Self-described postpunk outfit Walker Brigade have been a fiery and enigmatic live presence in the LA power pop scene for the last decade, and now Big Stir records are finally releasing their first full length record on the 27th May, following numerous singles and the mini-album Therapy Animal.
Their sound inhabits that specific and uber-inventive, experimental zone between punk and new-wave, between the 70s and 80s, with the spiky clarity of bands like X, X-Ray Spex, Gang of Four and Mission of Burma. With both male and female lead vocals from Tracy Walker and Jeff Charreaux, they can inhabit and flirt with any number of genres. Both singers also play guitar, and Charreaux (Ultra Violet Eye) has even gigged with one of our own top OL staff persons. Bassist Mark Fletcher is able to bring a jazz feel to proceedings and the group is rounded out by CBGB veteran and percussionist Craig Tyrka, with guest keyboardist Marc Doten who is also their engineer on this self-produced project.
The cover displays a long winding path up a thin and dangerous road to the moon, an isolated, unsettling and mysterious image fitting the themes of If Only, vaguely reminiscent of some hill we must ascend, probably just to fall back again, Sisyphean and mythologically defeated, as the band deliver, in their own words "anthemic despair with savoir faire". Their voice is never gloomy though, the sound of Walker Brigade is anthemic, and fizzes with energy, passion and humour.
Fallout sets out with scuzzy guitar and confessional lyrics over a stomping beat, concealing a pop heart and chiming harmonies, winding its way to a chanted chorus of "Fallout, when you find out...". Disease, with its 60s handclaps and walking bassline, is post-punk meets West Coast as it strikes a cautionary note. Tower, which reached the first ballot for the Grammys, has a soaring chorus, as its characters build a tower "higher than any nation's" from their combined lives and emotions, as catchy as anything by the New Pornographers, followed by No, an ode to "your favourite word when you're two years old", shouting at us to use it more. The gentle artistry of Judy Holliday gives a stunning picture portrait, the music itself could be an early Blondie or Pretenders piece, with puckish humour following in the brief Don't Sell Out (For Free). Fancy Boots, a bluesy, rocking number ends with a guitar break combined with staccato piano which recalls Phil Manzanera and early Roxy Music.
V.D. Doll asks us to be Jeff's voodoo doll, against a classic riff and repeated phrases, pure rock and roll. What is Wrong With Me is a short bouncing blast of glam which could be an early effort from Sparks/Halfnelson. Latest single Choker is a showcase for the band's harmonising, with the apparent controlled chaos of the rhythm section and the anarchy of the lyric "Trust nobody, not even me"... there to healthily mess with our heads. Shake Shimmy takes that melodic edge to its limit, almost heavy in its relentless 4/4 stomping. The album is rounded out with two quirky and enjoyable cover versions. The first is Sand In My Joints (Wire) which is perhaps not as jagged as the original and lacks some of the original's bite at the end, but is a very faithful rendition nevertheless, after all, how close can you get to that fantastically jerky guitar solo? The other cover is Mel Brooks penned I'm Tired, originally performed by Madeleine Khan in Blazing Saddles, which works surprisingly well as a power pop protest song against love and manipulation, and remains devastatingly funny. Even better though are the covers contained in the bonus tracks, Robyn Hitchcock penned I Wanna Destroy You and The Only Ones b-side Lovers of Today. The CD also features three alternate mixes and a live rehearsal track.
The Walker Brigade have captured lightning in a bottle, holding not only the essence of power-pop, but also that awkward period between punk and new-wave, the catchy, jerky sounds of a musical mythology settling into its place in history. Not to say that these aren't contemporary sounds and lyrical concerns, from musicians working with a clearly encyclopaedic understanding of their genre, and a sound that is ideal for we, the generations that are inspired by it.