The Minneapolis-based band's first record since 2006's widely lauded "The Loon" which established them as ones to watch. Tapes 'N Tapes' signature sound is distinctly their own concoction: shaky vocals, bursts of lo-fi guitars, and haunting keyboard refrains. Jittery rock that's found the sweet spot where experimental song structure meets melodic accessibility. "The album...is unique in an era of slick 80s chic, mixing the opaque jams of Pavement with the bruised-teen freakiness of The Pixies, while adding cocktail jazz and Tex-Mex folk music like thrift store finds" - Spin.
Review by Heather Phares
On Walk It Off, Tapes 'n Tapes' first album for XL, the band trades the energy of The Loon for a more polished, cohesive sound, but it's hard to say that they got the better end of the deal. The Loon was often scattered, but appealingly so -- it sounded like what it was, a pile of tapes (and tapes!) turned into a scrappy debut album. More importantly, nearly every song on The Loon had an urgency that carried through the album's twists and turns. Tapes 'n Tapes didn't change their approach radically for Walk It Off -- their nasally vocals, angular guitars, and keyboard doodles are all in place -- but that urgency is missing, and it makes a difference. The band worked with Dave Fridmann on this album, and while teaming a quintessential indie rock producer like him with a band of indie rock classicists like Tapes 'n Tapes might seem like a good idea on paper, it doesn't quite work. Too many of the band's rambunctious edges have been buffed away, so that even when "Le Ruse"'s guitar solo splatters like silly string, it doesn't make much of an impact. And even though Fridmann's work isn't that elaborate -- by his standards, anyway -- Walk It Off's layers of sound seem to take precedence over the actual songs, as on "George Michael" (so named because the song's opening riff reminded the band of "Faith"), where the whooshing synths and lavish brass are more memorable than the melody or lyrics. That's Walk It Off's main problem: Tapes 'n Tapes make pretty straightforward music, with no eight-minute suites or wildly eclectic instrumentation to distract from whether or not their songs connect. They fail to connect to a disappointing degree here, whether on "Anvil" and "Time of Songs," which cross over from calm to listless, or on "Demon Apple" and "Blunt," rockers that mistake repetition for insistence. However, there are just as many moments when Tapes 'n Tapes pull it together: "Hang Them All" recalls The Loon's grit and energy; "Conquest"'s playful percussion, pristine chords, and roundabout yearning sound like a heart skipping a beat; and "Say Back Something" may be Walk It Off's finest moment, a nervous ballad about the subtle silence that can creep up on a couple and split them in two. "Lines" even shows how well Tapes 'n Tapes and Fridmann's collaboration could've worked for the entire album, building a looping melody from a languid (but not limp) start to galloping drums and guitars that bust out of the gate (the distorted drums that make "Headshock" sound even more impatient are another great example of when the band and producer are on the same page). For all the effort spent on Walk It Off, nothing makes as much of a visceral impact here as songs like "Insistor" did on The Loon -- often, it feels like there's fog or a glass wall between the music and listeners' ears. Walk It Off is hardly a disaster, but it is a strange, lopsided album -- despite its focus, it just doesn't play to Tapes 'n Tapes strengths as much as it should have.
Tapes 'n Tapes
Walk It Off
There's probably a fascinating scholarly paper, or at least a feel-good Oprah episode, to be mined about the four smart, quirky Minnesota boys in Tapes 'n Tapes and their internet-fueled success. After hearing Walk It Off, though, I don't care to pursue it. Like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, a band whose career appears equally shackled to the blogosphere's mercurial whims, it's tempting to romanticize TnT's rags-to-riches story. Yet on their follow-up Some Loud Thunder, CYHSY didn't just bristle in the limelight, they actively thumbed their nose at it with risky stylistic forays and stubborn hooks. That ending doesn't fit TnT follow-up Walk It Off, a blissfully directionless album guilty not of audacity but utter innocuity.
Not shying from the CYHSY parallel, the band hired Some Loud Thunder producer Dave Fridmann to breathe life into these song skeletons. Judging by The Loon's prankish ambiguity and touches of psych escapism, Fridmann's mystical touch initially seems like a perfect fit. Unfortunately, these talents don't quite behoove the creative direction TnT veers towards on Walk It Off. Despite Fridmann's track record (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Mogwai, the Delgados), TnT shy away from exploring the canyon-sized depths of sound at their producer's fingertips, instead utilizing his skills for mere decoration-- to the point of nixing the eccentric Pavement-isms of their debut for even more streamlined indie rock.
To say TnT doesn't stir up endorphins in the typical rockist-wired brain would be a lie, but their pleasure principle's less convincing on this textbook sophomore slump. The Loon was upfront about its lack of originality but made sure the listener could at least have fun connecting the dots, noting the Pixies riff here, the Built to Spill jam there. By comparison, Walk It Off's nods to its influences are too broad and underdeveloped to pursue. Sure, you can hear indie signifiers like the "Le Ruse"'s octave riff barrage or the deadpan Beatles-via-Britpop chord changes on "Conquest", but each individual song repeats these tropes too cautiously, worried an impromptu psych vamp or rawk-out outro would shatter its contents.
Amid such simplistic arrangements, a large onus falls on frontman Josh Grier's vocals. An astute Stephen Malkmus scholar, Grier again proves capable of crafting lyrics that, while arcane and often mumbled, manage to evoke strong emotions in small, timely snippets. On "Lines"' epic build, Grier's repeated yelps of "Over line!" work in tandem with an off-kilter lead guitar to construct one of the album's only successful attempts at big-stakes rock. On the Modest Mouse-y ballad "Time of Songs", Grier remains stubbornly unintelligible, though the discernible line "I'll pull you from the bottom/ And I'll leave you on the floor" contains enough emotional weight to make the track stick. Yet despite being the wordsmith behind lines like The Loon's catch phrase "like Harvard Square holds all inane," Grier's not a Morrissey or Bob Dylan; his enigmatic charm doesn't justify the use of instrumentation as mere lyrical scaffolding. Limp tracks like "Say Back Something" or "Anvil" can't subsist on a delicately strummed chord alone, and if you're gonna name a song "George Michael", it's gotta have a better punchline than Vaudeville horns and a half-assed white noise guitar solo.
By nearly all accounts, though, this album could be much worse. Many of the band's best features remain intact, especially their total lack of pretentiousness and austerity. You won't find any symphony-backed lumps of schmaltz or ill-advised stabs at dire social issues, and hey, they even named a very serviceable track here "The Dirty Dirty". However, Walk It Off attempts The Loon's indie patchwork using fewer and larger pieces, causing less-than-stellar ideas and riffs to suddenly become load-bearing pillars for painfully linear three-minute pop songs. As opposed to their ramshackle debut, TnT don't unknowingly stumble upon infectious choruses or head-turning transitions anymore, they contort flimsy songs to contain those elements.
-Adam Moerder, April 10, 2008