The Best Cassettes of 2015

By Nathan G. O'Brien for Tuff Gnarl

This is last of my 2015 year-end coverage. Narrowed down from this master list, it was originally posted on Tuff Gnarl and comes with one of those intro things everyone loves. You can read it here and I hope that you do because they are good people who deserve the traffic.

G.L.O.S.S. – Demo (Not Normal Tapes)
You will not have heard a more urgent and powerful recording this year, no matter what genre or format, than the debut cassette by Olympia’s hardcore punk outfit G.L.O.S.S. It stands for Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit. Lest you be confused, here’s a quote from their “New Blood” feature in Maximum Rocknroll Magazine

“I think we were all tired of the totally substance-free white boy ‘slimy creep’ thing — all these dudes whose identities are reflected everywhere but who see themselves as outcasts. We’re tired of punk catering to white men, and excluding all others. We want to make jocks feel uncomfortable and targeted. We’re not trying to be weird, we are just actual outcasts of society — queers, trans women, women of color, gender queer femmes, feminists, etc., and we love hardcore and are sick of being sidelined and misrepresented, so we are representing ourselves.”

Grand Invincible – Menace Mode (Megakut)
Finally, the return of Grand Invincible! Three years since we last heard from them as a duo, emcee Luke Sick and deejay/producer DJ Eons One celebrate their homecoming by dropping best rap tape of the year. Menace Mode might just be the best work from both of these dudes to date. Sick’s lyricism and delivery is fully realized. He comes straight gully; spitting mean-mugged, blunted rhymes; ripe with clever wordplay and cultural references that will have you hitting the rewind button like, hold up, what’d he say? And Eons arrival as a master craftsman is undeniable. His vinyl-culled beats are so vintage in sound you can practically hear him blowing the dust of the records. Grimy, horn-filled loops and hard drums, accented by ill audio ephemera samples and inspired scratching results in a boom-bap odyssey-like soundscape.

Kaleidoscope – Volume One (Self-Released)
In many ways this is the most punk rock thing to happen in the past 12 months, yet labeling it punk as a standalone term would be misleading. Not sure but I think there’s two people responsible for the wacked-out sounds. A third person is listed as “spiritual guidance” on the photocopied piece of paper that’s folded to fit the dimensions of a J-card. If I had to guess, that’s just a nice way of saying “drug dealer.” Chock full of chemically enhanced freak-out material. Improvisational jazz, dusty tape samples, dirty synths, crunchy guitars, etc., make for a tripped-out trudge through the sludge that lives up there in that dense noggin of yours.

Silent Lunch – Silent Lunch (Self-Released)
As is often the case with the good ones these days, this band has already called it quits. Let this tape serve as a reminder of what could have been. There are two recent tracks and three older ones. The older stuff invokes a weird B-52’s meets Sonic Youth vibe, while the newer stuff is an enthralling coagulation of post-punk, ‘90s alt, and garage rock; atmospheric, brooding numbers that have a lingering effect. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more haunting song this year than “One Time.”

Lightbulb & DJ Eons One – Lightbulb vs. The Crate Goblins (Megakut)
Hip-hop duo out of the Bay Area. This tape is a remix version the four songs on their 7” plus one interlude. Lightbulb has a unique voice and a smooth, skillful delivery. Eons’ loops are fresh. He’s got hard drums for days. Dope cuts too. Independent rap fans might find similarities in this to the Away Team. The artwork is easily recognizable to anyone that’s flipped through one of Eons’ Tinted Windows zines. Comes in the type of cardboard sleeve that old heads will remember from the rap cassingle days. Short but great. Gurp City represent.

Total Dicks – Demo (High Fashion Industries)
Hamilton, Ontario-based duo. Punk music for the disenfranchised folks slaving away day after day in the unforgiving and unfulfilling world of retail. Fuck customers, fuck work, fuck life.

Dregs – Demo (Muscle Horse)
Out of London and featuring Bryony of Good Throb on vocals. Her voice is snotty, tortured, menacing, and really the driving force behind Dregs’ unique sound. Instrumentation-wise, Dregs are on the same droning, pulsating tip that bands like Dawn of Humans are, yet with song structures that are a bit more traditional. The guitars really stand out here too; so noisy and grinding that they provide a feeling of uncomfortableness to the overall vibe. Place that alongside lyrics that center on domestic abuse, gentrification and the like. You can’t listen to this without being moved is some way.

NiĆ©galo Todo – Absurdo Escepticismo Superficial (Self-Released)
Raw punk noise attack from Mexico. On the primitive end of the spectrum (see recent releases from La Vida Es Un Mus for comparisons) but that is not to say it’s without structure. The drummer drives the sound in different directions – hardcore, powerviolence, crust, etc. Guitars are crunchier than a bowl of Captain. Lyrics are in Spanish natch. Vocal style very much in the same vein as Barcelona’s Glam. Pro-printed J-card with radical artwork.

Mommy – Demo (Electric Assault)
Noisy art punk from NYC. Industrial tendencies occur organically as opposed to those created with drum machines and synths. Cool black metal-ish guitar parts too. Ugly, abrasive, rhythmic, dark, putrid…need I say more? For every 10 cookie cutter ’80s worship bands there’s one like this; with a willingness to push hardcore in unique, exciting directions.

Mozart – The Tick (Maximum Rocknroll)
Hardcore that applies a minimalist approach to texturing. Tension mounts layer by layer—first the guitar, then the drums, then the vocals—then the peeling begins; each layer singed away one by one. Repeat, repeat, repeat…construction/destruction. Spastic directional changes. And, oh man, her vocals; like an instrument being played rather than just a voice singing lyrics. The final track, “Die Slow” is drawn out, plodding, and heighted by tortured pleading that sticks with you long after the spool runs out.

UV-TV – Demo (High Fashion Industries)
Prominent bass, angular guitar, catchy melodies, and dual female/male vocals. From Gainesville. Sounds like post-punk with sunburn.

ISS – ISS (Loki Records)
North Carolinian duo consisting of a guy from Whatever Brains and a guy from Brain F≠, but don’t get it twisted, this doesn’t resemble either of those bands. It isn’t easy to describe. Most of the drums sound like they’ve been sampled, whereas the guitar seems authentic. The vocals are very much in the digi-punk vein, ala Shawn Foree. Your immediate reaction might be to get annoyed, but turn it up really loud and hang with it and you’ll discover a sneakily rhythmic, melodic gem that will appeal to the adventurous part of your personality.

Murksauce – The Unleaded Team: The Prelims (Megakut)
Bay Area rap duo consisting of Brycon on the beats and cuts and Eddie K on the rhymes. Production varies from 8-bit Nintendo jammers to bass-heavy boom-bap that will have you snapping your neck while a scowl creeps across your ugly mug. None of that played out trap shit you hear crackling from some dude’s janky-ass cell phone on the train. Eddie K is on that rugged, gravely-voiced turf war tip; less crooning than MC Tree but more urgent and forceful than Ka or Roc Marciano. J-card artwork is lacking but the sound quality is on the higher end for a cassette.

True Vision – Demo (Mind Rot)
NWOBHC out of Leeds. From the artwork to the tunes contained herein, it’s derivative in every way. But hey, that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Get X’d up and get down.

Love Canal – Enter the Love Canal (Black Dots)
Noisy and blown-out art damage noise resonance ala the hot trend of few years ago. Bass is murky and the drums rely heavily on the snares. Not afraid to throw in some longer guitar explorations either. Actually gets kind of groovy at times. Vocals are all echo-y. If you want to stay up late drinking IPA and staring at the ceiling with your headphones on in front of the stereo, well, this tape is a no-brainer.

Utah Jazz – Ivory Wave (Black Dots)
Long awaited return of everyone’s favorite bizarro punk classic rock band named after a comically ironic-named basketball team. Guitar-heavy in the same vein as Milk Music, yet bombastically punk in the vein of, well, you know, other punk bands. In a word: verygoddamnawesome.

Video Duct – Anti Human Hate (High Fashion Industries)
This is why cassettes exist and subsequently rule in the year 2015. So a grown-ass man like me can listen to suburban high school kids from the other side of the country making the most fetid, depraved, fuming noise punk imaginable and realize that, hey you know what, the world isn’t so bad at after all. My dentist told me I have to stop listening to this or I won’t have any teeth left. But who needs teeth.

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