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Have to love cassette tapes, right? The rattle of a tape in its case. The satisfying snaps and clicks of a tape player in operation. The screech that precedes a tape exploding into sinewy tangles of plastic. The tape is undeniably archaic, but it’s also a survivor: the only truly portable, physical analog music format ever and growing more popular every year. The number of labels and individual artists releasing tapes now was unimaginable a few years ago, and while “Vinyl is back!” headlines still somehow dominate, the cassette has truly come into its own. Artist and fans have recognized the tape as more than an economical alternative to a “proper release,” as evidenced by increasingly invested and elaborate packaging, prolific outputs, and careful mastering jobs that cater to the format’s unique sonic properties.
This list is an extremely reductive guide to some of the releases and labels that helped push the boundaries of tape releases in 2012 by featuring excellent work from artists whose work was symbiotic with the format. In that vein, I tried to focus on releases that aren’t available in other physical formats, but that wasn’t a hard and fast rule by any means. There is also a strong bias for awesome and artful packaging. Simply put, these are some of the releases that stuck with me and surprised me over the course of the year. Don’t approach this as a definitive list (I didn’t), but rather as good place to start your own exploration as 2013 and more stacks. Allons-y!