Tapes 'n Tapes' debut The Loon was greeted with the kind of critical acclaim that can effectively scare the hell right out of a young band. The praise came in the form of a blogospheric eruption, not the smallest catalyst of which was an 8.3/10 rating from notorious buzz-mongers Pitchfork Media: a surprising reception for the Minnesota four-piece, who still hadn't even nailed down a permanent lineup.
"Yeah, surreal is a good word for it," says bassist Erik Appelwick. "One day we're playing shows to 150 people in Minneapolis and working regular jobs, the next we're playing to 600 people in New York and booking appearances on David Letterman." Appelwick initially worked with the band as an engineer and producer on The Loon, only officially joining the roster after the album was released.
The Loon's frantic, stabbing guitar hooks and vocals that range from playful to volatile garnered countless comparisons to Pixies, Modest Mouse and Pavement—comparisons that Appelwick admits were "flattering and [stylistically] accurate," if not a bit daunting. But the critical acclaim and buzz garnered by The Loon afforded Tapes 'n Tapes some enormous opportunities that, no matter how surreal, they knew they couldn't pass up. The group was soon picked up by XL Recordings and given the chance to work with lauded producer and former Mercury Rev member David Friddman, whose collaboration roster reads like a Who's Who of Indie Rock: The Flaming Lips, Elf Power, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and even locals De Novo Dahl.
"[Friddman] is not a guy in long, flowing robes and a wizard hat like I had expected," says Appelwick. "He is a normal, soft-spoken guy with a great musical sense and a brilliant ear." Rather than building their sophomore album from the ground up, Friddman helped the four-piece shape material they'd already been honing while on the road. The finished product was the 12-song Walk It Off, which, unlike The Loon, is built around solid, punchy grooves and considerably more conventional vocal melodies.
Songs like "George Michael" and "Lines" reveal a newfound sense of patience, allowing arrangements to unfurl and surge with energy at just the right moments. Walk It Off falls victim only somewhat to the dreaded Sophomore Slump Syndrome, not quite expanding on Tapes' influences the way The Loon did. Regardless of the fact that Walk It Off's songs aren't as uniquely constructed or as well-received as those of their debut, the material remains unique and moving.
TNT have a "bag full" of new material they've been testing on the road, according to Appelwick. Their performance at Mercy Lounge is one of the last in a relentless six-week stretch. Past that, Appelwick remains confident Tapes will stay busy. "After we're done traveling, it's back to the drawing board/practice space and writing and recording and writing and recording...and then POW! New album. Rinse, repeat."
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