection,
Just hold your breath and hope for death,
Before the soul’s possession.
(graace)

It should also be noted that this intersection of belief and non-belief is quite personal. Peter Timberlake, the main producer behind FLANCH, was a devout Christian for many years before entering his currently faithlessness. Though the vocals were provided by a plethora of artists, Timberlake’s message and vision was not lost.

To add to the thematic richness of this album, blurring lines between the offline and online worlds are also explored. FLANCH observes how the internet as a creation has completely changed the way we live and the way that interpersonal connections are made; however, there is also an awareness that it’s far easier to be allured by smoke and mirrors. When exploring these places it’s not in a negative tone, but rather caution towards something not fully understood.

I met you online, and I like your pictures,
But I don’t know if you’re a real person,
Don’t play with my heart anymore.
(tender)

While these thematic elements are quite expansive, they do not get lost within each other. FLANCH does an amazing job at finding balance by blending elements together. The end result was a spectacularly cohesive album. FLANCH is the type of album that will warrant more than a single listen to digest everything that is happening at once. Fortunately the music is absolutely addictive.

The production on FLANCH is really quite magnificently terrifying. The futuristic and experimental nature of the instrumentation leads to some beautifully off-kilter moments. Fitting of the topics at hand, FLANCH sounds audibly anxious, lost, and haunting. At times the production feels near other worldly, like the alien offspring of electropop and experimental glitch-hop.

The vocals, provided by an array of guest artists, were also quite interesting in the overall picture of this album. Vocal performances playing off of the religious themes felt suitably larger than life. At times the vocals stepped away from the human and were edited to feel genderless, synthetic, and mostly robotic. The sonic dichotomy was utilized creatively, with vocals placed together in a way that played amazingly well into the topic of on-and-offline worlds melding.

It should be mentioned that the singers and emcees on this project really helped make it special. It feels like their talent could be easily lost in everything else that was going on with this album, so it felt important to give them their credit as well. FLANCH seemed to be as much a collaborative project as it was a debut for FLANCH as an outfit.

FLANCH packs an insurmountably thick sounds into a short listen. The music is out of left field, wondrous, and emotional. The album is thematically engaging, and challenging enough to keep the listener coming back for more. Admittedly it might not click for everyone, nor does it seem like it’s supposed to; however, what FLANCH has delivered may hold up as one of the most creative, outside-the-box projects of the year.