I initially slept on this album, as the prosaic title made it sound like a collection of old and orphaned songs rather than a minor sound collage masterpiece. The former would be just fine by me (in a non-urgent way), but the fact that this album is actually the latter completely blindsided me. As the label puts it, Collin pulled "shining diamonds from his discography" and put them "in a new context with more recently recorded segments." In more practical terms, this means that the album beautifully bleeds together ephemeral highlights from Collin's discography into a soulfully mesmerizing, endlessly evolving impressionist fantasia. In its most striking moments, Music From Cassettes, Etc. makes me feel like I am a Dickensian ghost experiencing all the warmest moments from Collin's life through a flickering projector.
The first side rolls in as a fog of tape hiss and crackle that sounds like a ravaged dictaphone recording of a bus tour somewhere in some exotic tropical place. Soon, however, a simple twanging acoustic guitar piece starts to fade in. It is quite a warm and deeply emotive performance, so I was sad to see it go as it gradually became consumed by a slowly oscillating hum that later dissipates into enigmatic dictaphone hiss once more. That theme of slowly dissolving vignettes is the heart of the album, but the variety, beauty, and cumulative power of them is what makes this album transcendent and bittersweet. On the A side, the dream parade makes further noteworthy stops at deconstructed blues and something akin to a tribute band that accidentally double-booked themselves as both Pink Floyd and The Dead C, but valiantly blurred them together to give everyone the concert of their lives. The playing near the end is absolutely amazing, as Collin whips up a rapturous Orcutt-level firestorm of wild hammer-ons and swooping slides for the volcanic finale. The second side offers a similarly mesmerizing but completely different phantasmagoria of fragmented delights. Sometimes I find myself at a languorous campfire jam in which lupine howls harmonize with a sliding melody, while at other times I am catching the fiery performance of a noise rock band from a reverberant alley. Elsewhere, Collin's collage sounds like a ravaged tape loop of an organ mass backing a demonic squall of white-hot electric guitar catharsis. Throughout it all, Collin maintains a perfect balance of soulful melody, lo-fi ruin, and sharp-edged feral intensity, the latter of which definitely surprised me (he sounds absolutely possessed during some of his solos). The whole album is great from beginning to end, as Collin hits one perfect moment of tender melody or viscerally howling noise guitar incandescence after another with nary a lull between them. This is an instant classic.
Samples can be found here.