Tapes ‘n Tapes
The Troubadour, May 8, 2008
By Jonah Flicker
Photos by Timothy Norris
About halfway through the first night of Minnesota’s Tapes ‘n Tapes two-night stint at the Troubadour, somebody in the audience yelled out, “Another waltz!” Though this sounds like the snarky, modern-day equivalent of calling for “Freebird” at a Sebadoh show, it’s actually not an unreasonable request. After all, it seems like half of the incredibly catchy indie rock songs singer/guitarist Josh Grier and company churn out are in 6/8 time. But that’s not the only trick up their collective sleeve.
Tapes’ latest album, Walk it Off, sounds like it was mastered through a Big Muff pedal, perhaps due to the recruitment of producer Dave Fridmann (Sleater Kinney’s The Woods, Flaming Lips). In a live setting, this effect was amplified, as guitar, bass, drums, and keys practically buried Grier’s engaging warble beneath layers of warm, fuzzy, crunchy distortion.
The band opened with a wave of feedback that built and built until blasting into the long instrumental opener of “Jakov’s Suite,” from their debut, The Loon. Having proven that they would satisfy the medium-sized audience’s thirst for older, more recognizable tunes, much of the set was then devoted to the new record. Songs like “Time of Songs,” lead by Erik Appelwick’s high-end bass (and yes, this song is a waltz) and the stop-start reverb guitar-laden “Conquest” were performed with unflappably rocking energy.
Stage banter was far and few between, Grier only paused for a few seconds to talk about LA’s smog after the fifth or sixth song. Yeah, we know, Josh, we breathe this shit every day. Maybe it’s better to just shut up and play. And so Tapes did, the relatively crisp if somewhat obfuscatory mix allowing them to showcase the dynamic shifts from loud to soft that are an integral part of their charm.
It must be acknowledged that Tapes ‘n Tapes play the old-school indie rock drawn from the venerable spring of Pavement, the Pixies, Archers of Loaf, et al. There just doesn’t seem to be that many bands keeping it that real these days. With the exception of some Nord lines and the random programmed drumbeat, this is fairly basic guitar, bass, and drums rock.
Tapes ‘n Tapes aren’t stripped down post-punk, they’re not tiny-twee chamber pop, and they are certainly not electronic minimalists. These kids aren’t agents of future music riding the rock DeLorean into the past to teach us how to ride hover-skate boards. But that’s a good thing, and it’s especially exciting when a band can make such primitive instrumentation sound so good.