In the summer of 2019, Tower Defense were putting the finishing touches on a song called “No Place at Home,” the final tune for their long-gestating second LP, In the City. Based on a dream that lyricist Mike Shepherd had, it describes a tornado touching down in East Nashville’s 5 Points area while locals run for cover. Nine months later, in the early hours of March 3rd, that’s exactly what happened.
This wasn’t precience by any stretch: It was the third line of tornados to toss East Nashville in less than a century, and for a band of Nashville natives, the natural disasters wrought by global warming–from tornadic winds to relentless rains to flash flooding–are nothing new.
In the City is rife with rising waters and angry seas from the very beginning. On album opener “Manifest Destiny,” bassist Sarah Shepherd sings about setting sail on an inland sea, in search of a new beginning, only to be dashed against the rocks of the Smoky Mountains. On “Under the Sea,” Sarah’s husband Mike paints a stark picture of two opposing partisans, trapped in a diving bell deep underwater, with nothing but an unending, increasingly maddening news narrative to break the awkward silence. Title track “In the City” is the story of a recent arrival in Nashville seeking shelter in the unfamiliar environs of Lower Broadway as the Cumberland River surges past its banks, scored by the loping, chiming guitar of Currey May.
As it did on 2016’s Stay Inside EP, Nashville looms large on In the City, in ways both abstract and personal. On “Theme from Renewal,” Nashville stands in for any rapidly-gentrifying locality, as civic leaders prioritize new development that displaces locals to make way for newcomers. The Nashville of “Schools” is a personal one, wherein life-long rock and roll hobbyists find themselves reckoning with a scene that’s leaving them behind. That sense of isolation also plays into “Richard Nixon’s Safe Room,” “Room Service,” and “Consequences,” surreal narratives of solitude, imprisonment, and escape, punctuated by the athletic-but-precise drumming of Jereme Frey.
Throughout, these songs are grounded by the rock-solid rhythm section of Frey and bassist Sarah Shepherd. Seven years into their collaboration, they effortlessly form the firm foundation for Currey May’s melodic, shimmering six-string and Mike Shepherd’s tenor bass as they alternate between contrapuntal interplay and intertwining to form some sort of 10-string monolith. As with Stay Inside, these sounds were captured by Grammy®-winning engineer Jeremy Ferguson at Battle Tapes studio, snugged away in the same Nashville neighborhood that the band members call home. Ferguson’s tireless work on the record buffed off the rough sonic edges of a two-bass band to reveal a shining cohesion, which the tasteful mastering of Brad Boatright polished to perfection. In the City is the sound of a band finding its footing in a changing world. But, at its heart, it’s music designed to play loud, with the windows open, 24 minutes at a time.