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Cal Fish - "Cassette Traveler" | Album Review

by Jordan Reyes (@jpreyes90)

Just as the cover to Cassette Traveler prominently displays Cal Fish, through a camera lens, distorted like a VHS with bad tracking, so does the recording it holds. Over the course of the release, passages and stems are reversed, instruments drop in and out, and sound occasionally stutters, providing unexpected variances in Fish’s finely-tuned electronic carnivalesque cavalcade. Though known most commonly for his contributions on flute and guitar in psychedelic powerhouse Turnip King, his solo venture allows his view on pop music to wax uncanny and…melted? A lot of Cassette Traveler sounds familiar - the way you can tune your radio to any AM station and feel inside the joke - but it never becomes predictable. For instance, on “Decomber ’15,” Fish begins a chord progression, setting it up for neat resolution, but instead carves out space for a deep, claustrophobic groove, only to bring back the original thought a bit later.

Cassette Traveler makes quite a case for cyclical listening. Flashes from one song reappear on another, frequently in the form of effects - it’s most up front on the title track, a queasy, lurching track devoted to ambience and atmosphere that somehow makes perfect sense in the middle of the melting miasma. Like the best song collections, Cassette Traveler sticks to an ethos and superimposes it onto any number of sounds and sources to make for a memorably woozy listen. But then you listen to it again, and again, and the patterns begin to grow little claws that hook their way into the part of your brain where eldritch sounds run and play - or perhaps they’re all gathered around a TV banging on the VCR to make the on-screen panning go away.