Album Review: Tapes 'n Tapes – Outside

Tapes ‘n Tapes‘ third album finds them in the midst of a midlife crisis of sorts. The Minneapolis quartet’s initial claim to fame was the blog-buzz garnered by their rustic-sounding debut, 2005’s The Loon. They were hotly tipped to be the next big thing in lo-fi indie rock, following in the footsteps of the Pixies and Pavement; that was, until their fairly underwhelming 2008 followup, Walk It Off. Fans and critics alike cited the absence of The Loon‘s unpolished charm and over-production as cause for complaint.

And so, Tapes ‘n Tapes faced the perennial third album itch: Do they make another attempt at achieving what they aimed for on their sophomore record and risk falling in the same pit twice? Do they take a second stab at album number one’s bright spots? Or, do they scrap everything and try to record an LP that’s completely fresh and different from either?

By the sound of it, the band has done a bit of each. The glossy sheen and more prepared sound that permeated much of Walk It Off makes a reappearance as does some of the quartet’s wilder side. Fans of Tapes ‘n Tapes’ debut will welcome back some of the raucous tendencies; the wild guitar and organ freak-out at the end of gritty album highlight “The Saddest of All Keys” could have easily been a single off of The Loon.

Also making a comeback are some of the ironic touches that made Tapes ‘n Tapes so winning to begin with; the band placed “Outro”, which plays like a fitting closer to the album, at the album’s halfway point, segueing it right into Outside‘s first single, the somewhat-deceptively titled “Freak Out”.

Outside also sees the quartet opt to self-produce for the first time since their lauded debut. Their previous record was produced by Dave Fridmann (who, at the time, was hot off the success of producing MGMT’s smashing debut, Oracular Spectacular), and it’s interesting to hear the outfit abandon much of the glistening psych-pop influence that the former Mercury Rev/Flaming Lips collaborator brought to the table, returning to their folkier roots.

Tapes ‘n Tapes certainly wear their influences on their sleeves; the sparkling keys and thumping rhythm section of album closer “Mighty Long” instantly call to mind indie giants Modest Mouse, while the slightly out of place horn section on “Nightfall” could just as easily be a shout-out to fuzz-folk originators Neutral Milk Hotel.

All in all, Outside is a solid third album and a return to form of sorts from a band clearly in the midst of a big transition. Full of many of the more winning qualities of their first two records, it’s an LP that has its fair share of memorable moments.


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