Tapes ’N Tapes is a quartet from Minneapolis whose musical influences range from blues to polka to Pavement’s school of ’90s-alt-rock. Quirkiness being their forte, the four members also prefer to be designated not by their musical instrument, but rather Josh Grier (vocals/guitar) is Tapes 1, Jeremy Hanson (drums) is Tapes 2 and Matt Kretzman (keyboards/multi-instruments) and Erik Appelwick (bass guitar) share the honor of the ‘N. In interviews, Tapes 1 also refers to his bandmates by their Tapes related names as well. However, their touring van gets a semi-conventional name, as they’ve christened it Bruno.
Offbeat in the way the Beatles were considered offbeat in their post-Revolver years, Tapes ‘N Tapes skipped a normalcy phase and went straight for eclectic, which is a most simplified description. Though The Loon is a cohesive unit of sound, each song has so much distinctive personality that after one or two spins of the record, none of the tracks will register as even remotely similar. Attempting to match “The Iliad” — whose background may or may not have Beeker from the Muppet Show — to the modern day Bonnie and Clyde-put-to-music melody of “Insistor,” might be a mammoth task — even though the songs blend into one another without a hitch.
When push (tapes) comes to (‘n) shove (tapes), there are no duds on The Loon. For a debut album, one that was originally recorded in an isolated wilderness cabin with no running water in Wisconsin winter months, the entire opus is top-notch. This is a band that has rightfully received a lot of attention from the experts on the up-and-coming at Pitchforkmedia.com and many others, especially as the darlings of last spring’s SXSW Festival. In fact, the two Tapeses and the two ‘n’s merit even more.
The genius behind the group is the fearlessness to mix in elements that might ward off less ballsy bands. “Insistor,” the modern Western, actually plays beneath the yelping of, “And when you rush I’ll call your name/ Like Harvard Square holds all inane/ And don’t you know I’ll be your badger.” The speedy bluesy-bluegrass tune also includes one of Tapes ‘n Tapes’s best secret ingredients: these guys love the Dick Dale-era ’60s surf guitars.
“In Houston” decelerates the album. Tapes 1 urgently whispers the verses before a chorus of sparse drumbeats and a musical contraption that may very well be a lawnmower. For “Manitoba” Grier summons Band of Horses-quality vocals for the album’s slowest song yet, at least for the first three minutes.
The last minute erupts with furious guitars, drums and Kretzman’s nebulous “multi-instruments.” And “Cowbell” demands attention with an early and impressive guitar solo and the refrain “do you want to live a lie/ a lie to shake?” The drums explode in a hemorrhage of rock right before another bluesy slowdown for “10 Gallon Ascots.”
If unrecognized and unpredictable noises and sounds upset you, then maybe it’s best you steer clear of Tapes ‘n Tapes. But on the other hand, if you’ve got a hankering for something new and fresh in a musical world full of copycats and endless aping, get yourself some Loon.