Saturday, July 4

Yea or Nay: Walk It Off

Over the years I’ve been reluctant to get rid of music that isn’t good enough to enjoy repeatedly, but not bad enough to outright dismiss.  But now that I’ve acquired close to 30,000 songs it’s time to make some decisions, and while hard drive space may be unlimited my patience is not.  So in the Yea or Nay series I’ll give an album one final chance to prove its worth and avoid being jettisoned into the cold, black expanse of my Recycle Bin.

I’ve observed over the past several years that few groups of music fans are as fickle as frequenters of indie music blogs.  They seem to judge music by some set of unwritten, yet ever-changing rules.  The slightest transgression – a change in sound, label, or look, for instance – is enough to turn album reviews into obituaries.  Such seemed to be the case with Minneapolis-based Tapes ‘n Tapes.  After their 2005 full-length debut, The Loon, was lauded by taste makers like Pitchfork, the quartet seemed to be off and running.  I even got into the game, albeit a little later.

And then…the dreaded followup record.  The first big change for Walk It Off was that the group enlisted one of them fancy, pro-fessional producers (Dave Friedmann).  The next was a change in style – away from the nervous, angular indie rock that I found endearing and toward a beefier, monolithic guitar rock approach.  I was so disappointed in Walk It Off I couldn’t be bothered to write more than a few sentences for my review.  I read quite a few other reviews, and even the most positive ones seemed to be fueled more by the residual goodwill generated by The Loon than by any inherent qualities Walk It Off possessed.

So it’s been just over two years since the record’s release, and still it sits largely ignored in my MediaMonkey library.  So it’s time to decide – does Walk It Off find new life or get the boot?

The first thought I have in listening to this album again is how TNT’s style isn’t all that changed from the previous disc.  What has changed is the songwriting and sound – and neither for the better.  First the sound – this is definitely a much more professional-sounding record, but that actually works against it.  Tapes ‘n Tapes are not a particularly complex or challenging group, and this new dense, drum-centric and reverb-heavy mix sounds like an attempt to make them sound like a more forceful and important band than they are.  All it really makes me think is “holy crap all this distortion is annoying.”

Next, and most importantly, are the songs.  They just aren’t there.  Of the dozen tracks on Walk It Off, only “Hang Them All” recalls the energy and infectious fun of The Loon.  Not coincidentally, it was the album’s lead single.  But even then, the chorus doesn’t kick in until the last 45 seconds of the song and therefore it feels like a wasted opportunity.  A few other songs – “Conquest”, “Say Back Something”, and “Demon Apple” for example – hint at something better but ultimately fall a little short.  The latter pair contain some of the color and subtlety I suspect the band was going for throughout most of the record.

The rest of the album is a paint-by-numbers exercise in generic, modern indie rock.  It’s decent but does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself.  Tapes ‘n Tapes aren’t the greatest musicians in the world so they live or die on the strength of their songs.  And when you can go through an entire album as a listener and recall exactly one melody, that’s death.  Almost everything about this record screams we are a serious band and we are proving it to you with this serious music.

I was little too harsh on Walk It Off when it was released, but I think my disappointment was understandable.  But while I can see what Tapes ‘n Tapes was shooting for on the album, it still feels like a huge misstep.  Who knows, maybe in time this will be seen as the transition album that pointed the way to greater things.  But for now I can’t really imagine myself wanting to listen to the whole thing again.  “Hang Them All” gets a reprieve, as do “Conquest” and “The Dirty Dirty”, but I’m deleting the rest.  That’s three saves out of 12 songs.

The final verdict: Nay