[17 October 2011]
The best decision this Missouri quintet ever made was choosing the name they did. After all, how many bands out there can actually make you wonder for a split second whether or not they appreciate the oligarchical reform of Boris Yeltsin? (If you actually think they do love Boris Yeltsin, it’s merely a joke.) Seeing SSLYBY’s name on a page should most likely boost your interest in their sound, but if that’s not the case, then it should at least make you wonder exactly how wacky these guys can get.
Truthfully, they’re not all that wacky. In fact, their music is prototypical indie rock: acoustic guitars, a singer that resembles Elliott Smith, catchy musical breakdowns on the majority of their tracks. Yet if you taking your first dive into this group’s music, Tape Club isn’t the place to start. Like most b-side or rarities collections, this double-disc excursion seems more like the band’s excuse to make some extra cash than to offer a glimpse into their evolution. After all, they’ve got three LPs that do exactly that, offering up the best material they’ve recorded in their five-year span. From the blissful summer anthems of 2005’s Pangea to last year’s alt-country tinged Let It Sway, SSLYBY have settled more and more into their skin with each release, perfecting their string-plucking breakdowns on “Back in the Saddle” and “Everlyn” while also increasing their effectiveness in the acoustic lullaby department with “Stuart Gets Lost Dans Le Metro”.
This time, though, the influx of “new” material doesn’t make up for the fact that the majority of the songs aren’t worth being exposed to. Although these sorts of releases are all too familiar in the legacies of classic rock acts, with bands putting out anniversary box sets every five years and somehow including bonus material every time, it goes without saying that Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin aren’t quite at the ranks of the Who or Led Zeppelin. Hearing lesser-produced songs in this band’s catalog doesn’t nearly have the same stigma as hearing “Blueberry Hill” performed by a then-unknown Page and Plant.
So when you get halfway through the album and realize every song is missing the punch-and-pizazz of their previous work, it begs the question of why they ever released Tape Club in the first place. With the exception of “Half Awake (Deb)”, which busts out a clever bass change early into the first verse, and “Same Speed”, a folk tune backed with some jazz bass elements, no song really stands out on the entire collection. It’s a hodgepodge of mediocrity.
Considering one of the biggest merits of SSLYBY’s last release was how apparent their sound had branched from five years prior, it comes as no disappointment (and irony) that they exploit their mistakes on Tape Club. Though it enhances the credibility of their other LPs due to its lack of artistry, it also grants an underwhelming look at a section of recording we never needed to know about this early into SSLYBY’s career: the cutting room floor. These guys were just beginning to master the art of idiosyncratic notes and nuisances, so going from Let It Sway to this was like pulling the E-brake on a Maserati.
The only thing keeping them from spinning out of control is how quickly they seem to write songs. This proved 62 songs in six years. At that rate, they could make up for this lackluster album by early 2013. Fingers crossed, because someone still wants to love you, guys.