Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Cassettes. The Cassettes (Lovitt, 2002)

"Thank you, afternoon/ I'll slip between your spaces."

In the '90s, Frodus was one of DC's most fearsome outfits, spazzy, darkhearted post-hardcore kids of the crankiest caliber. Fronted by singer/guitarist/Hungarian Shelby Cinca, those dudes produced perpetually/awesomely alarming sounds before flaming out in the early aughts with the 2001 release of the excellent And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea. Check out the caustic doom of Year of the Hex for a taste of their sinister magic.

After Frodus, Cinca decided to take a turn for the much (much) mellower, and gathered together the Cassettes. Where Frodus were steeped in wild-eyed abandon and panicky dread, the Cassettes basked in faintly stoned, cheerfully shaggy power pop a la Badfinger, Big Star, and Sloan. All chunky power chords and monster riffs, the Cassettes orchestrated soundtracks for lazy afternoon drunks and mesquite-scented summer Saturdays, tunes guaranteed to put a smile on your face, a bob in your head, and a beer in your hand.

2002's eponymous debut is an aggressively pleasant collection of sun-drenched '70s AM radio throwbacks, featuring support from some future indie semi-stars: bassist Steve Kille and drummer Stephen McCarty would eventually wind up in psychedelic Sabbath-worshippers Dead Meadow (McCarty would also log some time in Ian Svenonius's agit-rock project Weird War). Over 11 tracks and 35 minutes, the Cassettes paint a sparkling, chiming picture, as song after song goes for the pleasure center and sets up shop there.

"(Intro)" lets us know what we're in for right off the bat. This instrumental features crunchy lead guitar from Dead Meadow's Jason Simon, with a vaguely country feel and a plodding rhythm track straight from the Crazy Horse playbook. There's a lot of flange and crybaby wah, grinning and picking and beard tugging. The punchy How Can It Be So Bad comes crashing in next, more lead-footed beats and thickly distorted major key melodies. Cinca used to shred vocal chords in Frodus; here he sings in a relaxed, casual tenor when not knocking out stadium sized Grand Funk Railroad-cribbed solos.

Girl With the X-Ray Eyes rides a wave of blurred, hectic strums and pounding keyboards straight into power pop perfection, Cinca's intuitive vocal delivery a nice counterpoint to the thrashy playing. The slanted, vaguely math-rockist riffs of "The Good Times" rub up nicely against glimmering acoustic strums and luminous "ooh-ooh-ooh"s, and The Improbable Solution is larger-than-life chamber pop, built around a once-in-a-blue-moon central riff, careening unsteadily, wonderfully, as the rest of the band does their best Beach Boys impression and Cinca proceeds to peel serious paint with some epic shredding.

In the years since this debut, the Cassettes have undergone a pretty significant stylistic metamorphosis, and bear little resemblance to the band captured on this LP. Shelby Cinca has found new sidemen, and transformed the Cassettes into a "steam-punk" band, whatever that means (I think it's like punk with more rivets, goggles, and top hats, but don't quote me). I haven't heard of lot of their stuff lately. But their initial release is a goldmine, perfect for blissing out on a clear day, lightly buzzed and without a worry. As winter begins its exit into spring, crank The Cassettes and get a glimpse of the warm days ahead.