The 20 best Tapes of the year 2023

01.12.2023
Tapes, tapes, tapes. The format is celebrating its comeback for the third year in a row. As usual, not all that glitters is gold. We’ve taken a look behind the glitter and selected 20 tapes that make sense.

Let’s start with a not-so-bold prediction: sales figures for cassettes in 2023 will have risen again, much like they went up by a whopping 28 per cent in the USA alone between 2021 and 2022. This means that Taylor Swift will have the last laugh, but perhaps not fans of the tape like us, who don’t consider it merely a nostalgic product and rather a medium that you listen to as much as you listen to the actual music. Tapes are not something we put on display in our Kallax, but rather into our boomboxes or Walkmans. However, since vinyl production was massively disrupted in the first two years of the pandemic and prices have been rising ever since, more and more artists and labels have switched to the good old magnetic tape in order to be able to produce products that at least yield a little more on Songtradr, er, Bandcamp Friday than the few hundred streams on Spotify.

This is understandable, but it has equally nonsensical consequences and they look exactly the same as on the market for vinyl: a lot of bullshit is being dubbed onto tape that is not at all suitable for this medium, whether it’s high-gloss techno or, well, Taylor Swift’s and Jack Antonoff’s hi-res productions. And the increased demand is once again leading to a shortage of supply and price increases that are in line with inflation. 20 euros for a cassette with sub-par quality because the pressing plants rushed it through production in a half-hearted manner in order to be able to push out 5,000 copies of »1989 (Taylor’s Version)« more quickly is … Well, that’s not cool. 

In this spirit, the following 20 cassettes are by no means as inexpensive as we are used to from back in the days™, but they have passed the internal HHV-Mag quality control. Ambient, dub rock, even more ambient and dusty dance rhythms, shoegaze, some ambient again and in between some grungy electronics: this is (largely at least) music that really makes sense in tape format. Good news have been rare this year, but here’s one: it’s been a great year for tapeheads. Kristoffer Cornils


Ayami Suzuki
Umbilical
Past Inside The Present • 2023 • from 17.99€

It has been a busy year for Ayami Suzuki, with the Japanese vocal artist releasing almost half a dozen new albums. Her collaboration with Carlos Ferreira is one of the more special of these releases simply because it was created over a distance and—as the title »Umbilical« indicates—still sounds very intimate. The Brazilian ambient musician creates very Past Inside The Present-like soundscapes that rely on saturated textures and grand gestures. Suzuki's voice moves over it with a lightness that makes the music float superbly. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
Ben Glas
Anonymous Sextet For Perverted Piano
The Tapeworm • 2023 • from 12.99€

It's a given that there will be a Tapeworm release in this category every year. But which one exactly is something we rack our brains over every year. Ben Glas thankfully beat us to it and did the work for us with his »Anonymous Sextet for Perverted Piano,« wrecking our synapses. What sounds like Lubomyr Melnyk's two evil triplets in a duet with Masonna is actually a dialogue between a piano and a harpsichord, played with six vibrators placed inside them and controlled via smartphones. That is the description of, but also the reason for this nomination. Apologies, but this tape indeed f u c k s. Hard. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
audioplage
Boeatian Chants
2023 • from 16.99€

No, this not from the early eighties, but it's not entirely new either: »Boeotian Chants« brings together tracks that audioplage—yeah, no idea who that is—cobbled together in the mid-2010s. You know, those days in which everything was somewhat lo-fi. However, back in the day »Boeotian Chants« would have even been too rough and unruly even for an Opal Tapes release. The person(s) behind it definitely have a Vinyl-On-Demand subscription: this are industrial and wave in their rawest and most sinister forms, just straight up nightmare stuff that will get you hooked immediately. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
Chewlie
Diagon EP
Bruk • 2023 • from 13.99€

Chewlie is Chewbacca’s sister and a very moniker for Julia Häller, who comes from Switzerland and speaks Swiss German, which sounds something like this: »As Projeckkkt isch wias Gfäs, won i mi muasickkkalisch usdrüackkke.« The FOMO kicks in when the subtitles are missing, but all of that can be rationalised down to an international promomotion tongue in the Bruk translation: »In the realm of dub-heavy club music, Chewlie's voice stands out purposefully and confidently.« That sounds about right. Christoph Benkeser

