As the story goes, Springfield, Missouri’s Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin raised money to press copies of their debut home-recorded album, Broom, by selling memberships in a tape club, and they created cassette tapes with hand-made labels and mailed them to fans. And now, ten years in, they’ve collected 26 B-sides, unreleased demos, and tunes that never made it onto any of their three albums, and released them under the fitting title, Tape Club.
SSLYBY are an easy band to like. There’s something charmingly homespun about their brand of indie-pop, all fragile vocals and lilting melodies in the early days, and more polished, straight on pop-rock later in their career. There’s also an exuberant bashfulness to their delivery, something sly and off-the-cuff that indicates that maybe they’ve always got something up their sleeves. But aside from crafting three fine albums, they’ve been prolific songwriters over the years, and Tape Club offers a glimpse into some of their inner workings.
It would be easy to write Tape Club off as a placeholder in the band’s release schedule, or as a ploy to fulfill a publishing deadline; certainly plenty of bands have done greatest hits albums for that reason alone. But Tape Club is lovingly curated, and carefully crafted to provide an alternate history of SSLYBY (a treasure trove in which longtime fans will find plenty to fawn over), or a more than fitting introduction to the band for newcomers.
The 26 tracks here span a decade chronologically, beginning with home demos and lost songs recorded in bedrooms from the Broom era and before, and continuing through to unreleased songs from the Chris Walla-produced Let It Sway sessions. And while it would seem logical that Tape Club would sag a bit at some point, too bloated and long-running for its own good, the opposite rings true. Each track carries its weight and serves its purpose as an archaeological representative of a moment in time for a band that never stops writing.
The progression is something natural and organic, from the bashful early recordings, like Lower The Gas Prices Howard Johnson or Bigger Than Yr Yard, to later demos for Phantomwise or Back In The Saddle (from Let It Sway). We also get detours like the synth-driven oddball, Yellow Missing Signs, a haunting dance tune about a missing-persons case in SSLYBY’s hometown. Tape Club is thick with a sense of giddy experimentation, of growing up on tape and finding a voice.
The collection opens with The Clod And The Pebble, a remarkable home-recorded, quiet interplay of guitar, piano, and cello. The single-note piano work here has the spooky quality of walking by that old upright in your grandmother’s house and offhandedly tapping a few notes, only to discover that you’ve stumbled upon something beautiful without trying. Most of the album’s first half (including Song W, New Day, What’ll We Do) is acoustic and ambitious in the way that only youthful home recordings can be, unsullied by the pressures of touring or deadlines. Midway through, we get Half Awake (Deb) and Not Worth Fighting, which were previously released as a 7″ single between Broom and Pershing. And we end up with their latest offerings – demos and lost tracks from their time with Chris Walla.
One of the album’s highlights, though, is a tune that SSLYBY wrote and recorded in 2010 for their hometown minor-league baseball team, the Springfield Cardinals. Cardinal Rules is an unabashed celebration of those Cardinals, replete with classic organ sounds, ’80s style arena guitar work and fist-pumping backup vocals. That Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin devote this kind of energy and creativity to a song that they know will never appear on an album is something to applaud. In today’s hyper-ironic internet-driven music scene, these guys are a rare find. Tape Club is a fine time capsule for their first decade together; here’s hoping their restless energy continues into the next ten years.