The argument has been decided for so long now, it seems quaint to even mention it. But back in 2005, there were serious discussions about whether music blogs could possibly impact the conversation that had for so long been dominated by stodgy music mags, underground ’zines and a few forward-thinking radio stations. Since then, the blogs have not only affected the conversation, they have become the gatekeepers of taste. If you’ve listened to any new artist within the last five years, chances are it was discovered, hyped, lauded and propelled by scores of music blogs. The industry has a new kingmaker: It’s no more democratic than the previous regime, far more fickle, but for the time being, here to stay.
That longevity and stability have not been shared by the first wave of bands that were rocketed to instant stardom by the guiding hand of the blogosphere. Some have managed to parlay that early buzz into critical and commercial success (Arcade Fire), some have charted well while being derided by critics (Cold War Kids), while others have fallen off the map completely (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Voxtrot, which selfdestructed shortly after the Internet love-fest). Then others, like Minnesota’s Tapes ’N Tapes, seem to have spent the last few years stuck in purgatory, unable to shake the blog band tag long after the label stopped being an appropriate descriptor of the group.
The band pressed a thousand copies of their brilliant, self-released debut album The Loon in 2005, hoping to sell a few hundred. Within months, on the strength of hyperbolic praise from blogs like Music for Robots and Gorilla vs. Bear, their album was being re-released on the powerhouse XL Recordings (home to Radiohead, M.I.A. and The xx, among others) and they were securing prime slots at top festivals like Coachella.
“When all that happened back in 2005, 2006, it seemed like a blur,” says Tapes ’N Tapes frontman Josh Grier. “It still seems like a blur. It was really wild.”
In a sense, the band became a victim of being in the right place at the wrong time. Had The Loon been released a few years later, when every band went through the blog gauntlet, no one would have thought twice about their status as indie blog darlings. But being the flavor of the month during the exact time when people started paying attention to music blogs, they were, and to some extent still are, the most identifiable of the blog bands.
Of course, they probably could have shaken the label had their follow up to The Loon been a little stronger. Artists like Vampire Weekend, Kid Cudi and Band of Horses made the jump from mega-hyped blog sensations to respected mainstream acts whose songs could play in Kia commercials (aka how indie musicians make money in 2011) on the strength of stellar sophomore releases.
For Tapes ’N Tapes, 2008’s Walk it Off failed to capitalize on their momentum. It was joyless where The Loon was exuberant, predictable where The Loon was spontaneous, and emotionally empty where The Loon was heartfelt. Walk it Off was a slickly produced, run-of-the-mill indie-rock record that culled too much from its influences. The Loon, meanwhile, was a rough-around-the-edges lo-fi masterpiece that mixed all of its influences up into something uniquely Tapes ’N Tapes. While the negative response to Walk it Off was unfairly harsh, it wasn’t entirely unjustified.
“During Walk it Off, we were in a different head space,” Grier says. “We were touring a lot, there were a lot of things going on personally and politically. We just felt like we wanted to make a rock record.”
Luckily, Tapes ’N Tapes’ newest album Outside is a welcome return to the rascally charm of The Loon. Rather than continue their partnership with XL, the band elected to produce and release the album on their own Ibid Records. The result is a natural progression of The Loon, a fully recognized vision that sounds as if David Byrne, Isaac Brock and a hipster cowboy met in a bar and decided to form a band. While it doesn’t have the immediacy of The Loon, it is a welcome return to form.
“We were all in such high spirits recording this album,” Grier recalls. “We just had a really good time making it.”
That excitement is palpable on Outside. With any luck, the album is the first step in Tapes ’N Tapes finally shedding that blog band label and being judged on their own merits. If not, Grier doesn’t seem to mind all that much.
“We don’t pay much attention to the blogosphere.
We were a band before people paid attention to us, and we will be a band after people stop paying attention to us.”
On the Bill
Tapes ’N Tapes plays the Fox Theatre on Saturday, March 5. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Fellow Citizens open. Tickets are $15. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.