Review: The Walters’ EP “Young Men”
Feeling all the feelings with Chicago’s mellow indie rockers
by Luke Blanco
Photography by Kristina Pedersen
Before we dive into the music — let’s start with The Walters’ unique, signature visual style, created by artist Kristina Pedersen. For those out of the loop, Kristina contributes art, photography, and video to The Walters. Her portfolio is impressive: commissioned works for Vic Mensa and BØRNS, fashion shoots with model Kirsten Corley and designer Natalie Wright, and assignments for Pitchfork Music Festival are among her projects. Her expertise extends to The Walters’ aesthetic. Their new EP, Young Men, features a photo of the group lined up in single file, grasping one of those massive prize checks with their left arms. It’s a Beach Boys parody — the band being The Walters’ most-used comparison — with the check replacing the surfboard. Yet, there is something nostalgic, almost melancholic about the image, with its film-like quality and the five members draped in white, ghostly turtlenecks. The photo sums up Young Men’s sounds succinctly; sometimes bubbly and bright, other times quiet and thoughtful.
Young Men starts with “Sweet Marie,” and like most songs on the album, it is short, clocking in at two minutes and seventeen seconds. One verse. One chorus. Next song. Boom. This brevity, compounded with ethereal backup vocals and sentimental melodies, makes the song extremely sad for me. It’s not like the lyrics are mournful. Olson sings, “My love, this night is all for you, and we’re not gonna waste it” in the chorus, which is a clearly enamored statement. Yet, everything feels so fleeting, momentary, transient.
“I Haven’t Been True” brings fun back to Young Men after “Sweet Marie” and its somber tone. The song captures The Walters performing doo-wop in an unconventional way. While most doo-wop songs have the melodies being sung by vocalists, “I Haven’t Been True” has the doo-wop melodies being played by a subtly fuzzed guitar. “I Haven’t Been True” is a guitar-driven, blue-eyed, contemporary rock and roll cover of a would-be Temptations song
Young Men also marks the full-length, recorded return of guitarist and singer Michael Tirabassi to the band. Luke Olson commands attention as a gifted frontman, but Tirabassi holds his own weight, singing with a Rivers Cuomo-like timbre on “Sweet Leaf.” Yes, I was hoping that The Walters were covering the Black Sabbath tune “Sweet Leaf” with this track, but I’m not disappointed, since they created a nice original at any rate.
If The Walters sat down and listened to Steely Dan’s Aja for a couple hours, only to write a song immediately afterwards, the result would be “Goodbye Baby.” Tone down the Donald Fagen-esque funk and jazz, insert some straightforward rock, keep the chiming guitar tones, add a resolutely 70s-sounding keyboard solo, and there you have it. “Goodbye Baby” remains through and through a Walters song; it’s refreshing and pleasant to have halfway though Young Men.
“City Blues” is the last of the album’s raucous tracks, a real banger. Everyone thinks of the Walters as a laid-back band, but live shows always have them breaking out of the mold and getting loud. “City Blues” captures that live energy completely; the song is louder than most Walters studio tracks, from this album or before. It’s Arctic Monkeys circa-Humbug in intensity. I can’t wait to hear this one live, just to see how the crowd reacts.
My personal favorite off of Young Men is “Cottage Roads.” This song, like an imaginary collaboration between Brian Wilson and Jeff Tweedy, marks the Walters at their folkiest, their most down to earth. Again, this tune’s tone and short length make you feel like something is gnawing at your emotions, though, there is nothing depressing about the actual lyrical content. If you are in love, this song captures the fear of potentially losing your beloved anytime in the future, and everything ends in some way, shape, or form.
The album’s final jam, “Autumn Leaves,” is also one of the strongest. J Dilla’s beats and production work has always been a subtle — yet important — influence on the band’s work and drummer/producer Charlie Eckhaus’ recording style. “Autumn Leaves” captures this light hip-hop backbeat tastefully, never throwing it over the top. A lyrical idea of fall, with its dying leaves and aging, sprinkled over with the track’s rhythm and groove, mirrors the equally groovy, yet sullen, song from Songs for Dads, “Life.”
Listeners will notice, that while the Beach Boys parallel holds true, much more lies beyond this simple analogy, as The Walters possess unique and subtle nuances in their music. Imagine a Mac DeMarco record with the wonky-meter turned back. A Modest Mouse-esque jam recalling their song “Dramamine.” The Tallest Man on Earth’s Kristian Matsson playing with a full band. There are shades of Beck’s spacious arrangements on Morning Phase, and Dr. Dog’s unapologetic pop structures.
No matter their comparison, The Walters have a knack for conveying different shades of feeling through fined-tuned songwriting skills. Each album has tunes that sound different, yet those tunes are all equally enjoyable. The band recently made Spotify’s “United States Viral 50” playlist, and Young Men should carry that momentum even further than before.
Before you go, watch Kristina’s video for The Walters’ single “Hunk Beach” — it’s not actually on Young Men but it’s definitely worth a watch, and a listen.
Thank you to Kristina Pedersen for her photos of The Walters, see more of her work at http://kristinapedersen.com.
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