As this viral video recently demonstrated, cassette tapes can be strange and mysterious things when you've only been consuming music for the past few years. I suspect I'm a fair bit older than the two boys struggling with their mum's Walkman in that YouTube clip, but while I am reasonably familiar with the format - my parents used to have a stack of Play School tapes that kept lil' Joel entertained on many a long car journey - I still see the cassette as something of an enigma.
You see, when you listen to a CD (my format of choice), you're usually given a clear indication of which track you're hearing, and it's easy to skip to your favourite song and generally find your way around the album. Cassettes, on the other hand, are far harder to navigate; you have to keep track of what's playing pretty vigilantly, otherwise you'll hear a song you love and you'll have no way to accurately establish which of the titles listed on the case it corresponds to. Oh, and heaven help you if the damn thing hasn't been rewound.
Weirdly, cassette tapes have enjoyed something of a renaissance of late, presumably because the hip young things whose inexplicable purchasing choices led to the recent vinyl revival decided that, what with Tesco now selling vinyl LPs alongside their microwaveable Italian dishes, it was time for an even more inconvenient and obsolete format to become the fashionable choice. Hence such nonsense as Cassette Store Day.
Still, while I personally will not be trading my CDs for cassettes any time soon, I still appreciate it when artists do something unusual with their chosen format, even if that format's heyday ended while Margaret Thatcher was still in office. This brings me to Kassette, a release from last year that features music from both Schizo Fun Addict (from New Jersey) and The Bordellos (from Merseyside).
Fun Fact: The artwork was provided by John Squire from The Stone Roses.
Kassette is a particularly interesting document of the cassette revival; unlike, I imagine, most other albums that were released on tape last year, this one actually kind of justifies its fiddly format. It's essentially two albums in one; Side A contains the latest Schizo Fun Addict record in its entirety, while Side B is home to a self-titled album by The Bordellos.
While this approach does make Kassette something of a marathon listen (the release comprises 22 tracks in total), it is genuinely a great testament to the benefits - it turns out there are benefits! - of the cassette tape as a format. I mean, you wouldn't be able to fit 61 minutes' worth of music on a single vinyl record; they could have done a double CD set, I suppose, but a single cassette evenly split in half feels more like a unified whole than two CDs by two different artists.
That being said, 'unified whole' is hardly the first phrase I would use to describe Kassette. I guessed that the Schizo Fun Addict half would sound completely unlike the Bordello half, but this release's sonic and stylistic variety is such that pretty much every track sounds completely different to the one before it. Schizo Fun Addict sometimes sound like the Pixies (Make a Stand), but at other times they sound like Delakota (The Pale Horse). And then there's Dream of the Portugal Keeper - Part 2, which - for whatever reason - was the first track I listened to, and which gave me the (incorrect) impression that Schizo Fun Addict sound like an especially mellow Super Furry Animals tribute:
Fun Fact: Both Schizo Fun Addict and the Super Furry Animals have the same initials: SFA. Coincidence?
Side B is no more focused than Side A. The Bordellos seemingly aren't sure whether they specialise in crackly, we're-making-this-up-as-we-go-along acoustica (Hallucinations, Soft Get Smile), strung-out, slow-burning beauty (Melody Inn, Who's to Blame), or ill-advised experiments with electronic drums (Hit It), but listening to them trying to make up their minds on this matter is a real rollercoaster. My favourite tracks from Kassette's second half are I May Be Reborn (a gorgeous, lo-fi indie gem) and The Girl Belongs to Yesteday (which reminds me of the more wistful material on Astronomy for Dogs by The Aliens).
So that's Kassette: a big, colourful rattlebag that's been split down the middle and committed to tape. I suppose that if you're going to abandoned the organised user-friendliness of the compact disc for the murky chaos of the cassette tape, this is the way to do it: make a big, messy splatter of a double album and embrace the fact that your audience probably won't know what they're listening to at any given time anyway. I imagine that it's lots of fun rewinding and fast-forwarding Kassette and feeling like you've alighted upon a different band's work each time you stop.
I say 'I imagine' because I don't actually own the cassette version of Kassette; unfortunately, the tapes have all been sold, so it's downloads or nothin' at this point. Still, it's well worth a download, not least because every penny of the £3 fee goes to Save the Children. If you fancy embarking upon a very weird sonic journey and donating a few quid to charity while you're about it, you can download Kassette here.