Tape Deck's One False Step Rings True 

click to enlarge cover.jpg
The cover of Tape Deck's 2019 EP, One False Step, could be considered misleading. The whimsical frog, dancing in a landscape painted with soft colors and earth tones, may lead you to believe that it's a granola-munching jam band, or a folk rock outfit. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While those are genres not typically associated with Memphis, the actual sound of Tape Deck, captained by songwriter Jason Pulley, flies even further afield from the historical referents of this city. And that's what makes it so refreshing. This is a full-on blend of nerd-rock and pop songs that are short, sharp, and smart.

True, the opening notes of the first track, "So Hilarious," echo the first track of Big Star's #1 Record, but it's only a distant echo: While Big Star's "Feel" chugs out its descending line on guitars ready to explode into a glam epiphany, Tape Deck's use of the progression is upbeat and choppy from the get-go. It could make for the backing to a truly hilarious song, but when the vocals come in, a more ironic edge is suggested.

Tape Deck is primarily colored by what I considered the American collegiate accent. It's a far cry from the affected drawls of so many Americana bands, opting instead for the aggressively unpretentious sound of clean-cut folks with slightly bookish inclinations. If you are a fan of They Might Be Giants, this might be just your style.

Like those longtime purveyors of pop quirkiness, Tape Deck mashes up a half-century's worth of pop hooks and arrangements in the blender of new wave urgency. Synths and keyboard textures abound, but this is nonetheless the sound of a human band, bashing out tunes for all they're worth. "Sway," for example, conveys a rather tender moment shared by a couple, albeit with a caffeine-fueled bounce that brings the pop sentiment to a close in less than two minutes.

     This oscillation between me and you
     I feel the wavelength we're connected to
     With your head down moving side to side
     With your eyes closed, locked inside the moment
     of your reverie and I can't look away
     Aw babe I really love it when you sway

It's a defiantly nerdy way to convey a deeply human connection (all social distancing aside). Yet it's most effective when laced with a tinge of bitterness, as in the EP's highlight, "Telescope." A guitar driven rave-up, it also features a very synthetic instrument (perhaps a Frippertronics-style processed guitar) wailing over some classic doo-wop changes, updated to a frantic rate, as the singer intones:

    And I was barely a blip on your radar
     The smallest particle in your orbit
     You'll need a telescope to find me this far out

This track, the longest by far, yet still less than four minutes, is where the aesthetics of omnivorous pop craftsmanship and semi-ironic self-distancing and reflection dovetail seamlessly. If only for their penchant for treading waters not often explored in this roots-and-punk obsessed city, this is a band worth checking out. 

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