Tapes ‘n Tapes: “Freak Out”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Tapes-n-Tapes-Freak-Out.mp3|titles=Tapes ‘n Tapes: “Freak Out”]
It wasn’t too long ago when Tapes ‘n Tapes was indie rock’s next big thing. And there certainly was reason for the hype. The Minneapolis-based quartet’s 2006 effort, The Loon, is chock-full of raw pop hooks and a DIY sensibility that has often propelled forward the best that the genre has to offer.
And back in 2006, Tapes ‘n Tapes certainly seemed destined to become one of the elite. When the everyday no-namers decided to self-release a bad-ass concoction of Pixies-style rock songs that were just as upbeat and catchy as they were introspective and self-exploratory, something new and refreshing was at hand. The band came out of nowhere, really, garnering a buzz that thrust it onto a major label, and it was crowned as indie’s great new hope.
Then, like many heavily hyped bands, Tapes ‘n Tapes fell victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. Its first effort on a major label, Walk It Off, in 2008, fell short of reviving the youth and vivacity that dripped from every track on The Loon. Gone were the rough edges and hook-laden pop songs; instead, the album featured a collection of songs that seemed intent on missing the mark. Aside from the album’s standout track “Hang ’Em All,” Walk It Off seemed unable to capture what The Loon did.
It lacked that same freshness, that same energy that the band was somehow able to bottle on its first album. The band no longer offered its sparse yet frenzied melodies that helped each song gleam. Each song purged on gluttonous arrangements and instruments, an indulgent examination of what the band should have done with a major-label budget. And so Tapes ‘n Tapes became another victim of hype — so much promise, but so much pressure. And it fell to the wayside, for better or worse.
Now, the band’s 2011 effort, Outside, finds Tapes ‘n Tapes trying to get back to basics. Abandoning the ambitious approach it took on Walk It Off, the band has instead embraced the stripped-down arrangements and instrumentation that made The Loon such a gem. Album opener “Badaboom” sounds like a song that could easily fit somewhere on The Loon, with its sporadic drumbeat, simple guitar riff, and pop melody. The Tropicália-esque “One In The World” evokes eccentricities that, given the popular music climate, might be likened to the sound of the much less quirky and over-hyped Vampire Weekend. “SMW” is more accessible than anything on its debut. And “The Saddest of All Keys” finds singer Josh Grier channeling his inner Black Francis — a tendency so precious when the band first got its start.
A majority of the songs are driven by DIY rock basics — guitar, bass, and drums. These are the moments when the band is at its best. While there are a few adornments of keyboards, organ, and horns, Tapes ‘n Tapes is more than willing to keep things simple and keep things moving. (There are, however, a few instances when the album slows down that just seem useless; “Hidee Ho” neutralizes the raucous energy that “The Saddest of All Keys” so energetically built up.) But for the most part, Tapes ‘n Tapes rediscovers what made it such a big deal in the first place.
To be fair, though, the band isn’t trying to put out another Loon. Though the attempt to reconnect with what worked might be at the heart of this album, it’s apparent that Outside is full of a matured, wiser musicality. The band’s brash youthfulness isn’t as apparent as it was on its debut, but it usually works to the band’s advantage; an older, more experienced Tapes ‘n Tapes is at the helm.
With that “new for the sake of being new” buzz out of the way, the band has placed its focus on the songs themselves in an attempt to construct something that goes beyond youthful indifference. This not be the return to form that some fans were hoping for, but it is the evolution of a band that has seen both success and disappointment, and is content with the way it is now — whether others like it or not.