Friday, June 4, 2010

Tift Merritt “Mixtape”

You can find lots of nostalgic love for vinyl. Audiophiles love to go on and on about the superior quality of sounds found on records. And Album-ophiles lament the loss of LPs, claiming the art of the cover and the weight of the wax are as essential to the experience, as the music itself.

But you don’t find the same kind of romance for cassettes, do you?

Certainly, the same nostalgic reasoning doesn’t hold up. The audio quality on a cassette is poor, and degrades quickly. And cassettes are actually blamed for the death/dearth of the album cover as an art form.

But Tift Merritt and I are of like minds.

On “Mixtape” she brings back the romance to cassettes. For all the limitations of these little reel to reels, they have one true, head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest advantage:

Mix tapes with homemade covers.

You can’t make your own vinyl compilation. It’s just not technically feasible for the average person.

And sure, you can make an iTunes playlist, but you can’t lovingly craft an iTunes playlist and then physically present it to someone. It’s not a thing---it’s just files. And playlists, even burned CDs, are made to be randomized, to have tracks skipped over, to be embellished or deleted.

A mixed cassette is a collage that can tell a story, based on the songs and the song order. A track listing matters.

Then there's the sides. A Side and B Side. You can’t have sides on an iTunes playlist, for crying out loud.

And yes, some vinyl enthusiasts sniff at the idea of cassette album art. But when you make a mixtape with a homemade cover, you tap into a charm that’s not a part of vinyl or disc or MP3 or 8-Track.

I have dozens of cassettes, made by me or given to me as gifts, in the basement. I’ve probably made hundreds in my day. But since the world went digital, the practice has fallen by the wayside of my life.

Thanks for the reminder, Tift: Time to press rewind, rewind.

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