It often seems that The Music Tapes have never made music with the listener at the forefront of their mind – meandering, introverted, off-notes and sad-eyed wind instruments taking their last breath – it has always felt a bit like a music geek’s hobby. Just look a little deeper and you’ll find the group’s lynchpin, one time Neutral Milk Hotel man Julian Koster, fiddling with recording machinery dating back to the early 1900s.
Admittedly with Mary’s Voice there seems to be a subtle swing towards ’proper songs’, (whatever that means). Opener,The Dark Is Singing Songs (Sleepy Time Down South), reveals a yearning appeal within Koster’s whine. And as his long, slow notes exhale the brass, madolins and accordions stand close and hold vigil. You’ll even find a melancholic appeal swimming within the effectively drawn-out performance. Koster has said in the past “I love sentimental melodies that you can hum with feeling” – finally we are witness.
More such moments appear in the form of The Big Beautiful Shops (It’s Said That It Could Be Anyone). With its staccato notes and crashing cymbals accentuating the drama, it probably stands as the finest track in the Music Tape catalogue. Playing ”Evening” meanwhile runs with beaten strums and a clanging percussion, it’s strangely euphoric – if the mood is right.
At fourteen tracks (five are under a minute) this still can be a difficult journey. Often it feels like a derelict yard of olde musical memorabilia. And Koster’s tone can grate – check the second half of Go Home Again for instance. But the scuffed and hidden gems do start to appear after multiple listens, S’ Alive to Be Known (May We Starve) feeds from a stirring melody and affecting ambience, while closer, Takeshi and Elijah, remains stripped until the marching band climax. The Music Tapes will never play the game the way we want them to, but that’s probably why they remain such a unique proposition.