There’s something to be said for the few bands that can pull off a gratifying sophomore release, especially when it follows the gauntlet of critical praise that normally accompanies a great debut album. Premature success can be the downfall of even the most talented groups, and thanks to the boom of blog-generated buzz bands, it seems as if more groups make it big before their members have had the chance to fully explore their musical capacities, ultimately leading to dismal follow-ups. The ever-growing cliché of the sophomore slump has become so commonplace that it’s in danger of diminishing the potential for genuinely talented newcomers to find musical success.
This “Pitchfork effect” is characterized by a promising young band’s quick rise on the hype radar thanks to unanimously good reviews by pretentious pop critics and an ever-expanding fan base of web-saavy music connoisseurs. These innovative debut albums are subsequently succeeded by lackluster follow-ups, calling the band’s talent into question and pushing yet another promising group to the wayside.
Experimental rockers Tapes ‘n Tapes continue this proud tradition of subpar successor albums with their second full-length release, Walk It Off. The Minneapolis-based troupe enjoyed a quick jump to oh-so-cool status after they were crowned as the blog band of 2005. This early exposure placed the band – which self-released its debut, The Loon, from its members’ apartment – in the middle of a record-label bidding war. XL emerged victorious. The quick snatch-up pushed the young band back into the studio to hastily churn out a follow-up before Tapes ‘n Tapes turned into Tapes ‘n Who? The end product is a lifeless imitation of the Pixies, though, sadly, not nearly as interesting as the groups’ ’80s alternative heroes.
For their latest recording session, the Tapes boys joined forces with superstar producer Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Weezer) to bring out the finished studio sound that their previous budget couldn’t allow. After a few spins of Walk It Off, it seems that the only tool the band utilized in the studio involved lots and lots of distortion. Singer and guitarist Josh Grier claims that the band “wanted to make a rock record, but [without] over-indulgences,” and the band certainly kept true to this promise. Besides a few slightly-trippy guitar chords that grow old about a minute into the track, the album’s biggest eclectic flourishes are the strangely awesome keyboard arrangements that spring up randomly on otherwise unpromising power pop tracks like “Hang Them All.”
Throughout the rest of the album, the slowed-down distorted beats place the listener into a spaced-out daze. Opener “Le Ruse” would have been a hard-shooting start if Grier’s vocals weren’t completely warped with pro-tools. The result sounds somewhat off-beat, complete with an awkward arrangement of competing guitars juxtaposed against one another during the song’s anticlimactic end. The track “Conquest” carries itself a little bit better. The song is an endearing mix of playful guitar chords, which give way to a quirky keyboard breakdown as the song pulls to a close.
The album’s most promising tracks are – true to form – the simplest, most straight-forward efforts. On “Say Back Something,” Grier does his best Win Butler impersonation as a pair of uncomplicated strings mingle over a routine drum beat. Mellowed-out “Anvil” is another track that carries to fruition the record’s aim of masterful. The song’s slowed tempo adds a certain depth to Grier’s voice that unfortunately is lacking throughout the rest of the album.
Has Tapes ‘n Tapes’s early success via the interwebs forever doomed them to “has-been” status? That would be a harsh judgment call. After all, music appreciation is all about the love of the art, not who can name drop the most obscure up-and-coming band of the year. Tapes ‘n Tapes get this; that may explain why the band chose to join an independent U.K. music label instead of whoring itself out for a more lucrative record deal. The band understands that it’s all about the music in the end, which is why it’s a shame that Walk It Off has demonstrated that the band is largely a product of hype, rather than substance.