Northern Spy’s Clandestine Cassette #1

Clandestine Series Cassette #1
V/A
Northern Spy Records

It wasn’t so long ago that people were counting out “hard copy” recording formats, prognosticating that digital would reign supreme and that vinyl and cassette tapes would be on the scrap heap or, at best, fodder for flea markets and garage sales. While the LP’s resurgence in recent years has been variously chalked up to increased attention to aesthetics, desire for higher fidelity, and a pop culture trend in its own right, many still assumed that cassettes were too sonically compromised and kitschy for a comeback in their own right. But then, lo-fi indie exploded, and the landscape changed.

While Northern Spy’s first in a projected series of Clandestine Cassettes isn’t just concerned with lo-fi aesthetics, one can see why the scrappy Brooklyn import, and others like it, embrace the cassette format. It’s inexpensive, easily portable, and yes, has its own nostalgic artifact qualities. But CC#1 isn’t a novelty item: it’s a fascinating mini-sampler of Northern Spy artists, revealing an EP length recording of avant rock drone-filled soundscapes by the likes of Zaimph and Messages. There’s also “August is All,” a beautiful track of slowly evolving, minimalist yet blues-inflected improvisation by guitarist Tom Carter. A little avant folk star power is in force on “Live at Union Pool,” a reverberant duet by Loren Connors and bassist Margarida Garcia. Garcia also contributes the cassette’s artwork, which recalls homemade mixes and tape trading.

Although you can still get MP3s or FLAC, this tape’s already sold out. But rest assured, there will be more cassettes to come: from Northern Spy and elsewhere on the scene.

Already got rid of your tape deck? No worries; for now, they’re not expensive to acquire. But be warned: I recently learned from Twitter that no less a tastemaker than Steve Smith has gotten a new Walkman. Can it be long before this microtrend explodes and cassette decks are the new iPad? Stay tuned.

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