⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Based in Philadelphia, walkdon’twalk took a three year break to deal with management/label issues and what singer Colin Strang called “life shit” before regrouping in Seattle to record what would become Balance Lost. It may not turn out to be the commercial breakthrough the band has been looking for but it’s the album their fans were waiting for.
Bassist Lyn Tarbek and drummer Harris Pilon have never sounded tighter, pounding and pushing the snaking rhythms with machine precision. Locked into and propelling these grooves are Ted Billerson’s keys and guitars; intertwined are Strang and Tarbek’s vocals to form a tapestry producer Hal Jolson and the band are all too willing to unravel and reform, often in the same song.
Opening with the sparsely hypnotic “Last Night’s Lunch,” the album is darkness under a blacklight. It’s got eerie atmospherics and solid, synth driven hooks. It has gorgeous, unconventional harmonies and features some of Strang’s most personal lyrics since the band’s debut, Bleeding Edges. While that record may have been too clever and introspective by turns, Balance Lost finds the band jettisoning their past success while embracing the soulful sounds of 1970’s funk r&b albeit with a characteristic twist: those old songs were never about things like self-imposed isolation or finding human companionship in machines. Those goodtime jams never incorporated jagged sawtooth oscillator growls or minor key distorted guitar feedback.
“The Tiny Fist” and “Put A Lid On It” might be the catchiest songs the band has ever written, but it takes a few listens to appreciate their intricate melodies as each is in non standard tuning and something other than 4/4 time. Each has its own path to follow and each will lead you somewhere beautiful if unrecognizable. But that’s part of the charm of walkdon’twalk: as their dichotomic name suggests, this band is all about being two things at once. 2016’s Pictures Of Trees was a stark, critical endeavor as chastising as it was bleak, and although tracks like “Eyes and Lips” and “Snorkle” stood out like glistening beacons of hope the bulk of the album seemed reluctant to let go of the angst long enough to acknowledge the seriously danceable grooves which permeated it. This bit of internal strife might be what Strang was referring to and what caused the band’s hiatus, but that’s all in the past. Walkdon’twalk are embarking on a worldwide tour and have even resumed their legendary podcasts from the road, detailing their caffeine fueled late night after-concert wanderings.
The organ driven “Cosmic Octopus” is the most fun the band has allowed on any record but even it has a party-pooper message: we humans aren’t just polluting our own world, we’re sending our junk out into the cosmos at large where it’s having unknown repercussions. Like some soapbox straddling holier-than-thou street preacher, Strang comes across like the host of a rave who can’t help but bring everybody down with depressing statistics when all his guests want is to dance their cares away.
These kind of bummer moments are thankfully rare on Balance Lost, as “Hard To Steer” and “Catchin’ Cold” bring a smile even if you’re not entirely sure why. It’s really quite a feat to turn this weird, quirky stuff into terrific and memorable “pop” songs. Credit must be given to producer Jolson as he has allowed the band to do their thing while shaping it into something the rest of us can enjoy without compromising its uniqueness. Known for his work with The Amazings and Holly Mackeral, Jolson plays the roles of cheerleader and babysitter to perfection. It’s a strange and wonderful pairing of art and production that has yielded a complex, thoughtful affair.
Balance Lost will satisfy fans of the band and might even win over some of their critics. Recommended.