R.I.P. to the iPod — long live the boombox! Twenty-fourteen was a mighty year for the cassette, as these humble yet sturdy little sonic contraptions just kept rolling along. Who knew the cassette would outlive the iPod, just as it's outlived so many other pricey gadgets invented to replace it? But tapes are so hot right now, maybe because they remain an obscenely cheap and easy and fun way to pass music around.
The cassette had a weirdly high profile everywhere you looked in 2014. The summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy chronicled a mixtape in outer space — Chris Pratt's Walkman was his light saber, while that "Awesome Mix" from his mom was his version of the Force. 5 Seconds of Summer scored one of the year's chewiest pop hits, "She Looks So Perfect," singing about "a mixtape straight out of '94." 5SOS even proved their good faith by releasing it as a cassingle.
It's easy to see why — the cassette is the most hands-on and intimate format. You can't speed-click through the files, because there are no files. You have to resist your urge to control and quantify music; you have to just let it roll. The DIY cassette tells you something about the artists, their personality (or lack thereof), their visual sensibility (or lack thereof), how much free time they have to kill. Or how many brain cells they killed making it.
It's also something the band can sell at the merch table for five bucks a pop, a low-risk way for curious punters to dabble. (The year's strangest tape trend: bands charging $7 or $8. Tragic but true: if you're selling your cassette for more than five bucks, not even I'm buying it, and I wore a Walkman to the show.)
These were the cassettes that kept my boombox buzzing in 2014. Most of them I purchased at live shows, though I'm not sure where or when they came out. Some are lovingly crafted art objects from specialty cassette labels; others are flimsy quickies. Some come from bands I love; others from bands I suspect don't even exist. But that's part of the cassette mystery — you don't know what you're getting into when you press play. In the words of a tape-deck aficionado named Hunter S. Thompson: buy the ticket, take the ride.