Hi Bias: The Best Cassette Releases of 2018

2018-best-of-hi-biasWelcome to the roundup of our favorite tapes available on Bandcamp that were released in 2018. Cassettes continued to be a source of all kinds of amazing music this year, from the most obscure underground abstractions to the finest-honed songwriting. Our list tends toward the more experimental sounds on that wide spectrum, including noisy improvisations, groundbreaking electronics, surreal concept art, outward-bound guitar explorations, giddy beat-making, and delicately-crafted ambience.

This will be the final edition of Hi Bias on Bandcamp—thanks for reading along and for supporting great music released on cassette tape!

Bonnie Baxter

Ask Me How Satan Started

Bonnie Baxter

For her first solo effort outside the confines of her great trio Kill Alters, Bonnie Baxter sketched out a plan for her Korg electronics and voice samples, then recorded almost the entire tape live in one take. The immediacy of that approach comes through in Ask Me How Satan Started, a driving album that hits hard with sharp beats and spills over with chaotic sounds and textures. Baxter’s work has always exuded a kind of giddy, joyful psychosis, and this may be her most enjoyable effort yet—perhaps the only imaginable music in which a line like “Fuck with me and I’ll punch you in the dick!” could sound so hilarious and affirming.

Carrom

Prehistories

Guitarist Chandan Narayan made the debut tape for his project Carrom by writing some songs—or as he called them, “rather disjointed riffs that somehow get assembled together”—and then asking some friends to join him in the studio and jam on them. The result, Prehistories, evokes lots of musical traditions in its exuberant, energetic instrumental rock. Narayan’s goal was to forge a sonic hybrid that mirrored the way languages cross pollinate, and he succeeded, creating enough musical twists and turns to make Prehistories a super-entertaining roller coaster ride.

Noah Creshevsky

Reanimator

This collection of pioneering tape composer Noah Creshevsky’s work spans from the mid-1980s all the way to a piece he created just last year. That temporal range demonstrates how strong and consistent Creshevsky’s vision is, but also how wide and unpredictable his work can be. Sampling and recontextualizing sounds in a style he calls “hyperrealism,” Creshevsky continually updates a language he created, encompassing cut-up classical music, reimagined hip-hop beats, and magician-like vocal tricks. The resulting tape is a marvel, but Reanimator isn’t about dazzling effects so much as discovering new ways to make previously-unheard music.

Marcia Custer

Stacey’s Spacey

There are characters and plots inside of Marcia Custer’s dizzying music, but it’s not easy to figure out who they are or what they are doing. The titular persona of her debut tape, Stacey’s Spacey, was once a doll she performed with on stage, later morphing into her own blonde-wigged alter ego. But it’s just as fascinating and fun to zone out to Custer’s wild sounds as it is to try to follow the fractured, surreal narrative that ties them together. Roaming between childlike melodies, weird electronics, and abstract experiments, Custer makes music that’s moving, unsettling, mesmerizing, and, perhaps most importantly, hilarious. By the time you’ve absorbed everything on this tape, you might find that you’re the one who’s actually spacey.

Fia Fiell

All In the Same Room

The ideal goal of instrumental ambient music is, perhaps, to create environments and evoke emotions that are wider and deeper than finite words can capture. If that’s the case, Australia’s Carolyn Schofield has come awfully close to perfection under her Fia Fiell moniker. Her warm, patient sounds slowly trace shapes and sketch out settings, creating multi-dimensional atmospheres that both fit themselves to the listener’s mood and prod it toward profound spaces. Often, the tools she uses are pretty simple—a few notes and accents, arranged carefully and gradually so they feel subliminal—but the effect of All In the Same Room couldn’t be much more complex. This is music that fuses the familiar into the otherworldly, forging its own planet with its own gravitational pull.

Gemini Sisters

Gemini Sisters

Guitarists John Kolodij (aka High Aura’d) and Matt Christensen (Zelienople/Mind Over Mirrors) came up with the idea for their duo Gemini Sisters after their daughters were born on the same day (as Geminis, of course). It’s an apt origin story, as their first tape has the feeling of something coming into being. The pair’s dense, echoing guitar atmospheres seem to emerge and evolve continually, developing like storm clouds and moving forward like the earth’s rotation. There’s some space and air in their songs, but mostly their music creates enveloping environments, cresting in a track called “All Shanks” which explodes with soaring guitars, sky-seeking vocals, and crashing drums.

Ramble Tamble

Outlaw Overtones

Musician and visual artist Turner Williams makes music that lives up to his chosen moniker, Ramble Tamble. This is rambling with purpose, though: Williams’s dizzying ability to veer from noise-rock jams to meditative drones to gentle acoustic guitar essays is true experimentation, as in “Let’s play something and see what happens.” It’s especially fun to douse your head in his wilder essays, but even when he’s being subtle and nuanced, Outlaw Overtones is uproariously unpredictable—a sprawling musical reply to Salvador Dali’s famous quote that so little of what could happen actually does.

Mette Rasmussen​/​Tashi Dorji

Mette Rasmussen​/​Tashi Dorji

The pairing of American-based/Bhutan-born guitarist Tashi Dorji and Danish saxophonist Mette Rasmussen is a relatively recent development. But the duo’s music is a throwback to the days of all-out, unfettered improvisation, the kind where finding the wildest sounds and reaching the most hyper energy levels were both part of the point. Rasmussen’s array of honks, shrieks, and moans are particularly far-flung, but Dorji manages to match her jolt for jolt, grinding out sharp bites and a long howls. The pair is capable of subtlety too—one track, “Tall Grass,” is practically a ballad in this context—but it’s the exhilarating vitality of much of Mette Rasmussen/Tashi Dorji that will get your brain sweating as hard as these two must have been when they made it.

Cinchel

A Sad Study in Temporal Dissonance

Cinchel

Back in January, Chicago-based musician Cinchel told Tabs Out that his latest tape “is meant to mimic the arc of life: birth to death. Each song explores how events in a life are in a constant balance between happy/sad, optimism/pessimism.” Grand sentiments, but it’s possible he actually undersold A Sad Study in Temporal Dissonance, which over the course of an hour seems to travel through every mood imaginable and even invent some new ones. Harnessing sounds that instantly evoke emotions, Cinchel crafts musical statues that both mark the passage of time and point to a way out. This isn’t morose music—some of it is actually energizing and uplifting—but every moment on Sad Study bears life’s gravity.

Luke Stewart

Works For Upright Bass and Amplifier

Luke Stewart

Collaboration is a pretty constant state for bassist Luke Stewart, but it usually happens with humans. For Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier, though, he essentially collaborated with his equipment, channeling his bass through an amp and manipulating the resulting feedback as if he were a sound artist running tones through a mixer. The music this process produces covers a wide range: at times Works sounds like a noise experiment, but just as often Stewart’s improvised bows and plucks veer toward the avant-garde jazz he’s a master of—though they’re filtered through a wealth of sonic envelopes. As a result, Works feels both concrete and impressionistic. You can often hear exactly what Stewart is doing, but the subtle effects on your ears feel harder to pin down, and may take multiple listens to truly reckon with.

Marc Masters

One Comment

  1. Posted December 25, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    This is a phenomenal column. Will be checking back a lot. Thanks for the great work!

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