Christoph Benkeser
Duane Pitre
Varolii Patterns
Important • 2023 • from 15.99€

It didn't get any more peaceful than this in 2023. In fact, »Varolii Patterns« is probably the musical antithesis to recent world events. Of course, Duane Pitre didn't see that coming, and the six pieces are already a few years old. He recorded them while working on »Omniscient Voices« (2021) with an eight-voice synthesiser that is tuned in just intonation (whatever that means) and didn’t end up using them until now. We’re lucky that he eventually released them, since they allow the listener to find inner peace with them—which is more important than ever. Sebastian Hinz

Sebastian Hinz
Fracture
Slow Astro, Volume 3 & 4 Neon Green Cassette
Astrophonica • 2023 • from 16.99€

Breakbeats, but slow, pitched down, slooooowed-doooooown—that wasn't a microtrend spearheaded by Lean-addicted y(o)ung people from around September 2013, but rather sits firmly within the quality class S as in sustainable in the third and fourth edition of an on-going archival series. With Astrophonica, Fracture from London has been running a top-notch label for many years for people who like D'n'B but prefer to call it Jungle. He also occasionally blasts the collected works from the back catalogue with four packs of Neocitran on his desk, because that’s just the fastest way to intoxication. Christoph Benkeser

Christoph Benkeser
Isabassi
Speaking Things
Super Hexagon • 2023 • from 12.99€

There are basses that tickle your belly a little, and there are basses that make you shit and spit at yourself because they go a little harder than that. Admittedly, that is not a comfortable, but an ultimately cleansing thing to happen and what comes around goes around, etc. That's what good bass music is all about, and that's what people pay a lot of money for. This fantastic tape from Isabassi on Super Hexagon on the other hand is available for cheap and the only other investment it’ll need is the purchase of about 200 subwoofers to play it correctly. Christoph Benkeser

Christoph Benkeser
Levon Vincent
Work In Progress
Novel Sound • 2023 • from 19.99€

Levon Vincent is simply the weirdest of all techno blokes, somehow completely stuck and far out at the same time. The guy was out and about in the drag scene and New York avant-garde circles, he experienced the genesis of hip-hop up close and burnt down Berghain from the booth—who wouldn't want to read his memoirs? Anyhow, »Work in Progress,« yet another tape, does not really make sense on this medium with its bleepy approach techno that dances around Western tuning conventions. But as an album, it's just as weird as its maker—and thus, simply perfect. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
Mantenna (Donato Dozzy & Stefano Di Trapani)
The Black Sphere
Mantenna • 2023 • from 15.99€

The guiding principle behind Donato Dozzy and Stefano di Trapani’s joint project Mantenna is one of limitation. Two musicians meet in a room at Klang Roma on the 24th February 2022 without prior rehearsals and the intent to make mistakes. There is little known about which instruments were used, but they sure get the brainwave generator going. Their recordings were documented on the tape »The Black Sphere,« limited to 100 copies. The A-side nods to the cosmic music of the seventies and the B-side to Pan Sonic and Monolake. Sebastian Hinz

Sebastian Hinz
Oh No Noh+Jenny Berger Myhre+F.S.Blumm
Interstitial
Teleskop • 2023 • from 12.99€

There's a fifty-fifty chance that you've heard of these three people, who are tender ones in the best sense of the word. One of them has a band in Leipzig, the other unfortunately makes far too little music and the third one has been doing so for about forever. But they've never done it together before, so it's time to open the tape deck for their joint debut on Leipzig's beautiful project-thingy Teleskop. Everyone piles their quiet sounds on top of each other and the result is, of course, magnificent. Christoph Benkeser

Christoph Benkeser
Oki
Live At Café Oto
Mais Um • 2023 • from 15.99€

His LP »Tonkori in the Moonlight« was a highlight of last year and OKI, who works at the interface of dub and the musical traditions of the Ainu people, could also be heard on a reissue of a crucial Umeko Ando album. Those who don't know any better might have thought it even was her voice on the first track of »Live at Café Oto,« but far from it. Anyhow, the focus of this performance lies less than ever on traditional formulas and instead on a psych-ey full-band sound.This is dub-rock, and it kicks ass. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
Perila
On The Corner Of The Day
Shelter Press • 2023 • from 15.99€

On »On The Corner Of The DayPerila shows off all her skills. She shines a light (or eight, actually) on the unlit corners of a home in which the smoke of incense sticks lingers while the gong reverberates, the dust crackles, the floorboards creak, and the tension settles day after day after day. Everything about this is heavy and light at the same time. The »vibration of a feeling« stretched out to 33 minutes of playing time. Sebastian Hinz

