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They gave me 20 tapes / by Tali Stern

Burger Records is both a shop and a label based out of Fullerton, CA. Last month while in California and staying in Orange County with friends, we decided to take a trip to visit their retail location. When we finally got to the store, I was surprised to find that it is hidden away amongst nondescript, strip-mall style terrain. This was a surprise to me, because I thought it would be flashier, and in a crowded area. But there it was, tucked away and unassuming.

The label has been around since 2007 and the shop opened in 2009. It has, especially over the last few years, gained a lot of popularity, known for being a fun-loving, down-to-earth label with releases mainly in the surf, garage, and powerpop styles. The folks at Burger are good at connecting with their followers and maintain an active and popular social media presence that is both funny and approachable. You can tell it's a fun place before you ever go there.

Accessibility is a big part of the picture, and so it's appropriate that Burger's favorite medium is the cassette tape. Tapes are cheap to produce, but more importantly, far more affordable than other formats like vinyl. Burger has made the cassette tape its own; tapes are perfectly incorporated it into the label’s casual, fun, easy image. And it has worked, because each of these small tapes feels like a treasure. 

When I walked into the store, the first things I noticed were the neon green walls and the various stickers, patches and buttons around the register. Lots of these buttons include some very prime dad jokes, which in retrospect really adds to the vibe of this place in a very appropriate way. The second thing I noticed was the Burger cat, a cute little nugget that likes to chill out on the counter. What a pretty baby!

When I finally began leafing through records I happened upon a Divine picture disk that I immediately knew I had to get for my roommate. That's when I met Brian, the Burger label dude working the store that day. He rushed over to me and said something to the tune of, “hey isn't that crazy?” (I mean, it really is. It's a Divine picture disk.) We started talking about music, sort of, in between shopping and him doing his thing. He put a power pop tape on and I got really excited. I asked for it, and he chuckled. I guess I wouldn't have given that tape to anyone either.

As a woman who likes to talk about music, talking music with dudes can generally be very hit-or-miss. More often than not, the whole process is annoying and not worthwhile. If I even want to engage, which is rare, I'll usually have to spend the majority of the conversation proving that I even remotely know my shit. Or else I just sit back while some guy talks about how innovative Crass was even though they eventually sold out. I actually went to a show a couple of weeks ago and met a dude who literally said to me, "It's a thing with records, you wouldn't know about it." Like, completely dead serious. I laughed and twirled away with my friend Chris in response. These are the interactions I am used to.

So because of this and because of my general expectations, it was a nice surprise to be able to talk to this record store dude about music without feeling either very tiny or very bored. We talked a little about power pop, and about how 100 Flowers are playing a show in California soon. At some point I said in passing, "Ya know, I don't think I really know much on your label other than like, Peach Kelli Pop."

"REALLY?" Brian responded.

"YES," I replied, "What would you recommend?"

Brian got very excited at this point. "There is so much really good music!!! Let's go look at some tapes.”

But at this point I had spent the last of my trip money on that picture disk as well as the cassingle of “1979”, so I said, "Cool...I can probably only grab a couple so just give me some of your favorites."

"We'll figure it out," he replied.

We walked over to the impressive wall of Burger tape releases, and Brian began to quickly pull tapes. "This one... this one... oh this one is great, you need this if you like power pop!!!" Pretty soon he had too many tapes in his hands and to myself I thought, "heh heh lol okay this is awkward I'm not going to be able to get any of these oooops."

A few minutes later I was looking at a giant pile of tapes and wondering how I was awkwardly going to tell this guy that my wallet had no intention of birthing any more money and that sorry but like, one or two max.

That's when he said, “Forget about it! Just buy a couple and you can have the rest.” For free! He filled a goody bag up with about 20 tapes and I thought I was going to cry on the spot because it was a beautiful gesture and there was nothing behind it other than a true desire to share some good music with a new friend.

Almost a month later, and I have finally listened to all of the tapes. Here are some of my favorites. Most of them were simply self-titled.

