M Is We: (ghosts) 

[May 29; Broken Sound Tapes]

M Is We/Night Battles split 7”

[May 1; Broken Sound Tapes]

If you still own a cassette deck, you either care about music so little that you haven’t updated your hi-fi since 1989 or you care about it so much that you’re immersed in the underground scenes where the obsolete format still reigns.

Carrboro’s Michael Wood, the sole proprietor of Broken Sound Tapes, falls in the second category. Armed with a couple of high-speed dubbers, he’s issued well over a dozen small-batch cassette releases—mostly post-punk, like Wood’s band, M Is We—in the last year and a half.

But as you can tell from the label’s two new releases, one on vinyl and the other digital, Wood isn’t doctrinaire about the format, any more than he is about the genre (this is a label that has released Shit Horse, after all). The point is that the cassette is a hands-on, personal, and most important, cost-efficient way of releasing music.

Now Wood works as a beer-and-wine buyer at Weaver Street Market, but he used to be a bar owner and concert promoter in Myrtle Beach. In the late ‘90s, he had a high-speed cassette dubber, and he thought of it when he wanted to release an M Is We cassette. Rather than hiring it out to a company with a minimum order requirement, why not make it himself?

“The expenses were not that high just to get another dubber,” Wood says. “I have a lot of friends in smaller bands, and people don’t have to commit to 100 tapes if I can do as little as five.”

Wood’s gear takes up one coffee table in his home, where he can dub on demand. His runs top out below 300. He did 250 copies of Going Down for Shit Horse, the aforementioned no-wave blues-rock band, to sell at a show in New York. He also did 200 copies of Triangle, a compilation of local bands including Stevie, Personality Cult, and Sunny Slopes, whose wide-eyed, reverb-soaked dreampop Wood cites as an example of the label’s ideal. But he likes doing smaller runs because of the care that can go into each copy.

“I’ve found that the quality isn’t as good when I do high speeds in bulk,” Wood says. “If I do a slower dub with cassette decks rather than my dubbers, I’m able to focus on the quality of the tapes.”

Last year, M Is We released Ghosts, an alternately majestic and frantic tape from which only the A-side was posted online. This Friday, May 29, the B-side—an atmospheric reworking of the first side—will go up on Broken Sound’s Bandcamp as (ghosts).

And on May 1, Broken Sound released its first vinyl offering, a split seven-inch featuring M Is We and Night Battles. The former’s “What You Carry” suggests a timeline where Ian Curtis lived to sing for New Order, while the latter’s “Flat on My Back” is a burly, crashing anthem.

The first problem Wood confronted was how to retain the label’s DIY spirit while outsourcing production to a plant, Georgia’s Kindercore. The solution was to hire them only to press the discs so that the bands could make the labels and cover art themselves.

The second problem was a little more intractable—is it weird to put out a record on a label with “Tapes” in its name? Wood decided to change it to “Broken Sound Records” on the physical release, to make it harmonious with itself.

Broken Sound is entwined with Brian John Mitchell’s stalwart experimental label, Silber Records, which put out the first M Is We album. Sometimes, the old friends share releases—Broken Sound will do the cassette, Silber the digital.

It’s also immersed in circles where tapes have the cachet that vinyl does in others. We’ve reviewed a lot of cassette releases lately, from the post-punk of Cochonne, on Sorry State Records, to the underground techno of Binky and Faster Detail, on Hot Releases. The Mountain Goats recently went back to cassette roots, and DiggUp Tapes has been at it for years. The squiggly sound of fast-forwarding and the definitive click of a tape’s end have the same aesthetic richness as the crackle of a dusty groove.  

“It’s the easiest and cheapest thing, and it’s so aesthetically appealing,” Wood says. “Unlike all the mass-produced tapes you’d get in the ‘80s, we’re making all different colors, different tape sleeves and kinds of J-cards. I think that’s the appeal—back to cut-and-paste, hands-on making. It’s almost like an arts and crafts project for me.” 

Contact arts and culture editor Brian Howe at bhowe@indyweek.com. 

DEAR READERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW MORE THAN EVER. Support independent local journalism by joining the INDY Press Club today. Your contributions will keep our fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle, coronavirus be damned.