Like a lot of people, I rather enjoyed The Loon, which was the first Tapes ‘n Tapes album. Also like a lot of people, I didn’t much care for the follow-up, Walk It Off. If that makes me a hipster in your book, the only thing I can say to that is, “Fuck you. I like what I like.” (Seriously, though, can we just stop 1) calling people hipsters and 2) hating hipsters on the internet already? Honestly, why did anyone give a fuck about so-called hipsters in the first place? They’re just people liking stuff and doing stuff that you don’t like. Lots of people like and do stuff I don’t like, but I don’t divide them into groups so I can sort my would-be enemies. Who has that kind of time?)
So Tapes ‘n Tapes stand accused, with Outside (an album that was released on my birthday this year), of brazenly trying to go back to the well from whence they pulled The Loon. According to every review of Outside that I have read – positive and negative – Tapes ‘n Tapes are trying to forget Walk It Off and push the reset button with this new record. The Pitchfork review (I’m sure they think it’s witty) even opens with the line, “You’re forgiven for forgetting Tapes ‘n Tapes.” There are two things that piss me off about that line. First, I don’t need special dispensation from Pitchfork for anything, thanks. But the second thing that pisses me off about that line is that it is sadly correct. I have forgotten Tapes ‘n Tapes. Though I liked The Loon, I haven’t listened to it in years.
As far as pushing the reset button goes, Outside sounds a lot more like The Loon than Walk It Off, but it doesn’t strike me that Tapes ‘n Tapes are making some cynical attempt to delete their second album from their musical history. I think it’s more likely that the band wanted to take a simpler approach to Outside and take their time to make a good record on their own terms. Sure, Outside smacks a little of “back to the drawing board” but that inclination makes sense after an album as messy as Walk It Off (and let’s face it, folks: after the critical jizz bath that greeted The Loon, Tapes ‘n Tapes never really stood a chance of delivering a second album that met expectations).
So the fifteen dollar question: is Outside good? Will it once again make Tapes ‘n Tapes a prototypical “blog band”, whatever the fuck that means? (I had never encountered that phrase before reading reviews of this album and I hope to never encounter it again. Using phrases like “blog band” is a good way to get labeled a hipster and be showered in scorn. In that case, you’d deserve it.) According to the band’s Wikipedia page, “it wasn’t until The Loon received a favorable review from Pitchfork Media…that the band started to find success.” I guess Pitchfork staffers are writing Wikipedia pages now, huh? Anyway, Pitchfork has pulled a Pontius Pilate on Tapes ‘n Tapes and washed their hands of that band entirely (take heart, Tapes ‘n Tapes – you are not the first band to get the Pitchfork Verbal Hump & Dump™ and you will most definitely not be the last band to get it either), so if they need Pitchfork’s blessing to once again be catapulted into the hearts and minds of the Indie Internet Intelligentsia, I guess they’re boned. But I’ve read plenty of reviews of Outside and I think Pitchfork’s is by far the harshest.
If I sound like I’m picking on Pitchfork, it’s because I am (it’s part of our mission here at Bollocks! to take the piss out of Pitchfork. It’s in the charter). But look: if Pitchfork is a little smug in their approach (and they are), they are not wholly inaccurate in their assertion that Tapes ‘n Tapes is a bit nondescript as a band. A lot of Outside sounds like a lot of stuff that has come out since The Loon. Though I certainly don’t think “One in the World” is a shameless attempt at ripping off Vampire Weekend (though they say it takes a thief to catch one), people are going to associate that sound with the more popular band. And, whether you like their sound or not, Vampire Weekend has a sound and I still feel like Tapes ‘n Tapes only kinda sorta has one. The faster, looser, jangly numbers are still the best, but the two longest songs on Outside – “Nightfall” and “Hidee Ho” – definitely feel like the longest, which is always gonna get you in trouble. I can understand the desire to be genreless (my hatred of genre is well-documented on Bollocks!, and I consider it a subdivision of my hatred of useless labels used to categorize people and things for the convenience of the close-minded and intellectually lazy), but “being difficult to distinguish from most other bands” is not the same as being genreless.
So we can call Tapes ‘n Tapes a “work in progress” and give them a Pitchfork 5.5, but how helpful is that? It’s not helpful. So I wanna help Tapes ‘n Tapes if I can and, like all pretentious blowhards, I believe I can.
Firstly, looking toward the development of a distinctive sound, Tapes ‘n Tapes might turn Josh Grier’s vocals loose a little more frequently. He has a great growl to his voice that I think has been underused since The Loon (it also helps “Nightfall” end better than it starts) and I think he could really pick up the ball that Caleb Followill seemed to willfully drop right after Aha Shake Heartbreak.
Second, I think both Walk It Off and Outside are still too clean from a production standpoint. This band will be better when Grier is yowling and the music is a little less polished. Not every band can pull off the calculatedly sloppy thing, but we’ve already heard Tapes ‘n Tapes do it and I firmly believe they can do it again. Sooner is better on this one, guys.
Finally, perhaps most important of all, I think Tapes ‘n Tapes needs to stop giving a fuck what people think about them. With the benefit of hindsight, I see now that The Loon’s greatest triumph was that, though it was fairly unoriginal (even in the context of a young century where Green Day stumbles from badly aping the Clash to worsely aping the Who and My Chemical Romance labors under the delusion that they’re somehow not an emo band), the songs came too fast and felt too free for a listener to get too serious about them. I think that’s because Tapes ‘n Tapes didn’t worry too much about what people would think of The Loon. It was, well, loony (how else do you explain a hit single in which a guy screams, “I’ll be your badger”?). Walk It Off was supposed to be their Big Indie Rock coming out party and it ended up being frightfully dull. So now we have timid, awkward Outside, an auditory adolescence which is certainly listenable but nowhere near as much fun as the form to which it is supposed to be a return.