Three Beats: Jazz great Eddie Johnson gets a posthumous CD release; experimental duo Cleared celebrates the cassette; Rockford emo band Joie de Vivre says au revoir | Three Beats | Chicago Reader

Three Beats: Jazz great Eddie Johnson gets a posthumous CD release; experimental duo Cleared celebrates the cassette; Rockford emo band Joie de Vivre says au revoir 

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Cleared celebrates the cassette

The cassette revival is proof that absolutely anything can make a comeback. What's there to love about the format? The muddy sound? The crushable case? Even its chief virtue—that it lets you cheaply copy and distribute music—does little to recommend it now that CD-Rs, podcasts, thumb drives, and torrents exist.

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But anything you grow up with is a potential object of nostalgia. "Cassettes are what I had the most of, and listened to daily during my early youth and teens," says Steven Hess, who plays drums and electronics in Chicago duo Cleared. "I had very few LP records at that time, and CDs were not created yet, so I had shelves full of these fucking tapes. I like the sound quality of cassettes for certain types of music, and also the fact that they are not totally permanent. After 15-20 years they are going to start to deteriorate, and I'm kind of into that." While Hess is in his early 40s, Cleared guitarist and electronicist Michael Vallera is in his mid-20s. He grew up on CDs, but tapes still have a spot in his heart: "The cassette has been a very large part of my life, because it was what I used to record in my first bands and solo projects," he says. "Using a cheap four-track and learning to bounce tracks and saturate the signal was pivotal in the development of my style and interest in experimental music."

So late last year, when Oklahoma label Digitalis Industries offered to put out a cassette-only Cleared release, the duo accepted—and then turned the self-titled tape, which came out in March, into a celebration of the format. The blurry quality of Cleared's music, with buried rhythms forcing their way up through layers of gray sonic fog, makes it immune to tape's insults. Hess made "Natural," which takes up all of side two, by doing a live mix of leftover rehearsal and field-recording tapes while Vallera played along. And the cassette's J-card, with its bold, all-caps red print on a white spine, deliberately recalls the Columbia label's old design—which anyone who ever joined the Columbia Record Club or shopped at Sam Goody in the 80s will recognize. —Bill Meyer

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