Wednesday, April 9, 2008

review: Tapes 'n Tapes Walk It Off

“I’ll be on the record when you’re gone…”
Tapes ‘n Tapes sophomore album, Walk It Off [XL], begins with an opener (“Le Ruse”) that might have been taught in Indie-Rock 101:

“Now class, it’s a good idea to begin the album with some noise, just so people know you’re cool. But then it’s straight into a catchy verse, a subtle chorus, repeat this, then a big booming bridge. Make sure the vocals are pretty distorted and buried in the mix, so that when people finally realize what you’re saying, you seem even smarter. Slam the outro like a mutherfucker, then you’re done right at the 3:00 mark. And that’s Professor Malkmus to you.”

Do I sound like I’m trashing this song? I’m not.

Like good bands who know their place, Tapes ‘n Tapes’ goal seems not to be one of reckless exploration, but instead to dig deep within pre-determined borders, working the land like an indie-rock farmer (allow a moment for that image to sink in). On their sophomore album, they churn out a veritable bounty of great tracks that seem to be in a very similar vein as their much-loved debut, The Loon. But don’t let the first impression fool you; there’s a lot more going on here, and most of these tracks, while possibly feeling at home on the debut, would have been considered standouts there. On Walk It Off, such standouts are the norm (holy contradiction Batman!).

First single “Hang Them All” seems to be a cross between Pixies and mid-period Radiohead (yes please!). A brooding, uneasy base line conjures Colin Greenwood’s best work, while a twitchy guitar riff and a subdued, slightly more articulate Frank Black-style yelp seems to have been perfected by lead singer Josh Grier. Even the insistent drums during the verse seem to be cribbed from Kid A’s “Morning Bell”. The song’s title may seem straight out of Hail to the Thief's paranoid mindset, but when the organ joyously joins in on the chorus, "Hang Them All" becomes anthemic, a supremely righteous trait linked with American rock and roll. It’s all your will power not to shake your fist and scream “HANG THEM ALL! HANG THEM ALL!” at passersby while walking with your headphones on.

Elsewhere, “Time of Songs” lyrics seem to be self-referential, talking about measure, meter, and being on the record (literally), while “Headshock” pushes the lo-fi vocals to the perfect ledge that CYHSY overshot on their sophomore opener/title track “Some Loud Thunder” (Ed Noted: Also a Fridmann production). “Conquest” and “Demon Apple” have some amazing keyboard fills that are so buried in the mix it takes about 10 listens to even notice their existence, reward for repeat listens. Vocals on the raucous “Blunt” are so distorted the track might be mistaken for an instrumental if one wasn’t really paying attention.

Not everything on the album rings true with irreverence; as with their debut, Walk It Off feels a bit top-heavy, the latter half populated by slower numbers, only to close with a scorcher (“The Dirty Dirty”). “George Michael” and “Anvil” are well sequenced, but don’t really bring anything new to the party. “Lines” is a slow starter that builds similarly to The Loon's “Manitoba”; both tracks pick up the tempo mid-song, and stay there until an eventual burn out.

With uber-producer Dave Fridmann at the helm, (Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Weezer, CYHSY, just to name a few…), Tapes ‘n Tapes seem a little more comfortable in their own skin. Re-listening to The Loon, I find myself thinking of it as a band’s clever introduction, showing the foresight to hold back at times, allowing the listener a good view of what they were trying to accomplish. By contrast, Walk It Off holds little back, expanding on the same amalgamation of influences without forgetting what they were. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if a group this talented chose to move in a new direction for their next project; if their next album comes out sounding all wowee zowee wacky, don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

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