The humble, hissing audiocassette is making a comeback. Cassette-only labels are popping up around the country, including in Bloomington, where Magnetic South offers ultra low-fi, ultra-mysterious releases in non-descript, brown-paper packaging. And Karl Hofstetter, founder of local music label Joyful Noise Recordings, is ushering their return to the Indianapolis music scene.
Joyful Noise is releasing a 10 cassette box set of Chicago band Joan Of Arc's library of albums. Local band Marmoset will return with a limited edition cassingle, or cassette single, featuring two demos from their upcoming album, Sour Notebook. And Joyful Noise will release a cassette version of the new of Montreal album, False Priest, this September.
The Joan of Arc and Marmoset releases coincide with the seventh anniversary of Joyful Noise Recordings and the vinyl release of a new Abner Trio album, a band Hofstetter plays in. An August 20 show at the Melody Inn will function as an anniversary party and release show, featuring performances Joan of Arc, Abner Trio, Marmoset and Jookabox.
A box of tapes
The Chicago-based band Joan of Arc, founded in 1995 out of the ruins of seminal emo group Cap'n Jazz, fronted by prolific songwriter and only permanent band member Tim Kinsella, has long been one of Hofstetter's favorites. "[They] are really a crazy artsy band," Hofstetter says. "They jump all over the place in terms of their sound. They are best known for having acoustic kind of sounds mixed with electronic sounds but that's over simplifying it."
To assemble the box set Hofstetter licensed the band's 10 albums from their former labels: Jade Tree, Record Label, Perishable Records, and their current home, Polyvinyl. Each set is housed in a limited-edition, custom-built and screen-printed wooden box. 100 copies were produced and 80 of the sets sold out in two days. Five copies will be available for $50 at Friday's show. Another five will be available at a release show Saturday night in Chicago. The remaining ten will be distributed to various music stores.
The entire Joan Of Arc catalog, however, will be available as individual cassettes. Each cassette, both in the box set and individually sold, contains a digital download link for the corresponding album.
"Their albums have never been on cassette," Hofstetter says. "But they've been on every other format. With digital being the primary way people get their music these days anything can be a medium to release an album. You can release an album on a condom wrapper. And that's the format of the album — as long as it has a space for a digital download code."
"This is a novelty," he allows. "I understand that most people probably aren't going to be listening to the cassettes even though they are going to look and sound really good. [The cassettes] are a vehicle for the digital download. For the Joan Of Arc super fans it seems to be a desirable thing."
Joan Of Arc released their first album, A Portable Model Of..., in 1997 during the final years of the cassette tape. The band wanted the album pressed to cassette but the label had no interest in doing so.
"It's been funny to see things come full circle where CDs are becoming obsolete and cassettes are having a resurgence," Hoffstetter says.
Now that Joyful Noise has established a relationship with Joan of Arc, the label plans to carry a vinyl version of the band's next album Oh Brother, which is due for release by the close of the year.
Hofstetter, who founded Joyful Noise in 2003, says he had no long-term plans for the label when he started it to release work by his then-band Melk the G6-49. And he still doesn't.
"I can't envision five years from now," he explains. "It's just impossible. But when I first started if someone told me I'd have Marmoset on the label and Joan Of Arc on the label I would have been very excited."
Joyful Noise remains a vehicle for releasing some of Hofstetter's own stuff: Abner Trio, in which Hofstetter plays drums, returns to active service with the release of their album, The Giant Crushes You. "The last Abner Trio full length album [released in 2006] was the eighth Joyful Noise release," he says. "The new one is coming out while the label is on its 64th release."
Finishing the album was made more difficult once Abner Trio lead singer Daniel Paquette moved to Chicago. "It's a large reason why it's taken us three years to finish the record," Hofstetter says. "You can't have regular practice schedules. You can't take every show opportunity that comes by. You can't get together to just hang out which is important to a band. Every time we get together we have to make the most of it — rehearse the songs and such. Daniel has done a lot though — he rents cars to drive to Indianapolis every month or two — so he's shown a lot of commitment. It's challenging but not impossible."
Meanwhile, the Joan Of Arc box set is paying dividends in a way Hofstetter never imagined. Joan of Arc's labelmate on Polyvinyl, of Montreal, got wind of the cassette project, and one night Hofstetter got a surprise email from Polyvinyl reading, "Are you interested in putting out the new of Montreal on cassette? I just cleared it with Kevin." Kevin being of Montreal front man Kevin Barnes.
"At the time [Polyvinyl] didn't know that I was a huge of Montreal fan, so it was just amazing," Hofstetter says.
of Montreal, based out of Athens, Ga., released their first album in 1997. Over the past few years they have become a critical success, and their psychedelic glam pop has garnered them a dedicated following.
In 2008, of Montreal released their album, Skeletal Lamping, not only on CD and vinyl but also on t-shirts, buttons, decals, bags, and paper lanterns. Each item came with a digital download code. Barnes wrote an essay on the project explaining that it was important to produce things that could be of some use and wouldn't sit around on a shelf.
Cassette preorders for of Montreal's False Priest begin August 18. The cassettes are limited to 500 hand-numbered copies. "of Montreal is known for the 'digital download with object' style of release," says Hofstetter. "But they have not done a cassette, so it seemed like a natural fit for Joyful Noise Recordings to do it."
Download both sides of Marmoset's cassingle, "Doo Wop" and "She's Wearing Rings" (.zip file via Joyful Noise)
Download a ten-track digital sampler drawn from the 10-cassette Joan of Arc box (.zip file via Joyful Noise).
Abner Trio: "You're Gorgeous, Believe It!" from The Giant Crushes You:
of Montreal: "Coquet Coquette" from False Priest: