Whimsical and Bright
Between passionate followers, starving artists and the countless refrains of the heartbroken, the bounds of music and the world of its practitioners are intense in more ways than one. We listen to music when we are sad, when we drive, when we spend time with our friends — all to elicit a certain reaction, to make us feel comforted, to make us feel right with the moment we are in.
But did you know music can also be really fun, too?
Cue Walter Martin, who spent years with The Walkmen before releasing three solo albums since 2014. A multi-instrumentalist and self-aware singer, Martin’s new album My Kinda Music is an aptly titled installment in his Juvenile Series. Targeted toward a younger audience or meant for time spent with families, the songs are clean-cut and occasionally silly.
At first, the record’s worth checking out to see the creative bounds Martin is willing to play with — horns, whistles, hand claps, harmonies and all kinds of drums — then, his fun and lively rhythms might get stuck in listeners’ heads, calling them back for more. From the get-go, we are introduced to his use of playful tones, tambourines and back-up harmonies with “The Wishing Well,” then a duet with Laura Gibson on “Trip to the Sea” emphasizes more bouncy rhythms. At the front of all of this are Martin’s quirky, somewhat castaway vocals; he seems to be speaking with notes as much as he is singing, and it sets the right vibe for music that’s meant to be carefree.
Martin drives home the fact he “can’t sing” on track three, “Hey Matt,” a self-reflective duet with Matt Berninger of The National and one of the album’s standout tracks, likely to appeal to listeners beyond his target audience. “But Matt I could use some advice / I’ve been off-key all my life / it’s time I learned to sing / that’s why I’m giving you a ring,” he sings. With a poppy beat, handclaps aplenty and a call-and-response trope between Martin and Beringer (plus a Randy Newman shout-out), it’s one of the most heartfelt and lively songs you’ll hear all year. It’s also a brilliant reminder that music is supposed to be fun — just because it comes from the heart doesn’t mean it’s supposed to be dramatic and sad. As Berninger sings it: “Walt don’t waste your time singing about love and lonely nights / cause no one’s gonna pay a dime to stand in line and hear you whine.”
For all that he complains about not being able to sing, Martin’s not afraid to belt it out a time or two — or to use his voice in a patient, storytelling fashion. “Family Tree” feels like a campfire tune about one’s roots, while “The Everglades” is a bright and bustling tale of a Florida family vacation and all its happenings. Then, on the title track, Martin explains his musical efforts against a backdrop of steel drums and hand shakers. He admits he doesn’t expect fame and adulation from his works, but this is how he sings, how he plays and this is what he likes to do.
Martin is skilled at light-hearted, observant narratives, akin to lighter work from Guster and their ilk, but with an experimental pop bent. A prime example is “Where’d You Go Uncle Joe,” featuring groovy guitar solos and sparrow-like whistling, creating a sound that’s wandering, wacky and wistful.
At ten tracks that are mostly in the three to four minute range, My Kinda Music is a breeze of a listen. The album winds down on a slow, meditative note, “It’s A Dream (Night Version),” with Martin saying goodnight; the song doubles as a sweet farewell to his listeners, a reminder that “a night’s just another sweet dream.”
My Kinda Music may not be for everybody. Not everyone will likely appreciate just what it is Martin is doing with his unique style and his outreach to a family audience. But, regardless of company, if your kind of music is the kind that’s from the heart, full of life and willing to put a smile on your face, it’s most definitely worth a listen.