Outside is an overwhelmingly appropriate title for Tapes ‘n Tapes’ third album. Just like the similarly feted and forgotten Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Cold War Kids, this indie rock four piece were the talk of internet town circa '05/'06. A sturdy South By Southwest showing was followed up by pleasant Pavement-aping debut album The Loon and even a prized contract with XL Recordings. At that point, this young Minneapolis band’s career path seemingly couldn't get any better.
And it didn't. One flimsy follow-up album later in Walk It Off and Tapes ‘n Tapes parted ways with XL to make it on their own imprint, Ibid, without the support of a blogosphere and music press who had long since moved on.
The success of Outside will depend on how far it allows Tapes ‘n Tapes to reconnect with their former critical lustre at the front and centre of American alt-rock.
From the shape of the rambunctiously titled album opener ‘Badaboom’, such an occurrence doesn't seem wholly unlikely. Its shuddering drum intro rattles into a slick synth-lead refrain with unashamedly anthemic panache, crowned further by an inspired sparring match between coarsely struck guitar chords and glockenspiel.
It’s a genuinely brilliant start to the LP and one which forms the record’s highlight by an embarrassingly wide margin. Like a frantic damage limitation exercise following premature ejaculation, try as Tapes ‘n Tapes might to recoup the ecstasy of ‘Badaboom’, their creative juices are too thin on the ground to be apparent elsewhere.
‘On And On' squanders a writhing krautrock beat by segueing it into a simply lazy chorus during which lead singer Josh Grier reduces the track to utter tedium by rambling “on and on and on and on and on and on and on.”
Likewise, a neat use of mariachi horns on ‘Nightfall’ is stunted by an overly stop-start chopping guitar rhythm that constrains proceedings from blossoming into anything other than a nondescript “waste of time” as Grier again so aptly puts it.
The ongoing air of squandered opportunity that clouds Outside is hardly aided by an overly glossy production job which gives prominence to artistic excesses previously obscured by Tapes ‘n Tapes’ commitment to a lo-fi aesthetic.
‘Hidee Ho’ takes a full two minutes forty seconds to evolve from a series of trebly picked notes to a climactic blues tinged rock out. Yet even allowing for such an unnecessarily long come-on, the impact of its inevitable surge of feedback is entirely muted by a mix which doesn't drive anyway near the desired shock value out of your speakers.
The fleshed out accordion centric acoustics of ‘SWM’ fare better under such a polished sonic palette, yet another dull lyrical motif, “you are alone”, repeated ad infinitum at the track’s conclusion scuppers all previous plays for subtle melancholy.
The general malaise that characterises Outside manifests itself in many forms: ‘Mighty Long’s overwhelming dearth of meaning, the sluggish pacing of ‘People You Know’ or the shortlived kick-back against mediocrity that is ‘Freak Out’.
In short though, it is an all too inessential album to justify its creator’s desires to clamber back into indie’s major leagues.
4Robert Leedham's Score