, according to Walsh, is Brandon Biondo in 1983. The young artist has released three EPs under this moniker: Smoke Weed About It
(September 2010); Karaoke
(March 2011); and Don’t Want 2 Fall in Luv
(September 2011), all for the Knoxville based digital label, Dracula Horse
. Back 2 the High Life
marks Biondo’s first endeavor into both the long-player format, as well as the physical release. The album is to be released as collaboration between Dracula Horse
both digitally and physically in a limited run of 100 cassettes.
When Back 2 the High Life
faded in for the first time I was on the R train heading to work. There is nothing special about this fact; I usually spend the time reading, writing, listening to new records, or else some combination of the three. My personal commute is about forty-five minutes, just enough time to ingest most long players. There is nothing special about these facts. This day, a Tuesday, my head is down and bobbing a little bit. I’m smiling. Outside it’s overcast, a little foggy. Walsh in my ears, and I’m taking notes, both for this review and in general. I remember I knew I wanted to write about this LP, even before hearing it. Why? I wonder. But at that moment I was unsure where this initial feeling had come from. It can’t be said that I “know” the new record, not yet at least. But first listen and I’m bobbing on the subway, jotting away. “There’s something special about that Walsh,” I think to myself.
Opener “DUO – We Only Have 2 Night,” which features Dracula Horse fellow Arrete
, sets Walsh down in a distinct locale, one that he’s inhabited before and one that he’ll continue to inhabit for the duration of the record. It’s an environment that, in our time, is probably most familiar to him, him and maybe Dam-Funk. Imagine: space cruiser on the moon, windows down, if that were scientifically advisable. The track’s opening instrumentation – an electric piano, light percussion, a kick, and some synthesizers – flies down from way up above, a high-speed video camera, to just inches from the floating rock’s surface. Side-chain compression and a plucky bass indicate high speeds but smooth sailing. This is a gentle Walsh, less menacing (though menacing is perhaps too violent a word) than much of his former material. It’s Walsh keeping his cool. (He never loses his cool.) It also introduces a slightly expanded pallet and an increased dynamic range. In welcoming us to 2012, as Walsh does formally with the track that follows, the artist implies a future – a future that, of course, recalls the past and is, of course, right now.
When did I first hear Walsh? I wonder – we leave the Union Street station
It was that one night in late 2010 – O.K., let me be honest: this “one night” was actually one of many such nights. I found myself unable to sleep and on Turntable.fm. I remember it was around 2 A.M. (PST). I was living in Las Vegas, Nevada, but most of the people in the room were on the East Coast. For them it was nearly five in the morning: these kids were no joke. Now, these late (or early, depending on your particular disposition) hours in my experience – especially these hours of weekend nights when all the well-adjusted kids are out doing whatever well-adjusted kids do – are the only hours worth spending on Turntable.fm, which is now, unfortunately, past this prime. I entered a room that was probably called something like “Lo-Fi/Haze/Good Shit” or “2nd Wave Bubble-Step”.
And the room was just alive: The Internet’s Fucking Finest Hour. People were playing Peaking Lights, James Ferraro, Oneohtrix Point Never (all of these float somewhat in the same nebulae as Walsh) and tons of shit I had never heard before. The conversation was lively. My headphones were turned up loud – much louder than they are now on this R train. I was jotting down names in a wild fever, bouncing between iTunes, Turntable.fm and Last.fm simultaneously. Then someone played Walsh. Someone put on what I still consider to be his best track (and the one that I will place on mix tapes forever): “Untitled” featuring Mat Cothran, from Smoke Weed About It
. And for the next few months I worked out on an elliptical machine listening to that track.
We leave the Whitehall South Ferry station (I’m taking the long way to work).
Back 2 the High Life
in my ears. I’m still bobbing and jotting. It’s been over a year since that night on a perfect Internet. (Was it only an oasis?) I’m above ground for the moment; it’s begun to rain. My occasion for listening critically is no longer so elliptical – by this I mean I’m writing about music now, instead of running in place to it (both literally and figuratively)...
It’s bold of Walsh to build an entire LP out of instrumentals, I think, especially given his minimal pallet. He’s worked with vocalists in the past before and with much success. (re: the aforementioned “Untitled" feat. Mat Cothran and the more recent “Bad Guy Anyway” by Will Carter, which Walsh produced.) Certainly vocals would be effective here for, if nothing else, they might establish a “single,” or, if we’re too cynical for such a term, maybe a centerpiece. Instead Walsh has opted for the high road, a one-man show. It’s a risky move, but Walsh does a relatively good job of keeping things interesting for the full forty-five. There are the driven, drum-based tracks, of course. These are the tracks we’ve come to expect from Walsh. Funky “Who Are U” and standout “Vibrations” are highlights of this time-tested mode of his. We get to dancing, rising and falling with the track. And then there are the more challenging, drone-influenced tracks. The unsettling “Chimborazo,” with its monotonous ride cymbal and short electric guitar loop, recalls the more morbid moments of Black Moth Super Rainbow’s excellent Dandelion Gum
(were there any morbid moments there? I don’t recall). The haunted hallways of “Adam’s Theme,” on the other hand, omit the rhythm section entirely for synthesized cobwebs. “Outro/K20e” may be something else altogether. At over three times the album’s average track length, this epic (though epic, in the conventional sense, may be the wrong word) closer leaves the building. It doesn’t bother to shut the door and a chilly wind circulates the room. “Outro/K20e” is the high-speed camera retreating back to whatever sky it came from. The record ends up in ambient space: comfortable there and not flailing at all.
As an album Back 2 the High Life
is impressive for its range within a relatively small framework. The revelations within its run time are modest, true, but greatly effective, especially with repeated listens – some of Walsh’s best moments are very subtle ones (see: the entrance of the guitar on “Vibrations”). Walsh doesn’t aim for cosmic catharsis, but he’s somewhere in that general atmosphere. For now, his ambitions are somewhat smaller, and wisely so.
I’ve made it to Union Square Station now. I’ve made it to work on time. There is nothing special about this fact. It’s still raining and across the platform water is running on the Q line; the station is wet and umbrellas abound. I pop out my own umbrella. My headphones are on, though nothing is playing. I step out into the storm. “There’s something special about that Walsh.”
Get Back 2 the High Life
right now at Walsh's Bandcamp
and name your price. Head over to AMDISCS
in March to pick up the cassette.
And Hey! More Tracks: