Tapes 'n Tapes
Outside (Ibid Records)
Consistency's a bitch. On Outside, the band's third full-length album, Tapes 'n Tapes offer 12 intricate, well-crafted indie-rock tunes that don't waste a second, delivering small hooks and occasionally gripping sonic textures. The problem with Outside, as with their two previous offerings, is that, despite a healthy amount of charm and an excess of good ideas, the songs rarely do much to distinguish themselves from those of their indie-verse peers, tinting the proceedings a slightly anonymous hue. It's clear these guys know their way around a tune—there isn't a single relatively weak moment. But it's difficult to shake the disheartening feeling that these songs might well be a better band's B-sides.
Opener "Badaboom" commences with a dense, percussive clatter, blooming into a relentless, angular riff-stomper with a cathartic, windows-down chorus. "One in the World" is a bright, Creole-tinged pop ballad, more than a little reminiscent of the weird, warped soul perfected on the last Born Ruffians album and offering a welcome respite of playfulness. The reference points arrive in rapid-fire succession, blending together stylistic elements of virtually every notable new-millennium indie-rock mainstay—equal parts Cold War Kids, Spoon, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Arcade Fire, and Modest Mouse. Self-produced, with mixing assistance from Peter Katis (veteran producer of the National), Outside is sonically dazzling, and the most versatile, eclectic moments here—those that treat the studio as another instrument—are also the most thrilling. Highlight "On and On" nurses an accordion-tinged synth arpeggio, brushed drums, and bursts of electric-guitar noise into a groove-heavy showcase.
Put Outside on your iPod. Hit shuffle. If and when a Tapes 'n Tapes track pops up, see if you can identify it. Not easily done. They've got the musicianship; they've got the melodies. Now they just need an identity.