There is something really special happening on this tape, something complex and beautiful and spooky. The first thing that really gets to you is the vocals on “Sweet 16”. The singer's voice has a super ghoulish element to it, almost like the Poison Girls, mixed with some seriously perfect pop melodies.

Natural Child
I liked this one within the first couple of notes: "If you love somebody enough you go where you want to go," it starts. I love that lyric, and the bluesy elements of this tape. I love the parts that are most country-influenced. There is this kind of “boy's traveling across the country together in a medium sized yellow bus” vibe going on, in a really pleasant and not at all overbearing kind of way. I actually feel like my own ability to deal with the blues is increasing with every note. woo wooo.

The first track on this tape is all over the place -- there are moments when the song feels like a Creation Records throwback, and moments of psych rock spazzy weirdness. The second song starts off slow and dreamy and all of a sudden there is a gloomey dance vibe to it. What is happening!?!? Genre explosion under a haze of fuzz. But I enjoy it. Especially when the singer's voice gets weird and deep. I can see myself listening to this tape a few times and really falling in love with the gloomier tracks.

Mozes and the Firstborn
I seriously loved the first song on this track when only a minute into it. "Do you really feel it's yours to show?" Such an emotive line. I love this i love this i love this. My favorite thus far. "I might seem like a nice guy but I'm so damn cold,” it goes. But you don't seem that cold when yr voice is so trippy and warm.

White Mystery
The first time I played this tape, my roommate said, “Whoa this sounds like Poly Styrene!” I think they also kind of sound like X at times. I'm sure everyone in the world who writes about music would say something like, “The Red Aunts or The Cramps had a Burger baby and it sounds like this.” And I love it. My favorite song on this I “Hey Shirley.”

The Tyde Once
A slow dreamy pop tape that makes me want to have a picnic in a giant green field. Something about this reminds me of summer camp. I can listen to this for the same reason that I can listen to the Smashing Pumpkins. Like, I get the same kind of dreamy, ethereal feeling like the kind you get when you're having a romantic moment with yourself. Actually I've now taken a break from writing this review because this whole tape is so beautiful it makes me feel feelings that I need to write down elsewhere. Such sad poppy psychedelic songs. Not that psyched out to make it a genre specific kind of thing but enough to take you to another place.

The Garden
Twin bothers make spazzy yet coherent instrumental tracks. Vocals start on the second song of the tape and they're high pitched and frantic yet somehow still balanced, just like the supporting melodies. Something about this is reminding me of The Rapture for some reason. But burgerfied.  

Elephant Stone
I love this one immediately too which is starting to sound boring and like I'm pandering but I am being super super serious. I guess Burger just understands my love of indiepop, psych, and punk and that weird place where all of these genres converge. I am also a sucker for crooning vocals like these, so there is that. 

Garbo's Daughter
A fun tape, and also silly. Silly is a very good thing though. I take extreme pride in my own silliness. So when I call this sillypop it is the best compliment. This is like a high school sock hop meets Helen Love (who I guess is already at the sock hop to begin with) meets me wanting to do cartwheels on the beach. 

Cool Ghouls
At this point I think I'm starting to understand the various components that create the whole of a Burger Band. These guys are a Burger band for sure. It sounds like they recorded this while actually on a surfboard.

Groovy. A little aggressive in a good way. I bet seeing this band live would be fun, I bet they smash all of their guitars and exit in a smoke machine haze. 

Jerry Rogers
I love this - so lo-fi with nice post punky vocals, but also the instrumentals sound like some of my favorite top 40 songs happening right now. This is a weird, cool mix of elements that makes me want to get incredibly slow and then play lazer tag.

Tomorrow's Tulips
I was actually really excited about this tape before I even put it in because I love this band's name so much. This has an 80s indiepop shoegaze sound that's done really perfectly one of the tracks has instrumentals that remind me of the Marine Girls. Maybe that's why I feel so gooey eyed over this on. It is now dawning on me that all of these tapes really are perfect for the summer time, but I guess it's always summer time in California. Wow, maybe I should move to California.

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