Tame Impala and the return of the flexi disc

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Forget 8-track tapes, quadrophonic LPs, and Edison cylinders; the most unjustly eclipsed audio format is clearly the flexi disc. America’s favorite flimsy sheets of cheap plastic once ruled DIY fanzines and Sunday newspaper supplements, delivering 7-inch Army recruitment songs, punk-rock singles, and other lo-fi novelties to those who didn’t mind placing a quarter on their phonograph needle to keep it from skipping.

But all good novelties must surely come to an end. In 1998, the Eva-Tone Soundsheets company, which developed, patented and manufactured the flexi-disk, declared bankruptcy. By all accounts, flexi discs were doomed to extinction.

Or were they?

On Nov. 17, the platinum psych-rock band Tame Impala will release a deluxe edition of its 2015 Currents album. Buried among the box set’s tried-and-trued collectible components — two albums, one 45, a poster and a booklet — is a bright red, translucent, space age-looking flexi disc.

Tame Impala is actually one in a series of contemporary rock artists who’ve experimented with the format. Most notably, the label Joyful Noise released a monthly flexi disc series that ran from 2012 through 2016 and included singles by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Le Butcherettes, and Daniel Johnston.

Jack White, meanwhile, launched a thousand helium balloons, each drifting up and away with a precious cargo of one flexi disc containing the subsequently released album track “Freedom at 21.” Only a handful of them reportedly fell to earth, one of which ended up selling on eBay for $4,238.88.

“As far as can be discerned, this is the highest price ever paid for a flexi-disc record,” crowed the label, “topping out usual benchmarks from obscure Japanese hardcore singles of the early 80’s and Beatles fan-club Christmas offerings.”

Other bands who’ve dabbled in the medium include Guns N’ Roses, Foo Fighters, Dead Weather and Deerhoof.

There will, undoubtedly, be more. In the meantime, flexi disc fans can gaze hopefully at the resurgence of the vinyl record market, which, after being pronounced dead during the digital revolution, climbed to nearly 12 million units in 2015.

Granted, the flexi disc will never remotely approach the sound or sales of a proper album. But they do sound marginally better than the cardboard records that were once embossed on the back of Sugar Crisp cereal boxes.

So is it possible that, in this or some similarly misguided world, the sadly neglected flexi disc could pull off some kind of small-scale lower than low-fidelity comeback? Stranger things have happened.

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