Basement Tapes 'N Tapes 

Minneapolis indie band tackles second album curse

Some bands spend countless years simmering in a local scene, tucking photocopied fliers under windshield wipers and hauling amps up scuffed wooden stairs to play tiny house parties. Some, like Minneapolis' Tapes 'n Tapes, skip that step all together.

Shortly after self-recording their first full-length album in a basement in 2006, the band found themselves hoisted up Lion King-style as one of the blinking children of Internet blog buzz phenomena. Formed only a few years prior, after graduating from Northfield, Minn.'s Carleton College in late 2003, this four-piece indie rock band—frequently likened to Pavement, Stephen Malkmus and Pixies—began more as a vehicle for real world evasion than an earnest attempt to take the industry by storm. Members Josh Grier (guitar, vocals), Matt Kretzman (keyboards), Karl Schweitz (drums) and Shawn Neary (bass guitar) quickly put out a self-titled EP and began playing whatever gig they could dig up.

click to enlarge Starlight, starbright, catch these four rising indie stars at the Lux Monday night. - PHOTO BY CAMERON WITTIG
  • photo by Cameron Wittig
  • Starlight, starbright, catch these four rising indie stars at the Lux Monday night.
"I think that, at first, we were kind of in a bubble because we didn't really know anybody who played music around town," explained Greer. "Minneapolis was a good city to have a band in because there are a whole lot of venues, and everybody's pretty supportive. We got to play a lot of shows right away. We were actually terrible, and we got to play shows."

A year later, after swapping Erik Appelwick on bass and Jeremy Hanson on drums, the band released The Loon and found themselves trapped in a snowglobe of glittering blogger praise. With heaping accolades from Pitchfork.com, Gorillavsbear.com and Music.for-robots.com, Tapes 'n Tapes solidified its page in the Internet's self-penned history—next to acts like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Vampire Weekend—as a band that rapidly went from unknown to known largely due to gushing music blog posts. Online critics and fans alike were charmed by songs like the catchy "Insistor," which combined wild-west guitar riffs with polka-esque drums and lyrics like, "And don't be terse and don't be shy / just hold my lips and say good lies / and know that I will be your bail bond," squalled from Grier's warbling pipes. The album's raw, dance-y, unapologetically referential yet strangely unique sound was an instant hit.

"[The Internet] played a really big role in the beginning. We were a band that nobody had heard of outside of our 10 closest friends. It really helped. Our manager sent out some mp3's to some blogs she liked, and three or four people really liked it and they posted it and then things just kind of just took off," said Grier. "We had some really good luck and just tried to work hard to make the most out of a good situation."

With the increasing strain of distributing the record themselves, the band soon found themselves label shopping. Tapes 'n Tapes signed to XL Recordings (Radiohead, The White Stripes) in April 2006, and the label re-released their full-length in July 2006. After an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, the group toured extensively, crisscrossing the country a number of times before settling down to record Walk it Off, their second full-length.

"We'd been playing a lot of shows so that when we went in to go record Walk it Off, I really wanted to make a record that was kind of indicative of us playing the songs live," said Grier.

For Walk it Off, the band teamed up with producer Dave Fridmann, known for working with acts like Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips, as well as more recent indie phenoms MGMT and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. While Fridmann strove to maintain the raw, low-fi echo of The Loon, his professional touch on Walk it Off acted as both a buoy and concrete-filled boots for the album. Though some blog buzz bands who've reached success through a low-budget first recording have gone on to make an equally acclaimed, high-budget second album (Arcade Fire, The Shins), most get trapped in the treacherous sophomore slump. Whether this is due to a genuine decrease in quality or, more probably, a hyper-focused critical lens willing to pull the rug out from under the cardboard praise pyramid they'd previously constructed, it remains a difficult trend to overcome.

Walk it Off doesn't necessarily fall into the sophomore slump category, but it has been widely chastised for lacking focus. Though its songs vary from the fuzzy guitar, early Weezer sounding "Headshock" to the space-y, Who-esque "Demon Apple," the release does hum with a notably more grown-up sound than their previous album. Gluing the album's pieces together are irresistible pop gems, like the record's single "Hang them All," which starts off with a simple driving guitar line and low-fi feel, then two thirds of the way through bakes into a delicious chorus-heavy pop pastry.

But second album slumps and Internet history writing aside, Tapes 'n Tapes seem content to ride out their wave of good fortune, sailing from coast to coast this winter on another national tour. Though the band made a pit stop in Boise on their last tour and stayed at the Double Tree (which they described as "straight out of The Shining"), they are thrilled to be playing their first gig here.

"I have to say that I'm very, very excited to play Boise because we almost always drive through it, and I almost always complain that we don't play there, because I actually went there a lot as a kid," explained Grier. "I enjoy Boise, and so I'm really glad that we're finally playing there."

With Wild Light, Monday, Jan. 19, $10 adv., $12 door. Neurolux, 111 N. 11th, 208-343-0886, neurolux.com.

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