I didn’t know what to expect from the Cassettes. Leader Shelby Cinca’s previous outfit, Frodus, was self-proclaimed “spazzcore.” The Cassettes’ early material sprouted from Cinca’s four-track pop diversions from his main gig and their first full-length received lukewarm reviews for its poorly recorded psychedelic fuzz-rock. A couple years and another release later, Cinca’s songwriting took a sharp turn as he picked up new backing members who each bring interesting input into the band’s sound, resulting in untraditional arrangements that surprised me throughout the album.
Opener “Lady Faire” is an uptempo blues stomp with dobro starting things off and succumbing to electric guitar when things get more wild. They bring it down for a sweet theremin solo (a difficult instrument to play steady melodies) and then right back up again. On the web I keep running across bits about Cinca claiming influence from two of the more odd and perhaps silly songs penned by Paul McCartney: the White Album’s “Honey Pie” and “Rocky Raccoon.” One is a cheesy musical number reminiscent of Tin Pan Alley songwriting, and the other a caricature of a cowboy tune. So how does that help you? Well, the Cassettes are a bit out-there and cheesy, and “Honey Pie” can be found with a little imagination in the goofy vaudevillian “Our Whisper Wake No Clocks.” They also favor the country side with the campfire folk of “Time Ain’t Right,” which sounds a bit like the beginning of “Rocky Raccoon.” Despite that analytical exercise, it is still hard for me to pin down this group for you all.
For example, “Muja Chi Larki Daydo” is where the band really stretches their sonic scope. Starting with a bluesy dobro riff and jawharp (that twangy thing) to get an Americana feel going, they unexpectedly drop in tablas and then sing over it all in Urdu (national language of Pakistan and one of many in India), also utilizing a small bit of that area’s tonal system, specifically the small use of quarter tones (notes between our Western tonal system’s notes) in the vocals. I dig this track a lot, because while it is weird when you think of all the ingredients, the end product is quite listenable and pleasant. The seemingly odd combination of Indian percussion and country-influenced guitars, banjo and vocals continues on to “Sweet Virginia,” a great relaxed male/female duet.
One of my favorites, “Sway Along” seems a little standard in comparison to others -- acoustic guitars strummed along with a mid-tempo 4/4 drum beat, a nice little upwards scale motive that keeps reappearing in the guitar, but add some theremin (or synth maybe) in there, some nice vocals with some reverb effects, and there ya go, we have a winner. Then there is the swaying lazy rock of “Burgalar in the Bungalow” with a Cajun-style accordion swelling up to make an appearance, but an overall sound not far from what Tapes ‘N Tapes is doing. But that’s just it -- if this were all really out-there and weird, it would be tiring. They give you a chance to breath with some more “normal” rock.
An eclectic showing that just barely steers clear of getting too bizarre, ’Neath the Pale Moon uses unique instrumentation to ornament country, blues and indie rock styles. I’ve heard quite a bit of weird music in my years and the Cassettes still managed to surprise me, but with songwriting strong enough to make me want to revisit their record.