The great thing about self-released cassettes is that anyone can put them out without spending too much money. Photocopy some J-cards, dub a few tapes on the home stereo, and you're done. Total artistic control. The bad thing about self-released cassettes is, you guessed it, anyone can put them out without spending too much money. A lot of people are doing it. I have two tapes out myself. So when Larry offered to let someone review cassettes sent to Tape Op, I jumped at the chance to hear what my taping peers are doing. Some were really, really good. Others... Let's just say that some people could use some more practice and restraint. These were some of my favorites:
MJB C'mon Slacker
"Semper Lo-Fi", "Guaranteed Basement Quality" according to the cassette label. This tape does sound a tad rough, but that's OK. It has energy and enthusiasm that bursts through it's surface noise. Literally recorded in a basement (natural reverb, no boxes here!) by one-man-band Michael J. Bowman, C'mon Slacker contains several very tasty pieces of power-pop. If there were any justice, the lead off track "I Shot the Invisible Man" would be used in some gen-x "what are we doing with our lives?" romantic comedy. It features real drums (heard throughout the tape), rollicking piano (courtesy of a $100 Casio CTK-450), distorted guitars, and multi-tracked vocals. Other songs have a lot of great pop touches like fuzz bass, hand claps, "shooby-do-wah" backup vocals, tasty guitar licks, and vintage keyboard sound (that Casio again!). To capture it all, MJB uses two Radio Shack unidirectional mics (or goes direct) through a Roland MX-5 stereo four-channel mixer to a TEAC ?" reel-to-reel 4-track. C'mon Slacker can be had for $5.00 from Michael J. Bowman, 11 Orchard Street, Cold Spring, NY 105516. MJB's web site is at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/mjbowman.
Leigh Marble Hit the Ceiling
New Portland resident Leigh Marble offers up a very impressive collection on this, his first solo tape. The ten songs have lots of sharp, unexpected lyrical twists that reward repeated listenings. Marble's main instrument here is a strummed acoustic guitar, although there is some electric guitar, bass, and drums on almost every song. The arrangements are economical and effective. Hit the Ceiling has a nice clean, dry sound. It was recorded through a Trident board onto ADAT and a wide variety of microphones were used. As for the obligatory "sounds-like" caparison, the only artist I can come up with is Vic Chesnutt. That's reaching, because Leigh Marble's songs don't sound like anybody else's. And that's a pretty high compliment for any songwriter. Hit the Ceiling is available for $6.00 ppd, from Laughing Stock Records, P.O. Box 40764, Providence, RI 02940.
Kevin Ziegenhagen Slick Traveler and I Have Dreams That I Will Be the World's Tallest Person and I Don't Want to Be
I was certainly surprised to learn that these tapes were recorded on a Tascam 4-track cassette PortaStudio. Both are very well done, and prove that with proper planning, a complete and very good sounding recording can be made on a 4-track. Slick sound like Gordon Lightfoot backed by 10,000 Maniacs. His mature songs feature full-band arrangements that include drums (from a Boss DR-550 and Yamaha keyboard), tasteful synth-strings, cool vintage keyboard sounds, and nice electric and acoustic guitars. I Have Dreams... also includes a beautiful "morning after with coffee" solo acoustic cover of The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee". The tapes are $7.00 each. Write: Kevin Ziegenhagen Slick, 23 South Princeton, Swarthmore, PA 19081. E-mail: Zslick@aol.com.
Reload Reload and Reload: System Two
Brian Applegate is the sole member of Reload and his music is frequently compared to that of Gary Numan and Devo (who covered Reload's "34-C" on their last CD). Both four song cassettes were recorded on a Tascam 424 and mastered using Pro-Tools. The songs feature Ramones-like buzzsaw guitars, bass, drum machine (a TR-505 MIDI'd with a U-20 keyboard), lots of great new wave synth, and robot-like vocals. The vocals were done with a "cruddy mic", through a distortion pedal, with the 4-track's treble cranked and the bass all the way down. The songs are quite catchy and a lot of fun. System Two includes a wild cover of Chris Isaac's "Wicked Game". The tapes are $3.00 each or both for $5.00. Write: Reload, 4005 NE 69th Ave, Portland, OR 97213. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Electricine Me Good I
Electricine's Mike Nourse has a unique way of presenting his music to the world. He'll record a cassette every six months or so, make a limited number of copies, give 'em out, and once they're gone, they're gone. It's on to the next issue. That's kind of a shame, because this is a really good tape. It makes me want to check out previous Electricine releases. "Me Good I" was recorded on an early 80's Tascam 244 cassette 4-track. It mostly features guitars and multi-tracked vocals...