Eight or nine years ago, I could have easily imagined myself getting into a band like Tapes ‘n Tapes, getting excited, telling a few of my friends about them, and generally accepting that, aside from a dozen or so people, nobody else I knew would be interested in them. Now, that’s not so much the case. Be it recommendations from bloggers, internet searching from bored top 40 ex-pats or reviews in ‘zines like humble old us, a band like Tapes ‘n Tapes will ultimately end up with a blurb in Interview magazine and earning a record deal with a large indie label after selling a respectable amount of copies of their self-released debut. And that’s how things seem to be going for Minneapolis’ Tapes ‘n Tapes. This would all be inconsequential, of course, if the music weren’t so good. And boy, is it good.
Named because of the “tapes and tapes” of material that they initially wrote and recorded, Tapes `n Tapes aren’t proprietors and progenitors of a new genre or a new “scene.” There’s no need for stylistic hybridization here; Tapes `n Tapes write direct, commanding indie rock songs that are nearly impossible not to like. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re universal, or even have “mass appeal,” those who get their rocks off on the intricacies and subtleties as well as the hook of a pop song, will easily fall in love with Tapes’ debut, The Loon.
The eleven songs that make up The Loon are warm and fuzzy, yet angular and abrasive. They recall Spoon and Pavement as much as The Pixies and The Talking Heads, and, at times, even Wire. Its sequencing is impeccable, as well. This may sound like trivial praise, but when an album begins with such a brisk and funky track as “Just Drums,” while ending on a grin-worthy, waltzing anthem like “Jakov’s Suite,” it’s hard not to wax garrulous on order and how well it’s presented as a whole.
“Drums” and “Jakov’s” are, without a doubt, two of the best tracks on the record, yet The Loon, with all of its ups and downs and changes in tempo and volume, maintains a fantastic level of quality songwriting. “The Iliad” sounds a bit like acoustic Pixies at first before spreading its analog synthesizer wings and soars toward a post-punk sun. “Insistor,” the first single, maintains a frenetic pace of galloping drums and eighth-note strums, while arising to a giant, magnificent chorus. “In Houston” creates a moody darkness with jazzy guitar chords and a resonating xylophone melody, yet the chorus finds the music alternately dropping out in favor of a harsher, speak-singing lyric.
There are slower, gentler ballads, as well, like the dreamy “Manitoba” or the melancholy “10 Gallon Ascot.” Yet, these moments are broken up with a frantic, paranoid acousti-rocker titled “Cowbell,” which begins with a sliding bass rumble and finds singer Josh Grier intoning “I’ve been a better lover with your mother.” Sincerity, with snottiness, serenity with anxiety, melody with angularity—these are the things that have made so many of the greatest bands of the past 20 years just that. And without making a carbon-copy of any of them, Tapes `n Tapes are close to earning such honors themselves.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.