Sebastian Hinz
Pleasure Model
Multiplicative Gain
100% Silk • 2023 • from 12.99€

Image an episode of »You Bet!« / »Wanna Bet?« in which Hans-Peter (32) from Recklinghausen bets that he can recognise each of the four albums by British techno musician Pleasure Model blindfolded by only touching them. This stuff, he says, has a certain texture and materiality to it. So, safety goggles on! A random C-list celebrity trusts Hans-Peter to succeed and off he goes with the first album: »Multiplicative Gain«. Hans-Peter kneads around diligently, hesitates, but: »Could it be that this is one hundred percent 100% Silk?« Christoph Benkeser

Christoph Benkeser
Plume Girl
In The End We Begin
Mappa Editions • 2023 • from 12.99€

Anyone who doesn't immediately roll their eyes at the first sound of water splashing and say something very cool along the lines of, well, that's a well-known trope, especially from music genres such as ambient, will potentially have fun with Plume Girl, and won't even have to light their incense sticks for that. The almost always great and at least excellent label mappa knows that »In the End We Begin« and that's why this will make you want to make an autotune ambient pop record, too, after listening to this one. Christoph Benkeser

Christoph Benkeser
Pons
The Liquid Self
Dedstrange • 2023 • from 14.99€

There was once a film about New York in the noughties and all those guitar bands that ended up going electronic at some point because that just paid them more. Pons from Brooklyn didn't watch it, apparently, because you can only make an album like »The Liquid Self« if you care as much about this dance-punk indie stuff as you do of the annual spa visit. Either way, it's the best thing New York has had to offer since Karen O's haircut. Christoph Benkeser

Christoph Benkeser
Temp Illusion
failsafe
Temp-Illusion • 2023 •

Artificial intelligence was the hype topic of this year and I would like to take it further here in a dystopian way, to the moment when the machines are completely autonomous and, in a moment of exuberance, discover dancing for themselves while they search their databases for music that makes their networks vibrate. And then they find Temp-Illusion on an old server in present-day Iran. »Failsafe« is a sign of quality in their circuitry, even in the name, and so they dance the cyberpunk pogo (»Kikini Bamalam«),a slow dance for enamoured androids (»Jane Plough«), and jam on data rubbish bin that is on fire (»Ray Bloody Purchase«). This is how it all should play out. Sebastian Hinz

Sebastian Hinz
Svetlana Maras
Live Performance 2019-2020
-ous • 2023 • from 13.99€

-OUS remains the best address for really weird Swiss stuff, and since Svetlana Maraš even teaches really weird stuff in Switzerland, those two make a perfect match. The title »Live Performance 2019 - 2020« should give you an idea of how these recordings were made, but they offer a rich palette of sounds and styles: some Sähkö abrasiveness, Valerio Tricoli-like surrealism, Aaron Dilloway weirdness and even a bit of Caterina Barbieri pathos are some of Maraš’ registers. Our guess: she will probably play every night of the next CTM edition and no-one will take issue with that. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
Various Artists
The Male Body Will Next Part 2
Osàre! Editions • 2023 • from 17.99€

Part two of the series on Elena Colombia's label Osàre! Editions, which relates to the FLINTA compilations there like Ken to Barbie: »The Male Body Will Be Next« is less martial than its title implies and offers a lot: Sepehr, Posa Dia, Low End Activist and the label owner on just one tape are worth their weight in gold. You are in for lots of industrial, electronic body (geddit?) music, a bit of technoid synth noodling just because all those folks read some bell hooks. If that sounds odd, it does so in the most perfectly beautiful way imaginable. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
Tujiko Noriko
Crépuscules I & II
Editions Mego • 2023 •

Tape was the bonding medium between Tujiko Noriko and Editions Mego owner Peter Rehberg, who passed away unexpectedly in 2021. After she once gave him one as a demo, she wrote him »Crépuscules I & II,« a monolithic yet moving requiem on two cassettes. Slowly moving from ambient pop towards ethereal abstraction, grief has rarely been better transformed into music. Or at least rarely with so few words, should the Mount Erie Ultras now begin to protest. Kristoffer Cornils

Kristoffer Cornils
Wishy
Paradise
Winspear • 2023 • from 16.99€

Here’s a fun exercise: say »shoegaze« and explain to people what it is or used to be without using a single band name. No, not Lush, not My Bloody Valentine, not even Slowdive or Ride, don't mention any of that, they're all past their prime anyway despite newspaper writing about young people having interest in guitar music again. That would at least explain why suddenly albums like this one from Wishy called »Paradise« come out in droves and that's what they sound like: not too bad at all, and much like you’d explain that one thing without mentioning Kevin Shields. Christoph Benkeser

Christoph Benkeser