The Minneapolis indie-rockers in Tapes ‘N Tapes were both the beneficiaries and victims of their own rapid ascent, riding a wave of breathless praise for their self-produced 2005 debut full-length The Loon to a deal with influential label XL and status as one of the year’s biggest buzz bands. The multitudinous Pixies and Pavement comparisons were a lot to live up to, but The Loon largely deserved them, with catchy hooks and jangly energy that kept the music constantly shifting in unexpected directions. That momentum dissipated with the disappointing 2008 follow-up Walk It Off, which gained something from Dave Fridmann’s slicker production, but squandered its promise on rambling, unfocused material.
Citing a desire to recapture the freewheeling spirit of earlier days, Tapes ‘N Tapes parted ways with XL and went back to its DIY indie roots for Outside, self-releasing the album. Musically, though, Outside mostly recapitulates Walk It Off’s sluggishness. Beyond the vivacious, offbeat jangle-rock of “Freak Out,” there’s far too much meandering and repetitive noodling, and little of the joyfulness that made songs like “Insistor” such fun. There are a few high points, including the building energy of “Outro” and the moody textures of “On And On,” the latter reminiscent of David Bowie’s Low. But overall, the slow pace only heightens the sense that there are too few exciting ideas in play; like a car trip across North Dakota, Outside takes a long time to get where it’s going, and doesn’t offer enough of interest along the way.