Men in checkered shirts and cardigans; on style haircuts; skinny jeans. Guitars, thick framed (non subscription) glasses, brooding glares, a falsetto voiced front man and an arrogant drummer. The scene began to rumble back in 2006, and to this day bands like Vampire Weekend and The Drums thrive on a pot of sunshine otherwise known as calypso pop. But they weren’t the first to test the chlorine blue waters, oh no.
Minneapolis band Tapes ‘n Tapes have been rocking everything but the look since they signed to Ibid Records in 2004. If you remember them at all, you’ll remember them for their debut full length The Loon. Awash with the kind of finger tapping, hip slapping instruments we now take for granted… they even dubbed one of their songs ‘Cowbell’. Interestingly enough the release landed on British shores (via XL Recordings) in the same year that bore the foundations of what is mentioned above. Tapes ‘n Tapes are – for want of a more attractive metaphor – the unassuming, unanticipated grandparents of calypso pop. How then do they compare to the genre’s fresh faced children?
The answer is – unbelievably well. On Outside, their third album to date, the band prove accessible pop music doesn’t have to kick at the heels of credibility. ‘One in the World’ uses brass instruments without invoking the need to thump your neighbour in the face, and although the title of opener ‘Badaboom’ doesn’t inspire the greatest of reactions, the song itself has a determined momentum sincerely lacking from The Drums.
Tapes ‘n Tapes have never been tied to the dance floor; perhaps that’s why they transcend the hype that’s swallowed other acts whole. Summoning early comparisons to Pixies and Pavement, ‘Nightfall’ relates the end of a relationship to the mounting hysteria of a nearing apocalypse. It’s more Death of the Pixies than Surfa Rosa, but a grim abstract and lo-fi aesthetic are definitely underlying features.
Outside may mimic the travelling, ramshackle sound of The Loon on ‘Freak Out’, but it doesn’t eradicate all traces of Tapes ‘n Tapes’ disappointing sophomore album Walk It Off. The odd guitar solo and some heavy handed production unfortunately blemishes tracks like ‘The Saddest of All Keys’. If it weren’t for the booming chug of bass, the song could have been lifted from Dead Man’s Bones’ self-titled – never a bad thing. Likewise ‘Hidee Ho’ uses an intro unnervingly akin to any standard track by The Libertines and the instrumentals on ‘SWM’ are a bit Last of the Summer Wine.
In all honesty criticising this album is no easy task. Even during the record’s weaker moments the band shines through in an extraordinary demonstration of skill. As though anticipating the sad hiatus of resident boundary pushers Wolf Parade, Tapes ‘n Tapes have produced the kind of album an aspiring musician would walk through walls to achieve. Outside gloats at its critics and maturely turns its head away from the calypso pop acts that stole the limelight. It’s a triumph to behold.