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Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014

Worrier's Recycled Cassette Single

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In one of the more memorable mid-run gags from “The Simpsons,” Chief Wiggum plants a wire on his informant Bart, planning to record the conversation using a Hootie and the Blowfish cassette. “It’s cheaper than blank tape,” he deadpans. Dance-punk outfit Worrier employed that same Wiggum logic to release its new, churning, melodic single “Broken Glass Ceiling.” After searching online retailers for pricier blank tapes, the band settled on a more cost-effective strategy that involved scouring area stores, emptying their cassette supplies and dubbing them over with its own material and screen printing over the jacket cover. It might not make for the most legal distribution model, but it gives listeners a cheap, tangible item steeped in nostalgia.

“We had this idea to go to the thrift store and clear them out of weird, cheesy cassette tapes—anything from Mötley Crüe to Janis Joplin, Kriss Kross and Boyz n the Hood soundtracks,” says synth player Roger Huffman. “We’d put our song over their stuff. You could be left with the rest of a Mötley Crüe album. Basically, every tape will be different.”

It’s probably true that many of the people who buy Worrier’s new cassette won’t ever end up listening to the thing at all. Tape decks were already outmoded devices when compact discs hit the marketplace in the ’90s and are now unquestionably so, as our entertainment culture becomes swiftly entrenched in the streaming era. While the vinyl record revival boasts higher fidelity and longer shelf lives, there aren’t many advantages of owning and playing cassettes other than the compactness and reduced sticker price. Regardless, the format has experienced a modest rebirth—a few record labels even exclusively release material on cassettes. Worrier’s approach, however, feels more innovative than simply piggybacking on the head-scratching tape resurgence. The offering resembles a pop art piece, reclaiming not only a bygone medium but also finding new utility for long-forgotten pop culture artifacts.

The cassette release marks Worrier’s follow-up to 2010’s excellent math-rock opus Source Errors Spells. After a stint touring overseas to a larger response than they received back here, the band went through a minor identity crisis, morphing from a harder, angular punk sound toward poppier electronic influences. The response wasn’t all that comforting—a few disgruntled fans even confronted them about the alterations. The group, now in its self-proclaimed third iteration, believes it’s found some common ground, reverting back to its polyrhythmic dirges but not without removing all the accessibility.

“Broken Glass Ceiling” draws on both styles—noisy and synthesizer-driven, distant yet insidious with slightly more rudimentary polyrhythms, culminating in a sound that would fit right into Liars’ most recent record. In the past, setting heavily shaped Worrier’s style—vocalist and guitarist Chris Roland wrote Source Error Spells while living on a lake and with titles like “Sea Section,” “Lost Ships” and “I’m Not the Ocean,” the waterfront themes are undeniable—and the band’s new material is no different.

“I do a lot of driving,” says Roland, who works as a railroad engineer. “I have all these territories and they’re long drives. I’ll come up with new melodies while I’m driving and record them with the road noise.”

Roland says the hour-plus rides alone in his truck lead to a sense of desperation in the band’s latest work. Worrier hopes to record an EP or full-length in the foreseeable future, and while no definite plans have been made, the writing is complete on a handful of songs.

“We feel we owe it to people who pay $5 and have seen us to give them something they can hold in their hands with our name on it,” Huffman says of the cassette release. “We’ve been taking their money for two years.”

Worrier plays its cassette single release show for “Broken Glass Ceiling” on Friday, Jan. 10 with Soul Low, Kiings and Piles at the Cactus Club. The show starts at 10 p.m.

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