Songs sometimes stick with you due to memories attached – a party, a summer or a first kiss. Other songs lack this connection but remain with you simply because they are so damn good. According to LastFm, Cowbell by Tapes ‘n Tapes was my most listened song for a long time. Its combination of fun yet dirty lyrics, alt-pop with blues, country & even polka influences kept Cowbell on my playlist for many years.
Tapes ‘n Tapes first album, The Loon, brought them a huge amount of attention, bringing internet fame & music blog buzz. The many different sounds coming together created a quiet hit, ending the year on many top album lists. In 2008, hit by sophomore album syndrome, Walk it Off was a more conservative sound. Lacking the energy of The Loon, Walk it off received far less attention, pushing Tapes ‘n Tapes almost out of view.
Hopes still remained high for their third album Outside. A return to their roots, the new songs bring them back to what they do best, catchy alt-pop heavily influenced by the Pixies and Pavement. Josh Grier’s vocals regain their punch, full of variation, moving from cheeky ballads, to barking shouts to his country drawl. The rest of the band join in, with keyboards, powerful guitars, and fresh clean drums.
Outside starts on a huge high, with Badaboom opening with jazzy, electronic drums, before Grier’s voice joins with a delicate yet forceful melody. Intricate and personal reminding me of seeing your favourite band on a tiny stage, each word sung to you alone. SWM is a slower swing ballad, keyboards & acoustic guitars open before building to a bouncy chantey end. It feels like Tapes ‘n Tapes have never left and all the hype they received 5 years ago was well deserved. Original yet comforting, and a brilliant start to the album.
Regrettably, as the album continues a feeling of predictability creeps in. An upbeat rocky song, moves to a slower alt-country swing ballad, before a slower darker song. This repeating cycle makes you feel as though the album has somehow skipped back through to its start of the CD, if not back to The Loon. It seems Tapes ‘n Tapes have listened to all the critics after their last album begging them to return to what they are good at, unfortunately coming across as a poor carbon copy of the Loon.
While definitely a return to their best sound, Outside is a step too far back for Tapes ‘n Tapes. Returning to your roots usually implies taking a core sound & building on it, merging the best of the past while moving it to a new level. Outside could have been one of 2011s best, but comes across as to heavily influenced by the past, the lack of originality causes an album which is merely ok. Unlike Cowbell, which seems destined to remain close to my headphones for years to come, Outside suffers from repeated listens, while still providing enough to keep me entertained. Perhaps the allusive fourth album will finally allow Tapes ‘n Tapes to live up to their potential and take over the world.