Tapes 'n Tapes so perfectly captured the indiepop zeitgeist of the mid '00s that when they faded, it was as if they'd just been a media-created fever dream. Outside is an important test to see if they can survive outside of the cocoon of hype that surrounded their first two albums. It begins well: "Badaboom" is a terrific romp, powerful and propulsive but with a playful note that recalls the band's best work. Longer exercises are rewardingly fresh — like the woozy, mournful "On and On" and "Nightfall," the stabbing horns of which recall the Paisley Underground. Even the strangest moments have a loopy charm: "Freak Out" is a supremely catchy number that only falters during its misguided guitar solo.
Unfortunately, for every success, there's a stumble. Some tracks are half-formed — more ideas than songs — and Josh Grier's vocals can overpower the music. The band can't escape its reputation as a composite of its influences, either: "The Saddest of All Keys" is essentially an Elephant 6 workout, and "People You Know" could pass for a Modest Mouse outtake. Outside is half a great album, but its best moments offer ample evidence as to why anyone was so excited about them in the first place.