Tapes ’n Tapes expands its palette on Walk It Off
Josh Grier may have grown up on the west coast of the U.S., but he’s lived in Minneapolis long enough to know that the idea of Manitoba as an ideal vacation destination is kind of ridiculous.
“There was a giant billboard right by my apartment five years ago, put there by the Manitoba tourism board or something,” says the Tapes ’n Tapes guitarist-vocalist, reached “somewhere in Alabama” between tour stops. “It showed people on a sunny, sandy beach. I thought it was insane. Here it was the middle of the winter when this poster was up. And Manitoba’s further north than Minneapolis.”
That billboard inspired the Eugene, Oregon–raised Grier to write the lyrics to “Manitoba”, a track on Tapes ’n Tapes’ 2005 full-length debut, The Loon. A sense of the absurd is one of the charms of that disc, and it informs the group’s recently released follow-up, Walk It Off, as well. It’s often hard to know what to make of Grier’s lyrics, which blend the weird with the quotidian, yet occasionally yield lines like “It’s a marriage made for condescending,” from the nervous pop-punk blast “Hang Them All”.
“It was one of those things where I’d been singing random stuff and it just came out, and I liked the way it sounded,” says the frontman. “It just seemed to fit the overall feeling of the song.”
On Walk It Off, Grier’s musings are set to a bigger sonic backdrop than that of The Loon. This time, instead of retreating to a cabin in the woods to record, as the band had done for the earlier disc, Tapes ’n Tapes went into a real studio (Tarbox, in Cassadaga, New York) with a real producer, Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, the Delgados).
“It was different, for sure,” Grier says. “We were in this big studio with a well-known producer, but the overall feeling and level of comfort was the same. Dave just wanted to help us make the record we wanted to make.” No doubt the veteran producer had something to do with Walk It Off’s depth of sound, which is impressive even on acoustic-based numbers like “Say Back Something”. Fridmann’s imprint is also audible in the neopsychedelic textures of the splendid, fuzzed-out “George Michael”. But the killer melodies and raging emotions in tunes like the sonic dropkick of “Headshock” and the rippling folk-rock of “Conquest” are all Grier.
Still, those selling points and a hyped debut will get you as far as the door when it comes to the ever-more-fickle music press. The Loon achieved something like indie-rock critical mass when it attracted the attention of Web tastemakers like Ear Farm and Music for Robots, and then scored a coveted positive review on Pitchfork. But that was then and, predictably, the latter gave Walk It Off a middling (5.9 out of 10) rating.
Grier sees the absurdity in this too. “Ever since we got any attention on the Internet, we figured there’d be a backlash. That’s how it goes—people build up a band, and then tear it down, then build it back up. It’s the natural cycle of things. You can’t put too much weight on it because you have no control over it.”
Tapes ’n Tapes plays Richard’s on Richards on Tuesday (May 13).