Ray Carmen has been a part of the underground "cassette culture" for over ten years. As might be guessed by the heading, Carmen's main forte' is pop, as in Byrds/Beatles/Monkees, but he does venture into other areas. He recently put out his thirteenth tape on his own POP! Productions label, and has releases by cassette notables R. Stevie Moore, Don Campau, and others in his POP! Productions catalog.

Carmen mostly records by himself at home on cassette four-track, playing guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and doing very nice vocal harmonies. He has also collaborated with synth wizard Ken Clinger, released a CD (Nothing Personal) on Émigré' Records, and drummed for Witch Hazel and the King Dapper Combo.

The earliest release in Carmen's catalog is Naive Assumptions (1989). It's a 30-minute compilation of some of his earliest record- ings. Ray writes, sings, performs, and pro- duces everything on the tape. Naive Assumptions opens with "I'll Get You For That", featuring a nice jangly guitar and "why did I fall in love with you" lyrics, and closes with "Take It Like A Man" which is best described as Casio synth-pop. While Naive Assumptions doesn't sound quite as developed as the later tapes, it is a charming and delightful listen.

Duet Yourself (1990) is described in the POP! catalog as "The one everyone likes." It opens with three very angry songs: "Passive/Aggressive" ("Is it just you or is it cold in here?"), "Brand New Boyfriend," and "The Weight." Things lighten up a bit with a cover of Mike Nesmith's "You Just May Be The One," and a light-industrial version of Nesmith, Goffin and Kings "Sweet Young Thing." This tape is classic Ray Carmen.

1993's Bubblegum Buddha is sort of a sequel to Duet Yourself. It opens with chiming keyboards on "Rise and Shine," throws the listener a curve with "Too Much Coffee" with its heav- ily distorted guitars and vocal, and settles into traditional Carmen-esque guitar- pop on "Out Of Your Hair" and the songs that follow. Other highlights on Buddha are the driving but still jangly "More Than Enough," the Japanese sounding instrumental "Rain On The Road," and the wonderful "Vanquished."

In 1995 Ray collaborated with the above-mentioned Ken Clinger on Hopes And Fears. Clinger wrote and played most of the music and Carmen wrote and sang the lyrics. Clinger's keyboard programming is beautiful and his orchestral arrangements are gor- geous. Carmen's lyrics on songs like "She Says" and "Better Off Alone" focus on his then-current divorce. Hopes And Fears also contains four covers, including a take on the Banana Splits' "I Enjoy Being A Boy" and the Beatles' "Here, There, and Everywhere," which reflect Carmen's optimism over his burgeoning relationship with his now new wife. Hopes And Fears was mostly recorded by Clinger to DAT.

Hopes And Fears was followed by 1996's acoustic EP Accidentally On Purpose, which again featured Carmen as sole musician and engineer. The one exception to this is some fiddle played by Blind Waldo on the pseudo- country tune "Ugly and Slouchy." This tape features early versions of "A New Beginning," "Monster," and "Nothing More To Say," all later re-recorded for 1997's Too Old For Angst.

After Accidentally On Purpose came Hanger 18 and an EP entitled Snow Day. Hanger 18 is described in the POP! catalog as "thirteen ambient, experimental tracks from a few guys who should know better." The Snow Day EP is another collaboration with Ken Clinger and features three Christmas songs.

Too Old For Angst is Carmen's most recent album of new original material. This cassette represents a nice leap forward in Ray's progression as a recordist. The arrange- ments have more nice, subtle touches (ear candy!), and as a whole the tape sounds cleaner, clearer, and more confident than his earlier cassettes. I don't know for sure whether this is due to better recording equipment or simply experience and prac- tice. I suspect it's a bit of both. Some of the songs, like the re-recording of "Monster" and "Walk Away," were done in collaboration with Ken Clinger. Most of the others are all Ray.

1998's Old And In The Way is a collection of remakes and rarities. It opens with a 16-track version...

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