I don’t know what’s more unfortunate: that the hype for Tapes ‘n Tapes’ alternately sharp and silly 2005 debut, The Loon, quickly backspun into byword-ism (TNT = “shitty faceless indie band”), or that their follow-up, Walk It Off, will probably be dismissed for an even more depressing reason. But regardless of whether fans embrace these 12 concussively loud songs or instead rush to cotton the bleeding with emergency Wilco, the album raises an important question: Why would producer/engineer Dave Fridmann track this band of lib-arts innocents as if their music will only ever be heard on airport runways? Fridmann orchestrated a similar blowout on the Flaming Lips’ At War With the Mystics, but he’s turned in some brilliant work elsewhere as a respectfully interventionist producer. (And Mystics was intentionally torturous—right?) In Walk It Off‘s low-rent sonics, he may have simply given TNT what they asked for. But the overloud recording freezes any warmth that songs like the slovenly “Headshock” might convey. The sensitive, mercurial “Conquest” and the fun, mercurial “George Michael” deserve the crisp treatment of AOR blockbusters, not a flat-line mix that gives each instrument less breathing room than a cockroach burrowed in a guano heap.
Still and all, less sensitive ears might forgive Walk It Off‘s sonic sins for its fidgety hooks and galvanizing rhythms. The frequent digital clipping least afflicts the album’s two most important elements: Josh Grier’s vocals, which prove indie’s Springsteen moment has yet to crest, and Jeremy Hanson’s rock-goes-bop beats, which raise hopes that indie’s drummer moment will soon begin. Like fellow album-thinking artistes Arcade Fire, TNT believe in the efficacy of the Big Event, and the surprise coda to “Hang Them All” might go down as one of the year’s biggest. Problem is, Walk It Off is recorded like a single, 45-minute Big Event, rendering the alleged omniharp, tubular bells, and timpani mere liner-note abstractions.
Tapes ‘n Tapes play the Fillmore at Irving Plaza April 18, and the Music Hall of Williamsburg April 19