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Music Review: The Music Tapes – Music Tapes For Clouds And Tornadoes

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What kind of band waits nine years to record an album? You’re close if you answer Guns N’ Roses, but no I’m not talking about former rock superstars. I’m actually talking about The Music Tapes, the side project of Julian Koster (Elephant Six, Neutral Milk Hotel).

Koster spent the past decade working on it sparingly when he had time, a stark contrast to Axl Rose’s vanity run amok. Another key difference is Koster’s use of the modest and more intimate bedroom as his recording studio than the swank top-of-the-line professional (and personal) recording studio that Rose is accustomed to.

Enough bashing Rose though. I am looking forward to finally listening to Chinese Democracy.

But knowing how Music Tapes For Clouds And Tornadoes was recorded, you could guess as to what kind of album Koster has created even if you’ve never heard a Music Tapes song.

BabelYes, it’s indie. And yes, it’s as minimalistic as you could get making a sophomore album in a bedroom that has criss-crossed across the Eastern seaboard, and landed “coincidentally by the ghosts of old amusement parks who’d passed away” (press release). That’s Koster-speak for Maine, Massachusetts, and New York’s Coney Island.

Having been recorded over a very long period of time, Music Tapes For Clouds And Tornadoes is a surprisingly consistent album. Koster channels Daniel Johnston (Yip/Jump Music) for much inspiration, choosing an innocently raw voice for his storyteller and a somewhat stream of consciousness mindset for his muse.

The album doesn’t refer to “clouds” and “tornadoes” for nothing. Sometimes, the songs (like the first three) are simply there for no reason like a single white cloud in an endless blue sky. Other times, there are songs (“Freeing Song By Reindeer” and “Manifest Destiny”) that border on being similar or repetitious, like a circling whirlwind trying to catch every last in the air.

It might not be for everyone, but even the most inattentive listen could reveal the kind of gem reserved for a random Arcade Fire song [“Cumulonimbus (Magnetic Tape For Clouds)”] or a brief Peanuts remembrance [“Nimbus Stratus Cirrus (Mr. Piano’s Majestic Haircut)”].

Daniel Johnston would be the easiest comparison to the latest Music Tapes album, but there are subtle hints of Koster’s appreciation for Joanna Newsom. The bare bones style does suit him well, but it’s also nice to hear more well-rounded music like the closing “In An Ice Palace” that gives you idea of not only his musical sensibility but his musical vision as well.

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