Hoops Share Their Early Indie Pop Music Via 'Tapes #1-3'
Lo-fi guitar pop troubadours Hoops made waves with their exciting debut Routines last year, and follow it with this 18-song collection of their earlier work.
10 Nov 2017
It's been said that for indie folk/indie rock project the Microphones, Phil Elvrum wasn't really that big on the whole "demos" thing.
As being a bit of a studio rat, his songs often capture the hissings of tapes, the cuffs of shirts caught on guitar strings -- all the rustic and homemade elements that, while defiantly lo-fi, also help build up the sonic universe that was so crucial to the Microphones' sound. Other artists managed to do similar, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti often coming off like some otherworldly radio station made out of basement reverb and a disparate amount of ideas, but the grittiness of the recordings never made one think for a second that there were demos that lead up to the songs. Not one bit.
Hence, for the Indiana-bred lo-fi rock of Hoops (whose stellar debut release Routines dropped last year), much of their appeal rested in the way there were able to emulate their musical inspirations with ease, crafting a breezy, buoyant set of indie pop that came in, did its thing, and left, the set clocking in at just over 32 minutes. The production was colorful yet deliberate, the songs pleasant and satisfying, and all of this proved enough to get them signed to Fat Possum (though they could've easily made their way onto Animal Collective's Paw Tracks imprint without issue).
Although they put out an EP in 2016 prior to their full-length, that album was preceded by three tape collections of songs that, truly, were demos. It may not seem like a band who embraces such a taped-together aesthetic would ever really adhere to demos, but delving into the Tapes #1-3 compilation reveals just how far the band has come in just a few short years. It's a collector's item from a band that is still building up their audience, but it's a fascinating detour nonetheless.
Tape #1 opens with easily the strongest song on the whole set, a breezy pop number called "Nothing But Net" that alternates between a synth-driven chorus and guitar-based verses, with frontman Drew Auscherman's vocals coming through loud and clear on the mix -- even more so than on the full-length. It's a sweet song of unsuspecting romantic braggadocio and could've easily been a highlight on Routines, but by placing it at the top of the album, this means that every song that follows has to do what it can to live up to it -- and most just don't have the same level of craft to even be considered contenders.
Through the blown-out drum machines and slinky plastic guitar lines, the group rarely ventures outside of their cheap texture aesthetic, meaning most of the songs here have a real bat tendency to blur together (and, in hindsight, makes all the production choices on Routines seem that much more considered). "Be There" is a largely forgettable number despite the pounding drum machines, as is the barely-there warble that is "John", a synth-based number that comes off as something that Oneohtrix Point Never would've made in grade school. Then, there's numbers like the strum-along "Grass" which circle real melodies and solid structures but -- even in the context of the demo -- still sound unfinished.
Yet for those who already own Routines, some of the biggest thrills of this compilation come out of hearing the changes made between the Tapes and Routines versions. Some are barely noticeable: "All My Life" merely gets a production upgrade, for example, but hearing those live drums instead of a programmed beat machine makes a world of difference (the same could be said for the pleasantly rambling "On Top"). Best of all though is hearing the changes made between versions of "Underwater Theme", a clear highlight for the young band. The Tapes version uses some creative drum programming and a washed out synth effect to make one of the band's more exploratory numbers, a creatively considered song that nonetheless admits that "I don't know what I'm doin'". The much more mature version found on Routines slows the tempo down considerably, adds a lot more space in the separation of instruments in the mix, and ultimately comes off as quieter, and therefore more emotional and effective.
All things considered, Tapes #1-3 isn't going to change anyone's life or even give a giant heaping of insight into this promising group, but for lo-fi indie-pop connoisseurs and fans of the band, it's more than worth your time to comb through the 18 songs here and find a few mixtape/playlist gems. Even as demos, drafts, and first stabs at creating a distinct sound, you could do a lot worse than Tapes #1-3.