Interview: Tapes N’ Tapes

Minneapolis quartet Tapes ‘N Tapes garnered appreciation from the local music press when they self-released their terrific CD The Loon last November. But their fortunes took a sharp turn upward when several influential music bloggers championed them, catapulting them from a local up-and-comer to a national player. The Loon gets a nationwide re-release on XL Records this month, and the band appears on The Late Show With David Letterman July 25 before touring with The Futureheads through early August. The A.V. Club sat down with guitarist and frontman Josh Grier, keyboardist Matt Kretzmann, and bassist Erik Appelwick to talk about Tapes ‘N Tapes’ music and future, and how sometimes leaving your job for two months works wonders for your career.

Originally published July 19, 2006 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

Review: Golden Smog, Another Fine Day

A lot can change in eight years, and that was certainly true for the roots-rock supergroup Golden Smog, a coalition of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and several Minneapolis alt-rockers, including Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of The Jayhawks, Soul Asylum guitarist Dan Murphy, and Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run. The Jayhawks and the Westies broke up, Soul Asylum nearly did, and Johnson moved to Spain. But the bonds of friendship kept the Smog thick, eventually resulting in Another Fine Day, the group’s first outing since 1998′s Weird Tales.

For all the pleasures of its previous albums, Golden Smog has always been a victim of its side-project status—the easygoing, loose-knit feel helped out the vibe, but also highlighted the fact that, at the end of the day, these guys had to get back to their real bands. And so The Jayhawks’ decision to pursue other interests works directly to Fine Day‘s benefit: This is the other interest. Louris’ songwriting style permeates the record—he co-wrote 11 of the 15 songs. Still, a certain mellow collaborative spirit guides things. Some songs are clearly stamped as a particular musician’s creation, like Murphy’s rocked-up “Hurricane,” but in general, Fine Day seems like a true band project in a way no previous Golden Smog disc has.

Given the talent assembled, displays of pop gorgeousness are a given. The parent-to-child love song “Cure For This” is especially lovely, as are the Jayhawks-esque openers “You Make It Easy” and “Another Fine Day.” There are few outright stumbles—though “Corvette”‘s roots as a car-commercial soundtrack are all too obviousóbut much of the record seems perfunctory. Songs like “Beautiful Mind” and “Long Time Ago” are like alt-country versions of Miss America runner-ups: pretty and polished, but ultimately forgettable. There’s plenty of gold here, but also too much smog.

Originally published on avclub.com July 19, 2006. Read the complete article.

Review: The Handsome Family, Last Days Of Wonder

Dividing the chores is an essential part of any marriage. Albuquerque duo Brett and Rennie Sparks split the task of songwriting between Rennie’s dark, dreamlike lyrics and Brett’s home-produced alt-country music and deep, resonant baritone. Imagine Edward Gorey writing lyrics for Johnny Cash. The process has served them well through seven albums, but rarely has the combination been as rich as on Last Days Of Wonder, an especially strong showcase of the Sparks’ rare combination of whimsy and morbidity. Last Days‘ title comes from Puritan witch-hunter Cotton Mather, who constantly worried about invisible spirits pervading the world of mortals. Ghosts also haunt Last Days, though not the way Mather might have imagined. “Your Great Journey” imagines an afterlife where bodiless souls quietly wander the Earth alone, intangible and stuck in mundanity: “Automatic sinks in airports no longer see your hands.”

Last Days is shot through with wry, detached scenes of people failing to connect, or not even realizing there’s a connection to be made. The Sparks wonder about the strangers seen at fast-food drive-though lanes and in waiting rooms, lives glimpsed for the briefest of moments and then dismissed, since we all have our own lives to live. It’s no surprise that the album’s greatest expression of sympathy is for eccentric genius Nikola Tesla, whose final days are profiled in the album’s best song, “Tesla’s Hotel Room,” a sort of gloomy answer to The Beatles’ “Fool On The Hill.” Last Days is easily the duo’s most thematically consistent set of songs. The Sparks don’t seem particularly interested in experimenting with new musical styles, but that isn’t a weakness so much as an unswerving fix on what they do better than anyone else. It isn’t likely to attract a new set of fans, but those receptive to The Handsome Family’s spell will listen to Last Days with wonder.

Originally published on avclub.com July 5, 2006. Read the complete article.

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