Ten-year breaks from recording new music are rarer and rarer these days, but pandemics or political mayhem sometimes bring out the music in just any unforced hiatus. Take L.A.-based foursome War Tapes for example.
War Tapes’ new five-song EP Only Time Will Tell is the quartet’s first new music since 2010. It’s also their first release for the iconoclastic independent MAKE Records label, in which drummer Billy Mohler is a partner.
On their prior releases, namely the 2009 album The Continental Divide and the EPs War Tapes, Turtles and Fever Changing, War Tapes earned a reputation for deeply dramatic, yet effortlessly accessible rock songcraft that was brooding and angst-ridden, yet unfailingly catchy and rousing. Only Time Will Tell finds the band retooling its approach towards a more direct, streamlined sound and the result is the most organic and effective music the band has ever made.
According to Neil Popkin, singer, guitarist and main songwriter “We were very young when the band started, and we always had a manager and a label telling us that we needed to be more of this or less of that. I got confused as to who we were and as a result, the art suffered. But these new songs were made for no reason other than the fact that we love to do this. We aren’t trying to fit into a specific space or scene. We let go and it feels good.”
The band’s reignited inspiration level enlivens such EP tunes as “Pale Blue Dot,” “Only Time Will Tell,” “Burning,” “Scapegoat” and the anthemic track “City Girls”, which embody the salient qualities of the band’s prior work while reflecting the band’s vibrant new sense of focus. The EP’s song, “Pale Blue Dot,” which was inspired by astronomer Carl Sagan’s poignant observation of the Earth’s humble place in the universe, is accompanied by an audaciously surreal video that nods towards ’70s TV cop shows with a radio-controlled-car chase and a Porsche-driving femme fatale.
Prior to the extended recording hiatus that preceded the EP, War Tapes had built a solid fan base and an impressive backlog of critical acclaim, and seemed well on their way to wider recognition. Instead, as Neil puts it, “Life happened and new opportunities came up,” and the band members put the time to good use, working on a variety of projects beyond the band and absorbing new sources of musical inspiration. Now, the four bandmates’ creative chemistry is stronger and more productive than ever.
“This EP was the result of us not getting to do what we love for five-plus years,” Neil asserts. “It just slid out of us, like a birth. Some of the songs came from demos that were made on my crappy laptop, and we ended up keeping a lot of those scratch tracks and building around them. Other songs were recorded in Billy’s home studio. Some of them were created by mistake, or by hearing one loop and the next thing you know it’s six hours later and there’s a completed song. We didn’t push things too hard, they just happened.
“The music is more sophisticated and more honest now, yet also more stripped down and raw,” he continues. “We used to want to add all these sonic elements and layers and production tricks, but now we just want the truth. On Only Time Will Tell, we wrote, played, recorded and mixed everything on our own. I think that’s the only way that this band can make new music that makes sense. We aren’t interested in working with hotshot producers or mixers at this point. Just give me a guitar and a mic and hit record! Vibey takes with no overdubs and good honest performances. Less clutter. The songs get to breathe.”
War Tapes’ early local shows generated considerable momentum and word of mouth, and before long, the band was asked to tour in America and Britain, sharing stages with the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, The Bravery, Tiger Army, VNV Nation, She Wants Revenge, Chameleons U.K., Shiny Toy Guns, Moving Units and Longwave. Their songs “Dreaming Of You” and “The Night Unfolds” were featured on Last Call with Carson Daly; “Dreaming of You” was played when the Ball dropped 2009 on NBC’s New Year’s Eve, while “Mind Is Ugly” was featured on a Season Five episode of the MTV series The Hills, and the band also performed on the Season Two finale of the ABC Family show Greek.
According to the band, the birth cycle of Only Time Will Tell was an inspired and organic process that left a permanent mark on the band as a creative unit.
“These songs pull from our post-punk roots, but also dive deeper into our love for bands like the Clash and Talking Heads,” Neil says of the EP. “We started making various bedroom demos, sending them back and forth, and slowly but surely developed a new sound that we all were vibing with. We then got into Billy’s home studio and recorded these songs. We believe we’ve all gotten better at our instruments since we first started War Tapes, and so the recording process was very fluid and natural.”
Glide is thrilled to premiere “City Girls” (below) a cutting offering that purrs with the denim laced post-rock of The Strokes, alongside The 1975’s crossover appeal. There is a timeless rock and roll warmth that pervades War Tapes’ melodic sound and its damn right about time, they are back.