Traditional song structure? Overrated. Or at least, that’s what Whit Walker seems to be saying on his debut EP.
An experimental hybrid of disparate styles, “If Only All of Rome Had Just One Neck” is a confusing, sometimes confounding release that still manages to be an intriguing and challenging listen. And, like a lot of experimental music, the results are something of a mixed bag. To those with an adventurous ear, Walker’s debut EP may prove refreshing, while others with a taste for more mainstream fare may be left scratching their heads.
Opening track “Freedom and Money” starts with an ominous bass riff and a bit of electronic feedback. Walker’s mysterious lead vocal, filtered through a megaphone effect, is bolstered by backup harmonies courtesy of Elizabeth Stockbridge and Dominic Lavoie. Around the two-minute mark, the song devolves into an almost free-jazz-like cacophony. Each instrument veers off into its own improvisational exercise, until bass, drums and two guitars are all playing completely different, discordant arrangements. This continues for about a minute, until Walker returns for one more line of lyric over the harmonies and the returning bass line.
Perhaps the catchiest and most traditional track (in terms of song structure) on the record is “The Overbearing,” an up-tempo indie rocker that sounds a bit like jangly early REM crossed with the fuzzed-out guitar of mid-’90s Pavement. Walker sings in a clear voice on this one, with an almost laid-back country drawl that occasionally lapses into a charming falsetto. A touch of reverb and harmony vocals from Stockbridge help sweeten the sound just enough without taking the edge off the guitars.
“Shoeless Joe” is a shuffling country blues number, underscored with clocklike, tinkling percussion that creates a sense of unease. A quavering vocal from Walker combined with an echoing slide guitar also gives a touch of lonely mystery to this track. It conjures up images of tumbleweeds and dusty abandoned shacks out in the middle of nowhere. Slightly unsettling, but a fascinating listen nonetheless.
The EP concludes with the chugging and rhythmic “Cinnamon Bun Blues.” A bluesy guitar riff and a simple, steady drumbeat form a loose structure for the tune, while sirenlike backing vocals weave in and out of the din. The track is punctuated by odd bits of percussion that almost sound like the clacking of old typewriter keys. A bit of New-Wave-sounding keyboards add color and texture. Deceptively simple on first listen, this track nevertheless reveals itself to be a surprisingly complex and layered arrangement after repeated listens.
“If Only All of Rome Had Just One Neck” is hard to classify, but one gets the impression that that’s sort of Whit Walker’s point. Who needs labels? All sounds and styles are fair game, and who says those sounds need to be arranged in a certain way? Looking for hooks or simple verse-chorus-verse song structure? Look elsewhere. Looking for a label to hang on Walker’s style? Good luck.
No, it’s best not to get too hung up on trying to put this EP into some sort of box or category. Music like this just has to be experienced. Don’t think too much; just put your headphones on and let Whit Walker conduct his experiments on you. The results may surprise you.
Download all four tracks for the low price of just $3 at loremipsumrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/if-only-all-of-rome-had-just-one-neck.
Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at: