List: Favorite Cassette Releases of 2021

I haven’t had access to my turntable for a significant portion of the year, and thus have been attempting to assuage the heartbreak by stocking up on a somehow even more obsolete class of physical music media. Did it actually help? No. Do I regret spending money I could’ve used for transit, groceries, and weed on flimsy-hinged plastic bricks that constantly litter all surfaces of my disastrously cluttered bedroom? Hell no.

Note: This list should be considered in conjunction with the two summary posts yet to come.

Zbysko Cracker / MO – Mowin’ (Grandmother’s House, Oct 29)

Certainly one of, if not the most “non-musical” musical releases I’ve come across this year. You get exactly what it says on the tin, and whether you listen to these two 15-minute sides of leisurely lawn care as audiotherapy, productivity ambience, lullabies, or just the charming bits of careless pseudo-composition that they are, Mowin’, despite its resolute commitment to artistic minimalism, is a tape with which it’s impossible not to fall in love.

Mažas Kiekis – Much Like Yourself (Chocolate Monk, September)

According to Nyoukis’s introduction, the story behind Gnaw Bone, IN artist Mažas Kiekis’s first-ever tape makes it a perfect fit for Choccy Monk: unsolicited submission, degrees of removal, deep-set idiosyncrasies. Much Like Yourself is an easily digestible but not so easily forgotten slab of messy, delirious sound poetry fed through the murky mastications of magnetic tape cut-ups. Kiekis—and I do not suggest this lightly—may be the next-generation stateside heir to Germany’s Michael Barthel.

Guido Gamboa – Music for Tape and Spectral/Granular Processes (Second Sleep, October)

I’ll buy anything Guido Gamboa puts out without hesitation, but I’ll admit, even I was a bit skeptical about a release so pointedly exploratory and scientific from a technical standpoint from this artist whom I’ve always appreciated because of his seamless assimilations. I shouldn’t have worried, unsurprisingly; the four self-contained pieces collected by Music for Tape are some of the Chicago paragon’s best, and the detailed liner notes offer a look into the specific methodologies utilized for each.

presque fantôme (dents de scie, Sep 6)

A new project from the reclusive Geneva artist also behind the crève-chiens alias and elusively fruitful dents de scie imprint, presque fantôme is clattering outsider tape-noise of the highest order, and this self-titled debut has been one of my most consistent plays since I picked it up back in September. Think early Darksmith, 010001111000, Matt Krefting, Termite Acropolis . . . yeah. This is the good shit.

Bent Duo – Ramble (self-released, Jun 28)

David Friend and Bill Solomon’s Bent Duo collaboration would be fascinating enough without a recorded musical element—their presentations blur the lines between performance and installation, and audience participation is used as a flexible vehicle for exploring spaces that would otherwise remain stubbornly closed—but Ramble, a “re-imagining” of the multimedia project of the same name, is the perfect avenue to sufficiently engage with their work from any distance, because I’m not sure music has ever been this intimate or clandestine.

Van Gelder Skelter – The Aerosol Transit Lounge Showdown (Born Physical Form, April)

The steady flux of new and increasingly more entertaining aliases/projects into the Born Physical Form catalog slowed slightly this year, but the quality underwent no such diminishment. I still haven’t heard Microphone Crumb’s Primate Sequences, the most recent tape by the mysterious Philadelphia tape twiddler, but it’s hard to imagine it being better than The Aerosol Transit Lounge Showdown, a quick pair of squirrely, slipshod sketches that seem to get more bewildering each time.

Tupperware – American Underbelly (Deluxe Bias, Jan 24)

Barely more than three minutes of brash, equal parts angry and arty hardcore recorded in gloriously primitive mono is apparently all it takes to win my heart. There are perhaps no other tapes that I have played more than American Underbelly this year. The Olympia, WA band have also recently erected the other side of their set of year-framing bookends with their nearly just as diminutive self-titled EP, which was released on cassette and 7″ on the 21st.

Hair Clinic – At Work and at Home (Music for People, Jun 24)

With this fairly new alias, Oakland oddball Max Nordile has cemented himself as one of the greats in a scene where “greatness” often holds no esteem, nor even meaning. “Jim’s Place”, released last year by Regional Bears, saw Nordile turn his indiscriminate lens to the unruly outdoors, but At Work and at Home represents almost the exact opposite: a rough, noisy survey of the dross and detritus of domestic spaces. Short but sweet.

Mister Baby – Sidewalk Pop (Paisley Shirt, Feb 5)

A cozy little gem of a tape that can almost certainly provide some much-needed escapism for anyone who pops it in. The fuzzed-out twee bliss of unforgettable cuts like “Moonlight Racing,” “Cake Shop,” and particularly the extended cover of Aqua’s “Dr. Jones” evokes the featherweight carelessness and warmed bones of a dreamy summer day, and has me with my ear to the silk-grassed ground in rapt vigilance for whatever Mashikian comes up with next.

Heejin Jang / Network Glass / Philippe Vandal (Ultraviolet Light, Apr 8)

Three contemporary computer music heavyweights (primarily of the irreverent variety) gather for this spectacular split tape produced by Baltimore’s formidable Ultraviolet Light. The highlight here for me personally is Network Glass’s track on the A side, which nearly broaches the singular territory previously established, explored, and violated via modern classic Twitch, but both Jang and Vandal contribute excellent material as well, the former’s serving as fitting bookends for the whole tape.

Hit with the Joke Hammer (Crooked Branch Collections, Jun 4)

If the rattling spindles and warble-wrack of presque fantôme weren’t enough nourishment for your bag of bones, Hit with the Joke Hammer is here to help. The second in a promising series of short tapes from Nashville’s newly minted Crooked Branch Collections, it presents noise in its most stripped-down manifestation (or one of them, at least), a tightly contained but still dizzying stumble through whirs and rustles and scratches and gurgles.

Alex Cunningham – Rivaled (Void Castle, Feb 23)

For the hopefully large amount of you who have heard Rivaled already, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that there are few tracks, or even full-length works, from this year that can match (rival, if you will) the searingly seraphic blast of “Faith.” However, the much more subdued, less immediate “Void” on the B side has steadily become just as transcendent, and each of the halves very much feels like a different, unique  attempt at the same thing—but both handily succeed.

This Friendship Is Sailing – Live on Curious Ear Radio (Beartown, November)

When I ordered a pair of tapes from Beartown’s newest batch it was Natalia Beylis’s Variations on a Sewing Machine that I expected to connect with most, but I ended up playing this collection of live-in-studio magic from the quartet of Sam Andreae, David Birchall, Greta Buitkute, and Maggie Nicols even more often. A softer, quieter companion of sorts to Andreae and Birchall’s previous work with Yan Jun on Click Here (and There) for More Information earlier this year.

Connive – Verleugnung (Play & Ceremony, Nov 5)

After last year’s self-titled debut cassette on Reserve Matinee, this plastic-bagged C90 is an impressive next step for Michael Stumpf’s Connive project, a sprawling odyssey filled with screeching, swelling, looping harsh that has that indescribable effect of simultaneously slowing down and speeding up time. Though stylistic lineage in noise music is usually pointless to trace, Stumpf seems to have a spider-leg drawing influence from each and every one of the genre’s notable hotspots, and thus pretty much everyone will find something they like in the maelstrom of Verleugnung.

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