“Now, let me tell you about Missouri,” sings John Robert Cardwell on Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s compilation of demos and rarities, Tape Club. Those distorted lines open the dark, synth-heavy “Yellow Missing Signs”, speaking for both the album and SSLYBY as a whole. Besides writing sweetly catchy songs that always seem to hover just below the radar, the band endears with its small-town intimacy. Whether or not it’s because SSLYBY remains in and continues to write about their hometown of Springfield, MO, this 26-song backlog makes the listener feel like they’re right there in the Missouri basement, or maybe in Portland, looking over producer Chris Walla’s shoulder.
Mostly, it’s because SSLYBY reveals vulnerability by letting the listener hear the evolution from aping its influences to coalescing into the band we know and love. You hear early Beatles in the violins, slow chord progressions, and Cardwell’s lone quaver building to minor harmonies on opener “The Clod and the Pebble”. “Song W + Song L”, “Sweet Owl”, and “Spinning Sea” could have been on Elliott Smith, and none would have been the wiser. “Dead Right (Wilmington demo)” sounds even more like Wilco than the finalized version on Pershing, thanks to the unfiltered rawness of the band members’ voices and the guitars’ country twang. Walla-produced “Bended”, which even sounds like it was recorded in the Pacific Northwest, floats on Zach Rogue’s hazy delicacy.
Despite—or perhaps thanks to—their most imitative tracks, SSLYBY’s unique songwriting sensibilities still emerge over the course of Tape Club. The family-friendly “We Can Win Missouri” chugs along to the band’s trademark bleating guitars and slowly effervescing choruses, and the rusty “Bigger Than Yr Yard”’s simplistic lyrics belie innocuous malevolence. (“It’s bigger than your yard/It’s faster than your car/It’s not that far/But you’re not that smart.”) On a documentary about the making of Let It Sway, Cardwell seemed sheepish that SSLYBY had only come out with three albums over the course of a decade. If anything, Tape Club’s winning collection of songs should finally get some well-deserved exposure to prove that SSLYBY has nothing to be embarrassed about.
Essential Tracks: “Yellow Missing Signs”, “Dead Right (Wilmington Demo)”, and “Bended”