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Tapes n’ Tapes’ Walk It Off

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

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Some Thunder, But Too Much Lightning

Yeah, it’s supposed to sound that way. “Some Loud Thunder,” the title track off CYHSY’s sophomore release, is a fun, crisp pop song—all hand claps and cowbells and jangly guitar—fed through a haze of radio static, like it’s crackling between AM channels on a long drive through the desert. A nostalgic gesture, I guess. But it’s also hard not to be skeptical. This is a band that emerged in 2005 as though genetically engineered in some East Village basement to generate blogger appeal. Their first, self-titled disc was packed with all the hippest rock references—Talking Heads, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc.-—but instead of being angular and crisp, those influences sounded as if they’d been left out in to the sun too long and melted into something warped and druggy. Frontman Alec Ounsworth sang like David Byrne and looked like a waiter at a vegan restaurant; like true hipsters, his band was accelerated and responsive, a psychedelic amoeba consuming rock idioms and excreting catchy little bits of digested zeitgeist. Take Thunder‘s dance-punk confection “Satan Said Dance,” which wraps its pumping beat and twitchy chants in a swarm of electronic squiggles, belches, and bleeps, a rapturous sound that nonetheless sounds absolutely redolent of the Rapture. On top of all this, they had a silly name, and enough “DIY integrity” to flatten a polar bear. If they didn’t happen to be so good, CYHSY would’ve been a pretty ingenious bit of meta-parody. As it stood, they were that rare rock item: a postmodern band that seemed to be genuinely, excitingly weird.

Sadly, knob-twiddling wooze-hound Dave Fridmann makes them sound very aware of all this on
Thunder
—the producer’s atmospheric flourishes have always been heavy handed, but here they muddle tightly conceived pop tunes that would’ve sounded better scrappy. Too often, there’s simply not enough of the band in the mix. What the record does have, though, is a collection of truly great melodies, and when the music focuses directly on them—meditating on simple chords—that new sense of sound and space offers moments of pure euphoria. “Emily Jean Stock” finds Ounsworth’s strangled yelp riding the crest of a gorgeous Technicolor harmony, and the sub-aquatic “Five Easy Pieces,” ripe for a Cameron Crowe love scene, is an equally beautiful bit of cycling mist. Time for a new producer. Two words: Danger Mouse.