Article submitted courtesy of Kriss Stress.

It seems like this past month, I’ve seen more “Best of” lists than in the last several years. There’s a glut, I tell you! I’ve enjoyed a lot of jams this year, and I’ve turned down multiple hubs who have asked for my prime picks; so consider yr self lucky, dear Midwest Action reader!

Below are 8 (not 10, because I’m contrary!) cassettes that came out this year that I’ve enjoyed quite a lot! And yes, I’ve included two releases from my own label. Get over it. If I didn’t genuinely love them, I wouldn’t have released them, would I?

Videobug – S/T (Electrical Signals) – Videobug are duo Linda Malonis (Speck Mountain) and Patrick Driscoll (Get Up with The Get Downs) creating spaced out electronic music for an age where Sun Ra is the high God of the nether dimensions and The Tom Tom Club somehow wormed their way into his court’s backing band. Bizarre synth crunches fuss and argue atop clattering drums that sound like they’re raining rim shots with all of the furry of a Nambu Type 100. Look for their second EP out on cassette from Notes and Bolts in the next couple of months!

The Lemons – Hello, We’re The Lemons! (Tripp Tapes) – The Lemons are the real life equivalent of every fictional Hanna Barbara spawned band that you grew up watching while hollowing out yr brain with bowl after bottomless bowl of Fruity Pebbles and Captain Crunch on a hazy, Sun filled Friday morning while ditching school after having convinced yr mother you had a 102 degree fever with the aid of a carefully applied hot rag. Penning ditties that they more affectionately describe as jingles, no Lemons track comes in over the two minute mark, and seldom does one NOT challenge the parameters of 60 seconds. Basically, we’re talking The Count Five and The Elite having an ice cream fight in the malt shop with Josie and The Pussy Cats, and The Archies; and you’re the one on shift, so you might do best to make haste and go grab a mop!

Ant’lrd – Extra Domicile (Watery Starve/BARO) – Colin Blantonn’s one man ambient crusade, fully embodied within his Ant’lrd guise, is one of shapes and notes that evoke December wind chills and melodies that leave the listener reaching for the leopard print Snuggie that they won’t let anyone else know that they own. Originally released via boutique label, Watery Starve; ‘Extra Domicile’ proved such a wonder that Blantonn re-issued the cassette on his own BARO imprint (and is now in the process of moving it to a much deserved place between the grooves of a vinyl pressing).

TALsounds – Sky Face (Notes and Bolts) – Natalie Chami is one of the busiest individuals in all of the Chicago underground music community. By day, she teaches music while also juggling a spot as 1/3 of the astoundingly skronky noise unit, Good Willsmith. She also heads up the cross continental visual/sound collective, Screaming Claws, and has likely collaborated with every ambient and drone musician within a five mile radius of her apartment. Natalie’s solo work under the moniker of TALsounds is considerably more tuneful than the tape fed chaos of what her bandmates in GWS conjure. On ‘Sky Face’, Chami pitch shifts her voice with taffy like elasticity while juggling an endless candy shop assortment of pedals that loop in real time to create the woozy synth confections that swirl beneath.

Gel Set – Microsoftcore XXX Cell (Lillerne Tapes) – Laura Callier’s Gel Set project has been one of the most fascinating entities to come out of Chicago over the last two years. Her first cassette, released via Modern Tapes in early 2012 gave way to a split 12″ with tour mate, Windbreaker. N+B released a flexi disc single for her in early summer largely off of the strength of this, the ‘Microsoftcore XXXCell’ cassette, a barely 20 minutes long foray into European minimal synthesizer excursions that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dark Entries compilation. At certain points, Callier trips land mines over icicle laced soundscapes laced with minimal acid rave predilections while at other times, it’s her and her synthesizer shouting ‘Esta! Fiesta! Apesta!’ into a hollow void where only her own voice comes spiraling back.

Cinchel – Sometimes You See Yourself (Through The Cosmos) – Jason Shanley has become a de facto go to in the ambient and drone community here in the Windy City and his reputation is not un-deserved. On ‘Sometimes You See Yourself (Through The Cosmos), Cinchel takes guitars and singing wine glasses and forms them gently over an hour’s time like a chef patiently whipping eggs into stiff peaks while preparing a Chiffon cake. Mountain ranges of sound rise and fall throughout the recording as the audio of slowly evaporating water recorded over an extended period of time harmonizes with the gentle floatations of the six strings in attendance.

Bitchin’ Bajas – Krausened (Golden Cloud) – Originally released on limited vinyl by Permanent Records, the first of two ’13 Bajas efforts received the cassette treatment from Golden Cloud in late Summer. Unlike the more Fripp-esque ‘Bitchitronics’ release, which focused on tape looping and analog experimentation in a more electro acoustic compositional mode, ‘Krausened’ expands further on the group’s past releases where Cooper Crain and company are steeped waist deep in the motorik pontifications of 70’s kosmiche exploration. Like ‘Timewind’ era Klaus Schulze, Virgin Records era Tangerine Dream, and the first three Neu! records hand pressed into one beautiful 30 minute patchfork.

Earring – Nunn Ones (Manic Static) – Duo Alex Otake and Jason Balla create an ample amount of noise in between the two of them, and on ‘Nunn Ones’, the pair meld the myriad sections of their record collections into a simple, but pleasing stew. Shambling modern garage rock elements, very much in the tradition of their brethren and sistren in the tight knit Animal Kingdom community, collide with fuzz laden shoegaze that recalls early Jesus and Mary Chain demos stacked on the shelf side by side with Echo and The Bunnymen and other NME 80’s approved post punk and C86 acts like The Shop Assistants, and The Pastels. Definitely a pair to look out for!

Many thanks to the always lovely Kriss Stress from Notes and Bolts for taking the time to share some of the year’s best cassette releases. Follow the links bellow to take advantage of all the great things N+B has to offer, and go buy some tapes!

Notes and Bolts Official | Facebook | Twitter