The tapes are in and they turned out above my expectations in sound quality. The format allowed for me to crank the masters and utilize the natural compression and saturation a cassette tape gives. Cassettes were a great portable (and affordable) format and there was a spot in College Park MD called The Record & Tape Exchange that sold choice tapes that I could get to by bus. My brother also had a decent tape collection.
My parents would take me on car trips to various places before I had autonomy to stay home on their weekend excursions. Sometimes the spots were cool and sometimes boring (for me), but I learned with tapes to appreciate seeing something different and listening to music with my headphones. Curve, The Sundays, The Cure, Depeche Mode, I would select 2-3 tapes to dive into per trip. It wasn’t really a rule but it was easy to only have to keep track of a few things and it also gave me a chance to really dig into albums. I learned albums backwards and forwards this way. Riffs, drum fills, delays, reverbs, panning. I didn’t know how to get the sounds yet, I didn’t know how to record them yet, but I def was mentally taking notes.
Cassettes were my indoctrination to a life of recording and producing music. So, the Alcian Blue Collection, a rather large part of my life, feels incredibly personal for me on tape. I’m happy it’s put together. We got a review in Post Punk and that was when it really hit, this time capsule of my life into a 2 tape box and that didn’t even cover the entire span of Alcian Blue either, there are two albums missing. Lots of memories between the notes and minutes here, I’m really thankful to Terence Hannum and Sean Gray for supporting and bringing this to life.
I put together a little playlist here of some key tape moments I remember that helped form my foundation of both songwriting and recording.
While the early 2000s enjoyed its fair share of post-punk revival projects, equally exciting things were happening in adjacent spheres. Shoegaze in particular seemed to thrive, while some might even argue that it never really fell out of fashion to begin with, despite dwindling record sales and the rise of britpop, indie rock, and electronica. The real secret to the genre’s survival and innovation was combining sounds; mixing synths with reverb pedals and balancing aggression and beauty. Bands such as Skywave, Ashrae Fax, Fleeting Joys, and several others carried the torch into the new millennium, paving the way for Nothing, Ringo Deathstarr, and a slew of other more traditional shoegaze revival bands to follow
One of the most prominent bands of the time were Alcian Blue, a Maryland-based quartet who made a significant ripple with a series of CD-R EP releases and two full length albums, most of which were self-released under the Safranin Sound imprint. The band were the epitome of the new shoegaze manifesto, combining blistering guitars, pummeling percussion, and lo-fi electronic textures into a glorious wave of sound. While the band built a devoted cult following, winning over the hearts and ears of anyone who came across them, they were a few years too early to receive the critical acclaim that would follow from like-minded bands in the next decade. The band split in 2006, with members Jake and Kim Reid reforming as Screen Vinyl Image and pushing the band further into the electronic ether. However, a series of die hard fans have kept the band’s music alive over the years, including Fan Death Records’ Sean Gray and Locrian/The Holy Circle’s Terence Hannum, who have been working hard over the last few years to reissue the band’s material. With that in mind, Anathemata Editions have just released Collection, which bundles Alcian Blue’s entire CD-R EP output across two stacked cassettes.
The release is in a word, gorgeous – a double cassette package featuring extensive liner notes and an essay from Skywave/A Place to Bury Strangers/Death By Audio’s Oliver Ackerman. The tracks have all been lovingly remastered by Reid, offering improved sound quality over some of the original EP recordings, yet still retaining the band’s aggressive edge. Many of the band’s best songs are featured, including two versions of the noisy, blissful “Angelica Take Me Down,” the gauzy “Fall Behind,” and the echo-drenched “Translucent.” Two inspired covers also appear here, including a dreamy run through of The Cure’s “A Strange Day” and a faithful rendition of Slowdive’s “Joy,” a cult-favorite demo from the Souvlaki era that’s been heavily bootlegged, but never officially released. The tracks are as effervescent as ever, and the collection serves as both a welcome addition and a distinctive entry point for the band’s timeless sound.
I’ve got a soft spot for bands that were too late or too early for a revival (see: St. Vitus and doom metal, Luxury and dreamy post-punk) — bands that love a sound so much that only the devoted reward their passion. Didn’t know about Alcian Blue, who came up in the late ’90s/early 2000s D.C. scene as Dischord punk came back in full swing, but instead made the kind of blisteringly loud and heavy shoegaze that wouldn’t become cool-kid approved until after they broke up. There are hints of Jesus and Mary Chain’s distorted pop bliss and requisite MBV nods, but in Alcian Blue’s ecstatic volume and noise, there swims a thunderous romance.