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The Microphones - "Early Tapes, 1996 - 1998" | Album Review

by Emma Shepard (@hugejourneyfan)

The Microphones were eagerly adopted into the 2000s indie rock family with the release of The Glow Part 2, which can be confidently placed as one of the most important albums within its genre. On Early Tapes, 1996 - 1998, The Microphones showcase a collection of gritty works that predate The Glow… to reveal a more ambient side of their music that is simultaneously bare and intricate.

The collection opens with "Teenage Moustache," a two-minute long, stripped-drown track with light-hearted lyrics that get hushed by a loud acoustic guitar. This particular track sounds like it would ceaselessly fit on The Music Tapes' 1999 album, First Imaginary Symphony for Nomad, with quirky vocals singing over a purposefully-messy instrumental recording.

The third track, "The Creeps," is a repetitive, fuzzy keyboard loop. The same hollow, eerie tone persists for the first 50 seconds- then minimalistic, shinier synth sounds are sparingly layered on top. When this song ends, it is abruptly followed by "5 String Attack," featuring chaotic layers of acoustic guitars. These two tracks show a noisier, more experimental side of the band's early works. "Beautiful Face," the sixth track on the album, is perhaps the most approachable- following a more traditional verse / chorus / bridge format. After the bridge is built up, it fades into a harsh, suspended note.

The collection as a whole would make sense as an Elephant Six release, capturing lo-fi folk elements the label is famous for in the tradition of The Gerbils, Nesey Gallons, and early Of Montreal. Still, The Microphones have created a trademark sound that is uniquely theirs.

On "Compressor," a sadder feeling is captured- tonally similar to some tracks on The Glow Part 2. Early Tapes gives an intimate peek into the formative years of a band that plays an important role in 2000s indie rock. Listening to this side-by-side with The Glow, the artistic growth becomes obvious. However, these early tracks still stand on their own. At times, the sound is devastatingly beautiful. Through 16 tracks (most of which fall under the two-and-a-half minute mark), The Microphones have shared a masterful, tonally dynamic and complex body of early works.