Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin are something of an artifact. The band come from a time — not long ago, though it seems like ages — when the blogging world played tastemaker by lauding a series of indie-pop acts to varying success. Some started off promising (remember those Voxtrot EPs?) but most never went anywhere. SSLYBY fit the mold because they made sweet pop tunes, they were under the radar, and they had that unwieldy and clever name.
Of course, they also couldn’t quite shoulder all that weight. Their first record, Broom, was solid, but the unnecessary amount of blog-hype it got made expectations unreasonable, and they faded into the background for a while. The band came in at the height of blog power — a power that mirrored the kind of bands it supported, by the way, when the market got flooded with a glut of increasingly homogenous music bloggers — and if it made them a band worth noticing, it also gave them something to overcome.
At this point, it seems they’ve done that with solid records like last year’s Let It Sway, and the new comp Tape Club is a look back on their career up to now. It’s a collection of unreleased recordings and rarities dating back to 2002, and its named after a subscription they offered to fans early on as Broom‘s popularity took off. The set is long — 26 tracks clocking in at 70 minutes — and proves the band’s prolificacy and generosity in offering material to their fans.
Still, Tape Club is the kind of release that’s difficult to evaluate in its relation to a general audience. The rarities comp is almost always fans-only fare anyway, and this one is no different. It is ordered chronologically, and offers demo versions of album songs (an early version of Let It Sway‘s “Back in the Saddle” is particularly interesting), so you could see it as an introduction to the band as well. The trouble is that it is just too much at once for newcomers, and the disc serves better as a reminder to fans how SSLYBY got to where they are today.
The sequencing here is interesting, though, since you can hear when new periods in the band’s history kick in. The first few songs are mostly acoustic and home-recorded, but when you get to “Sweet Owl,” recorded in 2005, you see the pop band people got so excited about. The compositions are still basic, but the recording is a bit more refined and the song’s themselves are tighter, more buoyant in their melodies. “Half Awake (Deb)” kicks off the 2007-era, more layered approach to power-pop, and offers up the most consistent run of tunes on Tape Club. The fully formed “Coming Through” feels like a more ambitious twist on their unassuming sound, while “We Can Win Missouri” sharpens things up into a crunching rock tune.
Ironically, the closer we get to present day the more scattershot and uneven things get. They seem both more experimental here and unsure of their next move. The messy “1000 Song” falls flat, turning away from the sweet confidence they normally exude, while “Bended” is perhaps the best song here, adding a psyched-out space that’s a nice break from their other lean tunes.
That’s all to say this is a compelling release, but still a real mixed bag. Over 26 songs, there may be evolutions in sound, but the approach is pretty uniform. So if you’re not into the band already, it may wear on you. But therein lies the trouble in rating this kind of release. Tape Club is a well-intentioned and exceedingly generous release for the band’s fanbase, and for that it should be applauded. For a general audience, though, its worth is a bit murkier. There are great pop songs on Tape Club, and it does remind us there is life after the hype-dam bursts, but most of us are better off picking up Let It Sway to see what Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin are all about.