Tapes n’ Tapes – Walk it Off
Beggars XL Recording (2008)
By Christian Klepac
The buzz around Tapes n’ Tapes is that they were one of the first “blog bands” brought to real world fame by an enthusiastic Internet campaign. The truth is that they are just some nice boys who met at Minnesota’s Carleton College and put out a couple of albums of catchy indie rock that is somehow both austere and funky.
2005’s The Loon introduced a mix of earnest, slightly goofy confusion and tight, ornate rock songs that hearkened back to Spoon, The Feelies, and The Pixies. Their second LP, Walk It Off, is more lush but hardly more subdued.
When trying to describe a point of reference for Walk It Off, it’s easy to point to Arcade Fire and its descendant Indie orchestras, what with the end-of-days bombast and anguished, declamatory vocals, and perhaps the older, bigger band was a direct influence.
However there is something in Walk It Off that pulls this sound in a more good-humored direction. The band relishes its moments of over-the-top psyche fuzz in a way that Arcade Fire probably wouldn’t, and singer Josh Grier sometimes tries on the kind of gleefully belligerent is-it-a-put-on swagger that used to be Isaac Brock’s specialty.
Tapes n’ Tapes also employ sweetly goofy choruses that remind me of 80s radio rock (both “Hang Them All” and “Conquest” have some) and they have glam and pop flourishes that echo the spirit of their New Wave influences more convincingly than other bands like them manage to do.
If the new directions in Walk It Off sound less than totally compelling, it’s possible that some blame can be laid on the signature sounds of David Fridmann, the producer who turned The Flaming Lips from a cult band into a full-blown Cult via Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi. Fridmann’s spaced-out approach does wonders for some material, but this band was sonically dense already, and the extra however many effects might not have been necessary.
When Grier turns up the CB-radio distortion and the band dives into one of its heavy instrumental vamps (like the latter half of “Demon Apple”), this suddenly becomes a really good record.
Tapes n’ Tapes starts to shine as its own entity on side 2 of Walk It Off, as though the more imitative numbers had been placed up front for DJs with short attention spans: the dreamy, drifty ambience of “Anvil” fulfils a promise the first half of the album didn’t even make, and “The Dirty Dirty” packs a weird, asymmetric beat that brings just the right flavor to the album’s conclusion. (Then again, maybe this is just how they do – “Omaha” and “Buckle” are two of the most remarkable songs on The Loon, and they’re buried right near the end).
If I have any complaint with Walk It Off, it’s that Tapes n’ Tapes are coming to fit ever so snugly into their modern Indie niche, in an area bounded by Interpol, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the aforementioned Arcade Fire, and half a dozen other “me too” bands.
Is it their fault that they and a bunch of their contemporaries sound very similar? Probably not. Such coincidences used to be called “movements” or “schools.” They are nothing be upset about, and this band is arguably one of the most agile and endearing in its category.
All the same, I can’t help hoping that next time they manage to tap back into the vein of manic energy they used to create their strikingly original debut album. We don’t need another Arcade Fire, but we sure do need Tapes n’ Tapes. – (6.5/10)
Tapes n’ Tapes play The Showbox at the Market on May 14.