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Retro Format War

I was recently involved in a music exchange with a handful of friends, in which we each put together a compilation of songs, and everyone involved got a copy of all of the compilations. Aside from giving me a good excuse to put together a fun mix, it allowed me the ever-cherished opportunity to do some unsolicited philosophizing, and I thought both were worth sharing with a larger audience.

Here’s an excerpt of an e-mail I sent to everyone early in the project:

I want to weigh in publicly on the Cassette vs. CD thing, because it is my understanding that the idea of using Cassettes for this exchange was met with some consternation. The simple fact is that for me, Mix CDs never even came close to being as cool as Mix Tapes. There are several reasons. A Mix Tape is more laborious to construct; it takes more thought and effort. Its receiver is more likely to experience it as one linear organism as opposed to an arbitrary collection of tracks within which she is free to skip around. A two-sided format introduces possibilities for thematic dichotomy, as many proponents of AOR realized in the ’60s and ’70s (for better or worse). A Cassette has moving parts, dozens of feet of tape, and rattles proudly when you carry it around. What do you want more in a handmade gift: the homogenous Modernist simplicity of the CD or the excessive Victorian complexity of the Cassette? For more trivial arguments, I refer you to Thurston Moore’s awesome book, Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, an excerpt of which can be read here.

Now, I know Cassettes have pretty much gone the way of the technological dodo, and some people don’t even own Tape decks anymore. I think this scarcity makes the Mix Tape that much more of a treasure, much like some of you find writing on a typewriter so much more rewarding than writing on a computer. I welcome you to throw a bunch of stuff onto an iPod and use my old skool stereo to put it all on deliciously low-fidelity Tape, then pick up a cheap Walkman (they still make them) to listen to the fruits of this exchange. Or just pick up a cheap Tape deck of your own at a thrift shop.

I implore you to consider the inconvenience, if only to nourish my inner 13-year-old, whose distance grows with each fast-moving day of adulthood.

I managed to convince all but one person to put their mixes on cassettes, and the lone dissenter made up for his refusal by creating beautiful custom art for each CD.

The music exchange had a theme of “Kitchen,” which was free to be interpreted however each participant saw fit. I decided to fashion my mix around the concept of a menu. Side A is a collection of cover songs (Classic Recipes, Unexpected Chefs), and Side B is the soundtrack to a dinner date.

For me, the challenge in a mix tape project of this sort is to assemble a track list whose songs and chronology respond to the theme, offer a decent variety of sounds, flow well, and leave a minimum of blank space at the end of each side. Obviously, it’s no simple task. Did I succeed? You be the judge. The whole thing is available for download, which includes an MP3 for each side and a PDF of the carefully-typeset cassette liner. And it should go without saying by now that this mix is best experienced in cassette form!

On the Menu (108.6 MB ZIP)

A: Covers Cookbook

Classic Recipes, Unexpected Chefs

  1. The Fucking Champs: Air on a G String
  2. The Plugz: Hombre Secreto (Secret Agent Man)
  3. Baby: Miss You
  4. Crooked Fingers: When U Were Mine
  5. Les Thugs: Moon Over Marin
  6. The (English) Beat: Tears of a Clown
  7. Cornelius: Brazil
  8. Hangedup: New Blue Monday
  9. Low: Back Home Again
  10. Van Halen: Ice Cream Man
  11. The Little Willies: Gotta Get Drunk
  12. TV on the Radio: Mr. Grieves

B: The First Date

Opening Fanfare

  1. Andrew W.K.: You Will Remember Tonight

Cocktail Hour

  1. The Police: Peanuts
  2. The Gourds: I Like Drinking

Meanwhile, in the Kitchen…

  1. Arab Strap: Gourmet
  2. The 8-bit Construction Set: Saucemaster

Dinner Is Served

  1. They Might Be Giants: Dinner Bell
  2. Deerhoof: Dinner for Two

First Course

  1. Shudder to Think: Automatic Soup

Second Course

  1. Minor Threat: Salad Days

Main Course

  1. His Name Is Alive: Brown Rice
  2. Jucifer: Lambs


  1. Combustible Edison: Short Double Latté


  1. Fred Schneider: Coconut
  2. DAT Politics: Pie


If you downloaded the mix tape shortly after this post was published, the MP3s’ ID3 Notes field gave the wrong URL for this post. I’ve corrected the problem, and I apologize to anyone whose download may have been disrupted when I replaced the ZIP file with a corrected one.