Thursday, February 9, 2017

Meet The Cheap Cassettes (again)!

Many of us remain in a state of disbelief following the unforeseen event that dominated our conversations in the closing months of 2016. Can this really be happening? How did one of my favorite bands, The Cheap Cassettes, end up on Rum Bar Records, my favorite record label? Were aliens or Russians involved? I'd like to think I may have had a tiny hand in this development. But let us speak no more about the size of my hands.

Out now on Rum Bar Records is a shiny CD reissue of All Anxious, All The Time - the brilliant debut album from The Cheap Cassettes. It is a rare occurrence for me to review the same album twice. When it has happened in the past, it has usually involved me either retracting bad reviews (first High Tension Wires album) or editing down 3,000-word diatribes that no one actually read the whole way through (Exploding Hearts' Guitar Romantic). Yet here I am, for the second time, reviewing a Rum Bar Records reissue that I extensively touted upon its original release. I can neither confirm nor deny that Malibu Lou has bought this coverage by promising me first dibs on the beer cooler at Rum Bar Pancake Social 2018. But in all seriousness, All Anxious... has become one of the three or four albums of this decade that I've listened to the most. In my top ten albums of 2014 list, it inexplicably only came in at #7. Needless to say, it would probably rise to #1 if I re-wrote the list today. It holds up so well as an example of great pop married to gutsy rock n' roll. Drawing not just from the obvious genre standard-bearers but also from first wave punks (Jam, Buzzcocks) and unsung titans of the underground (Replacements, Material Issue), The Cheap Cassettes set forth a broad vision for what powerful pop ought to be. And while the quick sales pitch is that this is former Dimestore Haloes doing power pop, let us remember that the Haloes were already headed in this direction when they called it a day.

From the opening notes of the Motown-flavored shaker of a title track, All Anxious... reaffirms my longtime fondness for the formidable talents of Chaz Matthews and Kevin Parkhurst. The album was recorded over a number of years with the two bandmates collaborating long-distance. While that explains some of the unevenness in fidelity (I'm pretty sure the vocals for "My Little Twin" were recorded on the toilet with a hair brush for a microphone), it's also what gives the record much of its charm. There's a rawness here that is too often missing in today's power pop, and at the same time the songwriting is the best I've ever heard from these two. "Wreckless", which could be considered the band's own "Bastards of Young", would not have sounded out of place on the Haloes' swan song Ghosts of Saturday Night. The same thing could be said of "Good and Shitty"- a glorious shot of pop trash recalling Johnny Thunders or early 'Mats. It's really hard to pick a "hit" here since the songs are pretty much choice cuts all the way through. But there are a few I keep going back to. The aforementioned "My Little Twin" is easily one of the best songs Chaz has ever put his name on, and "Big Dumb Town" is absolutely the epitome of awesomely loud pop (good lord, that guitar solo!!!). I rarely dare to make a comparison like this, but I could totally imagine the late Jim Ellison singing "Girlfriend". And how fun is "Black Vinyl!"?!

The most surprising thing about The Cheap Cassettes' move to Rum Bar is that I don't think Chaz has ever been on a label where he didn't have the coolest hair on the roster (the whole earth bows to Kurt Baker's wavy locks). But truly I cannot imagine a more ideal fit - given the band's Boston roots and a musical style that slots perfectly between The Connection's hook-laden garage/rock n' roll and the earnest blue collar punk of Nato Coles. With the original issue of All Anxious... falling a little under the radar, now is the time for the world at large to fall in love with The Cheap Cassettes. Malibu Lou (probably wearing sunglasses and holding a stiff drink in his hand at the time) even worked his music mogul magic and persuaded the band to fortify this reissue with a previously unreleased track - a magnificent rootsy jangler called "Disappear With You". You can also look forward to a secret bonus track. Is it a Krokus cover? An instrumental played entirely on kazoo? Perhaps a musical ode to Glenn Danzig demanding French onion soup on a concert rider? You will have to find out for yourself!


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