chibi / blog / 25th june 2019

Cassette review: Spring 2019 by Z Tapes

cassette and case

When did you last pop a cassette in your tape player and let the staticky, lightly muffled music roll? Most people will answer this with 'Gosh, not for years now. Do people still do that?' Some people will look baffled and make you feel double your age: 'Cassette? What are you talking about?' Alas, this latter response is very possible in 2019. But there is a group of people, composed of greying grandparents and trendy twentysomethings, with very few in between, for whom cassettes are a current form of entertainment. Even more incredibly for some, there are people who still put music onto tapes and sell them. This post reviews one such effort: the Spring 2019 compilation from Z Tapes. With 28 tracks, this tape is as delicious and diverse in flavour as the Slovakian sweets which come with it in its packaging.

The compilation begins with the kind of music the Z Tapes label has a knack for: guitar strummed by a lone -- and often lonely -- youth, aided only by a personal computer in adding flavour to their lo-fi recording. Such 'bedroom pop' is a mainstay of the album, but it does not grow repetitive. There is great variety, from the soft droning of college friends on mayflower (#6) to the more percussive WAG KA MATAKOT (#3) by TANTREES. Another example, and the well-chosen closer to Side A, is the spare, soothing and excellently composed Painting the Room Red (#16) from Harris. These tracks and their kin make up the calmer songs of the tape; the wistful, softly sad blues of the 2010s.

However, the compilation is not restricted to acoustic songs. Electronic compositions come up occasionally; one of them is perhaps my favourite track on the album, Ricky Eat Acid's out for blood on the frozen sea (#11). The track is a gem: gently trembling synths envelop the ear, as if one is sinking to the bottom of a featureless, blue ocean; but an irresistible beat hauls one to the surface until, suddenly, one is skating over the waves towards the distant horizon. The final genre which is well represented on the compilation is electric pop-rock. Mr. Husband's Friends (#17) is an example, and its sound appears to hail from the era when cassettes were popular. It reminds me somewhat of Boston and Lynyrd Skynyrd, blue-sky summer's day music, and that is no bad thing.

Overall, the tape was well worth its modest price. Given that it is an hour and a half of music, with no name appearing twice in the tracklist, there are guaranteed to be songs one likes and songs one dislikes. Among the ones I enjoyed were the upbeat songs which demanded that I tap my foot along, the subdued electronic melodies with the beautiful images they conjure up and, of course, the mellow, forlorn guitar pieces. If any of that sounds appealing to you, I can only recommend this compilation.

But I also failed to fall in love with some tracks. If I could make one vague musical complaint, let it be this: lo-fi vocals are fine, but sometimes a distortion filter is not quite enough to disguise the imperfections of a singing voice. There is also a minor problem with the tape itself. For some reason, the first couple of tracks sound like a flanger effect has been unintentionally applied to them. I had this problem with another Z Tapes cassette, but it does not plague the older tapes I have. I think it is some defect with the label's production techniques. This is slightly disappointing, but signal quality is probably not high on the priorities of someone who considers purchasing a cassette anyway. It was not a priority of mine; what I wanted, and what I got, were analogue tunes to daydream to.

Buy Spring 2019 at the Z Tapes Bandcamp page.

chibi's top five, with Bandcamp links:

  • Ricky Eat Acid - out for blood on the frozen sea
  • Mr. Husband - Friends
  • Joe Kenkel - Almost my time bounce
  • Big Gainer/worldcup - adult toys
  • Film Days - Real