Tapes 'n Tapes not quite up to the hype

Posted: June 09, 2006

It's tempting to cut an indie-rock band like Tapes 'n Tapes down to size for the crime of not being as good as it's supposed to be.

But give these four guys from Minneapolis, who headlined at the hot 'n sweaty First Unitarian Church on Wednesday, a break.

After all, what have they done wrong? Simply made a promising debut called The Loon, which was self-released in November and will be reissued next month by XL Recordings.

The album baldly brandishes a series of unsurprising influences (Pavement! The Pixies! Modest Mouse!), but despite or perhaps because of this, it has managed to set abuzz the overheated, overhyping blogosphere. And it's earned T 'n T the dubious distinction of being labeled this year's Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

At the church the quartet (whose name comes from a joke about sessions put down on a four-track recorder), fronted by guitarist Josh Grier, delivered somewhat labored versions of the slightly askew, modestly experimental, riddled-with-place-names songs on The Loon. The band's 40-minute set grew more effective as it moved along, but never caught fire.

Part of the blame might go to Grier's being sick. And part would go to the band's bad habit of working at cross-purposes to itself. "Manitoba," for instance, is a gleaming, beautiful ballad whose effectiveness was undercut by a ham-fisted, accelerated outro that weakened the song's emotional impact.

Danish rockers the Figurines, whose sideburned singer Christian Hjelm bears a vocal resemblance to Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, fared better. In contrast to the sloppiness of the headliners, the Copenhagen band was tightly focused as it pulled songs from its concise, catchy, charming sophomore effort, Skeleton, released by the Seattle label Control Group. Hjelm and lead guitarist Claus S. Johansen were backed by a chugging rhythm section that gave driving momentum to both Hjelm's sunny, '60s-inspired, happily harmonizing tunes like "I Remember" and the punkish, locomotive "Other Plans."

Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/dandeluca.

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