After achieving such large-scale success just a few years ago, it’s weird that the title of Tapes ‘n Tapes’ sophomore full-length, Walk It Off, would seem quite so appropriate. But it does. Released in the first quarter of 2006, the Minneapolis band’s debut, The Loon, was among the first of the notable blog-rock phenomena, inspiring instant over-the-top praise, first web-based, then in all the biggest glossies. And then, almost as quickly, it seemed like the entire music world turned on them, holding up the band as the embodiment of internet music culture, which people were beginning to take issue with, if only because they didn’t quite understand what was going on or how it might some day affect their jobs. The bloggers, too, turned on them — one of the first and still finest examples of this new wave of people turning their backs on something as soon as anyone else embraces it.
What was crazy about the whole thing for me, though, was that I think an entire year went by before I even heard the record. It seemed, frankly, inconsequential in terms of the band’s ever-unfolding saga, and it was easy to take part in the conversation without ever actually talking about the music — and, more than anything else, this was the problem, if there was one at all, with the way people were beginning to consume music.
Now over two years removed from its release, The Loon was neither as good as people said it was right off the bat, nor as bad as people suddenly decided it was just a few months later. It was heavily steeped in 90s indie-rock — Pavement and the Pixies are the most convenient references — with a touch of what was either punk rock aggression or youthful exuberance. Either way, it was sloppy and fun and their energy was contagious, even if the songs deeper into the record occasionally fell somewhat short.
With Walk It Off, they’ve (literally) cleaned up their act, hiring established producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) to give them a bit more direction in the studio, which, it turns out, was the last thing they needed. This record sounds better than the first — who knew the drummer was so good? — and it’s probably more cohesive, too, but ultimately they fail to build upon the things that were already good, and they’ve failed to correct the things that were not. Much of that scattershot energy is gone, or at least obscured by studio sheen. ‘Say Back Something’ and ‘Demon Apple’ just sort of mosey along, and ‘The Dirty Dirty’, despite being upbeat, seems dialed-in. They’re still too obviously indebted to their influences, too — ‘Time of Songs’, ‘Hang Them All’ and ‘Headshock’ are all Modest Mouse all the time, and it’s a bit tiresome. There are promising moments, though, like the hazy, dark ‘Anvil’ and the breezy, psych-tinged ‘Conquest’, both of which feature assured, natural-sounding vocals from frontman Josh Grier. Are they enough to ward off rumors of a sophomore slump? Probably not.
But let’s remember something about these guys: In internet time, Tapes ‘n Tapes seem like seasoned — hell, maybe even washed-up — veterans. But in reality, things are far less dire: Walk It Off is their second record, which is neither enough to crown them the most important band in the world, nor enough to write them off completely. They’re trying to figure out what kind of band they are, and, despite current trends, hearing that process has always been half the fun.