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Cassettes Won't Listen

Small-Time Machine

(Self-released; US: 11 Mar 2008; UK: Unavailable)

It sounds so powerfully familiar: young group of computer-savvy go-getters favor laptops over guitars, trying to write Postal Service-styled ditties filled with enough emotional gravitas to avoid the inevitable Postal Service comparison. When Hot Chip took a stab at it, critics (including the Mercury Music Prize committee) took notice, with Generation Blogger following shortly behind. Needless to say, the notion of yet another drum-machine wielding act entering the already-cluttered genre isn’t really that grand of a prospect. Cassettes Won’t Listen—already a few years old and filled with lots of keyboard-happy singles—have finally gotten around to releasing their first physical release, the Small-Time Machine EP. There’s a been-here heard-that quality to the first trio of songs: well-constructed electro-numbers that can’t decide whether or not they want to be standalone songs or just low-level candidates for Erlend Øye‘s next DJ-Kicks anthology.


Yet the game completely changes when “Freeze and Explode” enters the mix. This stunning, gorgeous, flawless pop song just explodes off of the speakers, filled with an incredible sense of rising catharsis. It demands your attention, simply because it is one of the best songs that 2008 has produced to date. Yet the real surprise is that “Freeze and Explode” is no fluke: it’s followed by two equally strong (but not as immediately grabbing) songs called “The Broadcast” (where the Explosions in the Sky suddenly decide they want a Modern Rock Chart hit) and “Two Kids” (which is basically an instant dorm-room dance party). Yet a three-out-of-four score does not make a legend. The group has plenty of room to improve, but when the highs are as stratospheric as “Freeze and Explode”, it’s really hard to chastise the rest of the disc for being “merely good.” Add to your Bands To Watch feed now.

Rating:

Evan Sawdey started contributing to PopMatters in late 2005, and has also had his work featured in publications such as SLUG Magazine, The Metro (U.K.), Soundvenue Magazine (Denmark), the Daily Dot, and multiple national newspapers. Evan has been a guest on RevotTV's "Revolt Live!" as well as WNYC's Soundcheck (an NPR affiliate), was the Executive Producer for the Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle album (available for free at GoodWithWordsAlbum.com), and wrote the liner notes for the 2011 re-release of Andre Cymone's hit 1985 album A.C. (Big Break Records), the 2012 re-release of 'Til Tuesday's 1985 debut Voices Carry (Hot Shot Records), and many others. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois. You can follow him @SawdEye should you be so inclined.


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