Art Rock

Tears On Tape Make Sad Pop Sound Hopeful

Tears On Tape make sad pop sound great.
Tears On Tape make sad pop sound great. Photo by Dalton Randall

If you're starting a band in today's crowded music world, your best bet to get any traction is to start as soon as possible, and to do something that no one else is really doing. While there are plenty of dreampop bands performing on the regular, there aren't as many who are as dreary and as intriguing as Pearland's Tears On Tape. Mixing elements of jangle pop, indie rock, and post-punk, the four piece has been getting the attention of anyone who catches them perform. Their first release, a five track cassette of demos called Demos is full of interesting sounds, catchy tracks, and dark tones that work in more ways than one.

We should note as a disclaimer, that drummer Derek Rathbun has done freelance photography work for the Houston Press.  Opening with the jingled jangle of "Ventana," it's immediately obvious that this group makes music that holds a place in the dreampop world, while dipping their toes into other spaces. With the vocals almost hidden in their darkness, barely lying above the jingled guitar and the quiet drums, the song has a life of its own that creates a catchy and hook filled space.

This gets followed up with the slow and intense sounds of "Oak Trees," where singer Michelle Hernandez' voice fills out so much of the notes between the instruments, that it creates a sound that's like no one else you've heard. Her vocals are soft yet deep and they ring throughout your speakers while the band plays in the background, creating a sound that's difficult to put into words.

The third song "Birthday" is the first of the two catchiest tracks on the release, and in many ways sounds like a mix of early Cocteau Twins and Lush. With a sound that's closest to gossamer British bands of the late '80s and early '90s, there's a darkness here that lies in the lyrics, while the music is pure pop. This gets followed with the second most endearing track of the release, "Boy."

The group makes a pop song have depth, complete with additional synths and a minimalist approach to the instrumentation, crafting a sound that hasn't been around for more than 30 years. There are moments where the song is reminiscent of an under-produced version of The Sundays or a more electronic version of Broadcast, complete with a sadness in the drawn out vocals like you don't hear much anymore. The group closes the tape out with a slow and almost ambient sound on "Crocodile," where the instrumentation dances underneath the vocals in what at first sounds minimal, until you really pay attention to learn that there's much more there.

There's quite a lot happening on this release while still sounding minimal at the same time. By doing only what's warranted, and not attempting to add notes where they don't need to be, Tears On Tape creates a sound that makes them stand out in a genre where everyone else is following the same map. You can grab the cassette version of Demos from Tears On Tape in person at Red Dead Comics in Pearland on May 25, or at their tour kickoff at Insomnia Gallery on June 6. The all ages show at Insomnia will feature sets from Rose Ette, Small Chair, and Ruiners. Doors at 8 p.m.; Free.
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David Garrick is a former contributor to the Houston Press. His articles focus primarily on Houston music and Houston music events.