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10 Best Cassettes of 2013

The greatest scrappy releases, oddities and half-baked side projects that logged quality time in Rob Sheffield's Walkman
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Griffin Lotz for RollingStone.com

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Griffin Lotz for RollingStone.com
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Tapes 'n Tapes

What a year for cassettes, the scrappy little format that refuses to die. Tapes had a resurgence in 2013, from dedicated cassette labels to bands selling them at shows. Why are cassettes back? It's easy. They're cheap and they make noise. They're quick. They're intimate. They have personality, not just another digital file. And they sound great, if you like the ambient hum of cassette sound. (I do.)

Most of my 2013 faves I bought at rock shows, feeding them to my trusty Walkman or my battered old boombox. Tapes are the ultimate DIY format – bands can crank out their homemade goodies fast, design a groovy cover, stack them on the merch table for $5 a pop. It's a way to indulge weird experiments or the drummer's side project. For fans, they're cheaper to gobble up than vinyl or CDs, not to mention more fun to share with friends.

They also have a bit of old-school mystery. You can't just click on a cassette and get the back story. You have to let the tape roll in real time, asking yourself questions like "Where did this come from?" or "How long does this stupid thing go on?" or "Why the hell did anyone spend an hour of their life making this?" You have to forget what you know and surrender to what you hear. It's a format that rewards the curious of ear and stout of heart.

And even though tapes are officially obsolete media, it's not like it's hard to play them. Any chain drugstore has an aisle where they sell cheapo Walkman knock-offs. (My most recent portable-cassette-player purchase was in October – my iPod died, so I popped into the nearest CVS. Ten minutes later I was listening to the dubbed C-90 Europe '72 I keep in my bag for emergencies. "Ramble on Rose," bitches!)

Some of my 2013 favorites are on labels, some are self-released. I'm not 100 per cent sure where some of these came from or when they came out. I can't even necessarily verify that these artists exist, beyond a one-off baked afternoon project while waiting for the pizza guy. All I know for sure is that all 10 of these tapes logged quality time in my Walkman this year. And all 10 served with honor. C-30, C-60, C-90 – go!

BY ROB SHEFFIELD

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