Cassettes are great because they're the disposable format. You baby your CDs and LPs but toss your tapes into the backseat of the car, where they get all mangled and melted, or use them to scrape icy windshields in the winter (a great Martha Stewart tip) and then throw them away. No biggie. You can always get another dub of the warped music, and, if not, oh well. Buy it on CD.
Some cassettes you're gentle with, though -- you put them back in their handmade cases and place them in the glove box immediately after listening to them. For example: the magical DJ mix tapes, those one-of-a kind gems custom-designed in editions of 50 or so. More and more are appearing these days, and one of the best around is Mike Davis' (a.k.a. Mike the 2600 King) Yars' Revenge.
Explains 2600: "It's like the album Lou Rawls, Flaming Ember, Paul McCartney, Amon Düul, Dennis Coffey, War, Freddie Hubbard and the Children's Television Workshop never recorded together. And Black Sabbath. And Black Oak Arkansas."
Recorded on a "Marantz four-track, a dinky Gemini five-track sampler, two turntables, a mixer, a voice-reading computer program and a VCR," Yars' Revenge is a keeper. Davis is so adept at mixing and blending that it's hard to tell when the Hubbard begins and the Led Zep ends (well, not that hard, but....), and because the DJ is so obviously packed with musical knowledge, he worked the tape from every angle -- "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," is represented, as is "Black Dog" (under which Davis puts a nasty bottom-heavy beat), Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street and the topper, the backward-masked "Stairway to Heaven" sample, the one in which Robert Plant allegedly utters the phrase "My sweet Satan." This is all mixed with totally great hip-hop and funk cuts and Davis' smooth, flowing scratching abilities.
You can get your copy while checking out Mike the 2600 King at the Upstairs Lounge every Wednesday, where he spins with Ryan B. and Doug Surreal. (Note: it hasn't escaped our notice that gradually, over the course of the last year, we've highlighted at one point or another most of the DJs spinning at the Upstairs. This is for a simple reason: The place is a heavenly oasis that continues to roll out the best.)
QUICKIES: The recent swing revival seems to be on the wane, thank God, and let's hope the cigar thing will soon pass, too (or has it already?). The revival has been both a blessing and a curse for Swing Set; they probably made a mattress-ful of cash on the basis of their name alone, and to the average bandwagon surfer they fit the bill quite well for the corporate functions. But they were never a swing-revival band in the first place, which is evident on their second full-length, C'est La Vie; if they're any sort of swing band, they're a Western-swing band, but they're not really that, either. They're more of a Weillian swing band. The album's cover pays homage to Steely Dan's Can't Buy a Thrill (though it's kind of a clumsy Photoshop job), even though there's not much Becker or Fagan within. Ten of Vie's 17 songs are covers (including a great version of "The Coffee Shop" and a truly inspired Mancini-esque version of "In a Gadda da Vida"), and, most impressively, you can't tell the diff between those and the originals. Swing Set gigs every Sunday night at the Delmar Lounge.
Meow, please. Airzoan is the latest futuristic offering by Tory Z. Starbuck; this one's an opera about Arizona circa 2017, inspired by the architectural work of Antoine Predock. Starbuck goes easy on the vocals on this one, using voice only to drive the narrative, which is about Agent SLV, the "Prophet Predock," a future war and cloning. He mixes this storyline with his standard instrumentation and accent, which recalls '70s-era Eno, Bowie, King Crimson and Ultravox. Starbuck calls this one of his "favourite (and potentially most pretentious) albums." He's on the mark on both accounts....
Send all local tapes, tips, discs and detritus to "Radar Station," c/o The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130; e-mail: Radarstation@rftstl.com.