There are many things irresistible about Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (SSLYB), staring with its irresistibly adorable name (Someone Still Loves You Mikhail Gorbachev just doesn’t have the same cuddly ring). And then there is the sound of the band, starting out sweet and soft in its memorable and entirely lovable first album, Broom, and then maturing into a solid, slightly more hard-edged sound in its great, recent Let It Sway. This is a band everyone should hear, and if possible, see live (although the live shows still seem to be a work in progress, it’s important that we show them our support).
Tape Club is the SSLYBY’s fourth release, an album that doesn’t quite deserve the name “album.” For one, it’s just too damn long, at twenty-six songs. The website for the album calls it “carefully curated.” Um, not really. There’s a lot of half-song, failed attempts here, not all of them which needed to be saved and repackaged for posterity. An album, to deserve the name, needs better editing. You can’t just chuck everything in and call it a day. Some songs seem like nothing more than lullabies written to one or another band member’s girlfriend.
And the songs weren’t written and recorded to be in an album, anyway. There are outtakes and demos of songs that were either returned to and perfected, or (more often) just left as they were. Sure, SSYBY writes a lot of songs, and some of them are good. But some of them are not, and some should just be forgotten. That’s not sad, that’s just the creative process. Not everything is a hit.
There are some surprises, as in the occasional lurch into electronica, as in Yellow Missing Signs, or Cardinal Rules. Yet even with these songs, there is a pang of regret: you wish that these were polished a little more, so they could be really good songs, not merely interesting ones. The songs here seldom rise above the level of being really cute.
One is also occasionally surprised by the different masks SSLBY can wear, moving into county here, doing a pretty good Band of Horses imitation there. Over everything hangs the specter of Elliot Smith. Sometimes, however, there are some real misfires. The early take of what is arguably SSYBY’s best song, Back in the Saddle, should have been buried somewhere very very deep. What this song became was pure genius; what it started as is better left unmentioned.
The fact is, that while SSYBY is probably not too young of a band to have a live album, they are too young to have a outtake album. This album smells too much of having to fulfill a contractual obligation or trying to make a quick buck. The standard for an album of this kind of course is R.E.M.’s Dead Letter Office, which showed a band able not to take itself too seriously, while still being amazing even in its off moments. SSYBY isn’t there yet. Give them a few years. Until then, start with one of their real albums.