You know that cassettes are back, right? Local and indie record labels kind of like them.
They’re certainly a lot cheaper than vinyl albums, which also suffer from an industry bottleneck, made all the worse by a fire this month at California’s Apollo Masters manufacturing plant, one of only two places in the world where the master lacquers needed to produce vinyl records are made.
Maybe more importantly, for some folks they’re a cool little keepsake.
“I’m sure there are people buying tapes who don’t have a tape player,” said Galen Richmond, who recently launched Repeating Cloud, a label that’s home to a growing handful of local bands. “They’re inexpensive. And if I saw a touring band that I liked even medium well, and they had a tape for five or six bucks, I would buy that to support the band. A lot of tape sales probably work that way. It’s an easy way to tip the musicians appropriately.”
They’re also part and parcel with the aesthetic Richmond is cultivating with Repeating Cloud and its artists.
While the CD seemed to usher in an era where music has become ever more sanitized and digitally scrubbed, the cassette hearkens back to a more free-form, grimy kind of music listening, where maybe you were recording your favorite song from the Top 40 off the radio or dubbing tapes over and over again until the tape hiss became unbearable.
“There’s no one making a container for all of the bands that are playing right now (in Portland) and important to me,” Richmond said. “And I don’t think there ever has been for scrappy guitar-based bands.”
Not that there’s a very long roster of Portland-based labels, but it’s hard to argue.
Whether it’s Northeast Indie, Invisible Music, Cat and Mouse, Time-Lag, Pretty Purgatory, Milled Pavement, Mckeenstreet, or Don’t Sleep, local labels have featured everything from indie pop to jazz to hip-hop to acoustic strumming, but nothing that really resembles the raucous rock Richmond is collecting on Repeating Cloud.
“I listen for some sort of honesty and intelligence in the lyrics,” he said, “and that’s not everybody’s thing, and I love bands that don’t have that, but that’s something I look for immediately. And then it’s a much less quantifiable idea of some sort of honest feeling, an investment and energy in the playing itself.”
It’s pretty well encapsulated by a song like “ASMRGUMENTS,” a wittily named track off FonFon Ru’s “Death and Texas,” which Repeating Cloud is re-releasing on cassette and vinyl this year. It opens with a hand-clap from across the room and a dead-simple bass line, and it’s hard not to wonder if you’re about to listen to something recorded in a grange hall via a microphone hanging from the ceiling.
But then the full band clicks in, full of spiraling guitar screams and soaring vocals like the Killers, and it’s clear how much care and attention has been paid to getting just the right balance between melody and chaos, structure and that delicious feeling that it all might totally fall apart.
“There’s a bar I have,” Richmond said, “where you have to have this much gloss or less. Over that bar and I’m not super into it.”
As with many indie labels, Richmond’s not shy in saying the genesis of Repeating Cloud was a desire to get his own current band – Lemon Pitch – onto a label (he’s also been in the Enchantments, Computer at Sea, A Giant Robot …). After researching many of the labels he thought might be right, he realized that it’s really not a thing for an indie label to start working with a band just because of an email or a phone call. Generally, it’s an organic process where label founders look to work with and promote those who fit their personal tastes, or who fit into a little scene of sorts.
For a certain type of listener, Richmond said, labels serve the purpose of creating a “batch of bands, in small cities like Portland, where there’s going to be relationships. My biggest focus is to make an archive of that and then maybe some time down the line some really deep-water music nerd can dive into that and say, ‘Oh, the original drummer from FonFon Ru was in Lemon Pitch,’ and so on and so forth. I really like that type of obsessive classification and matching.
“I was always jealous of baseball card kids,” he said. “I didn’t like baseball, but I liked all the tracking and categorizing they got to do.”
And so he’s collected bands like veteran garage rockers Mouth Washington, the pop-punk trio Crunchcoat, the Chris Emery solo-project Sojourn Suspect, and the down-tempo Heaven’s Cameras, a solo project from bandmate Alex Merrill. If he can release projects and sell 300 albums – or tapes – per project, he’ll consider that a success and time well spent.
Nah, scratch that. He’ll consider it time well spent regardless.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 shows
Feb. 21: Bloodborn, Pathogenic, and Monochromatic Black at Mathew’s Pub. For short money, this looks to be a hell of a hardcore show. Monochromatic Black are the headliners, in from Long Island (New York, not Casco Bay), and supporting last year’s debut EP, “Pneuma.” Frontgal Tanya Beickert brings serious intensity to the screamo.
Feb. 22: Durand Jones and the Indications and KAINA at Port City Music Hall. The whole neo-soul revival is some of the best stuff going in popular music right now, and Durand Jones is the real deal. For fans of Leon Bridges, the Suffers, and Sharon Jones.
Feb. 22: Cilla Bonnie and Anna Lombard at One Longfellow Square. Two of Portland’s strongest vocalists team up for a night of jazzy pop and soul. Bonnie will use the occasion to release her second EP, “August,” a follow-up to last year’s “Somehow.” Bass players can sing, too, y’all.
Feb. 23: Drive-By Truckers at the State Theatre. Given “What It Means” is one of the most powerful political songs to come out of the Trump era, you should be psyched for the new album, “The Unraveling,” featuring the likes of “Babies in Cages.”
Feb. 28: Jaw Gems at Portland House of Music. These guys just plain jam. In their first local show since November they’ll be eager to refresh your memory of just how good 2019’s “Dim Kingdom” is. Bring your edibles.
— Sam Pfeifle