The Tompkins Square Imaginary Anthem on Cassette
Nashville Pedal Steel Maverick and Third Man Recording Artist Luc Schneider curated Tompkins Square’s latest Imaginational Anthem compilation. Although its uniqueness may come from exploring pedal steel music, ‘Luke Schneider Presents The Imaginary Anthem Vol. XI: Chrome Universal – A Survey of Modern Pedal Steel’ is also the label’s first-ever cassette release (both a CD and digital release are scheduled for August 5 with vinyl to follow later).
Before delving deeper into this new offer, it is worth discussing the place of the cassette in today’s music. It’s fascinating, especially in DIY culture, although in recent years the format has also been embraced for a number of mainstream releases. Although I’m old enough to remember buying cassette tapes, I’ve long associated the tape format with fringe music where the format never really died, that is, long before the gurus marketing behind Bjork and Billie Eilish decide it was a good idea to jump on the retro trend bandwagon. In 2019, the UK recorded its highest sales in a decade (according to Thread75,000 cassettes were sold in the UK).
The difference between the big players and the many smaller or specialist outlets that have clung to the format seems culturally vast, having little or nothing in common. The tastes of Cabin floor esoteric are a good example of this – a small cottage-style industrial label that started releasing cassette tapes in 2009. They came in beautiful little cardboard boxes decorated to the touch, often with other ephemera inside, and each was dubbed at home in real time.
Looking around the FR office, there are plenty of tapes on the shelf… a fair number are by Cabin Floor Esoterica as well as releases by other artists including Cameron Knowler (Live at Eastman House), Joseph Allredis Nightsong, Joshua Massad and Dylan Aycockthe eponymous release of, Officer!ossification, stick in the wheelis against the abominable beyond, and Sally Morganis recent Mugs Release. I even LankumCold Old Fire on tape. All in all, I guess most of the releases I have are by guitarists, where the band always seems to find a lot of favor, so it’s not really surprising that Tompkins Square is drawn to the format.
Of course, the cassette had a big role to play in the DIY and punk music scene; for many; it was also an affordable way to promote and self-distribute – we think in particular of Daniel Johnston. The history of the compact cassette was explored in ‘Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape’ in which Lou Ottens, the inventor, dug into the past to understand why the format won’t die… he was helped in his mission by people like Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins and Damien Jurado who saw it as a gateway to creativity. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
Returning to this new take on Tompkins Square, Luke Schneider is an in-demand session musician in Nashville, Tennessee and has been a central band member for William Tyler as well as Caitlin Rose, Margo Price and Orville Peck.
Last year, Schneider collaborated with another guitarist William Tyler on the four-song EP To understandvia Leave Records, while in 2020 his radical approach to steel guitar shined through on Altar of Harmony. His playing of a 1967 Emmons Push/Pull pedal steel guitar has been described as a total reimagining of an iconic instrument. Listen to the opening track of the album, anteludium:
Imaginational Anthems X was curated by Marcus Obst (of die for bad music), and the IX (reviewed here) seen Ryley Walker take the helm. These highly anticipated releases from Tompkins Square are far from predictable. As Glenn Kimpton said in his review of IX: “Although in his album cover message Ryley salutes those who support the future of solo guitar music, anyone expecting a compilation of instruments American Primitive-influenced finger-style acoustics will be amazed at the variety of material on this record.
On Luke Schneider presents The Imaginary Anthem Vol. XI: Chrome Universal – A Survey of Modern Pedal Steel’ there are exclusive tracks by legend B.J. Coleas well as leading exponents of the instrument, including Susan Alcorn, Luke himself and the British expat/Nashville hotshot Spencer Cullum among others. Nashville native and recording artist Merge William Tyler wrote a beautifully detailed history of the Pedal of Steel for the package (CD and LP versions only).
CD/Digital/LP releases to follow.
1) BJ Cole – Ely revisited
2) Jonny Lam – Rainbow across the Valley
3) Rocco Deluca – Many sing softly
4) Luke Schneider – Yosemite
5) Spencer Cullum – An ode to dormancy
6) Barry Walker Jr. – I will walk on the lion and the cobra
7) Susan Alcorn – Gilmor Blue
8) Maggie Bjorkland – Lysgliimt
9) Will Van Horn – Attwater