Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tapes N Tapes and the need for grouchy critics



I’ve never been sure what to do with Tapes n Tapes. Or what their music really does for me.

And it’s maddening the more I think about it. But ever since they poked their head into the stage-left entrance of the shaky, fluorescent, cacophonous auditorium known as the Internet, ever since they were pushed by stagehands out into the spotlight, lightly bewildered as they signed to XL on a June morning in 06 and then played live on the David Letterman show that very same evening, they looked around at each other, shrugging, and decided that they may not understand the motivations and invisible forces that sent them up to ‘the top,’ (and when I say ‘top,’ here, I mean being the blog headlines for enough days in a row so as to solidify consistent news-ticker-attention from Pitchfork for every time your band sneezes) but damn if they’re not going to just play their hearts out anyway and not appreciate the opportunity they’ve been given.

And that’s the maddening part—were they given anything? Did they earn it? Maybe. But how can we dig to the bottom when every news story thereafter is going to reference blogs, or the internet, or etc…

It doesn’t help that a trend emerges after Tapes n Tapes ‘hit it big’ (which holds about as much significance as the addled perception of ‘the top’ referenced above); this trend being Arctic Monkeys, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, or, the latest, Vampire Weekend.

What’s maddening is that I can’t really point to Tapes n Tapes any longer as being endemic to the rashness of blog hysteria – because now its almost a genre onto itself: a blog band.

To Tapes n Tapes commendable credit – they kept a considerably low, blue-collar-band profile over the last couple years, toured modestly and never overstayed their welcome. All the while, they’re still fairly memorable debut, The Loon, has aged pretty well – if still filled with consistent Pixies and Pavement and creep-o-indie-country noise freak send ups.

And also, to their credit, Walk It Off is a solid sophomore effort – no big risks (outside of pushing the levels, fuzz-fucking feedback to the max and nearly blowing out their amps on a few particularly explosive crescendos and riffs) There’s more of a live-ness to it, more explosiveness in the drum slams and spontaneity in the herkin-jerkin-indie-jug band country freak-jaunts that they go on…, but all in all it feels like a well-linked chapter 2 to the Loon.

But that’s it.

It just kind of…is what it is, so to speak. A good record – not really exploring or experimenting but just perfectly utilizing the styles and sensibilities of the golden age of indie rock, (I guess even the Stones cribbed the blues and r&b from the ‘50’s to jumpstart their popularity.)

It comes down to questioning the role of the critic – how much looseness do we want in our artistic appreciation? Should we systematize it with values, expectations and scrutinize it with historical perspectives? Should art be judged? Should art answer to a system?

Only when outlets like blog brazenly tout and spurt and sing about new creations, new bands, new artists with an air of handed-down-from-the-mountaintops—taste-making-sermons; in the face of that there has to be someone who says, wait a minute…what is this actually saying? What is this actually worth? What does it do for me?

What does Tapes n Tapes do for you?

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