TW Walsh
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How We Spend Our Days , 6/10
Blue Laws , 6/10

Timothy William Walsh is a singer/songwriter from Boston with an impressive talent for melody who recorded How We Spend Our Days (Made, 1999) by himself, playing an arsenal of instruments. Melodically speaking, his carefully assembled pop ditties (Drunk and Poor, How We Spend Our Days, The New North American Friction, Silent Movies, Fear Of Dancing) rarely falter. His vocal style changes all the time, from a Curtis Mayfield wail to a John Lennon whine. His true voice seems to be the falsetto of The Polite Way to Rob a Bank. The arrangement is mostly stripped down, but occasionally rises to the occasion, like in the almost baroque Border Patrol.

Blue Laws (Truckstop, 2001) proves that the first album was no accident. Walsh adds more instruments to his toolbox and proceeds to construct small wonders of musical engineering. Again, both his strengths and his weaknesses lie in his melodies, because Walsh, unlike Stephen Merritt, is very derivative of the kings of pop but he also beats them at their own game. The first impact with Walsh's melodies is that he is rising from the dead the worst nightmares of easy listening (Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Elton John). Nightmares of Eleanor Rigby assail you when you hear the string arrangement for the mellow Beatles-ian ode Kudos For The Player. But that's only the surface. Walsh is a gifted melodist, and can't help ridiculing the pop classics with far better tunes. There's a human being behind the tune, though.
Case in point: the melody of Old Fashioned Way Of Speaking, sung in a pedestrian falsetto, will produce visions of Lennon in hell torturing the damned with repeated encores of Across the Universe. But the song is punctuated by an organ that comes out of Procol Harum's Bach imitations, and is closed by a touching piano-driven jam. The overall effect is of melancholy inertia and acute introspection, not of mere pretention.
Other songs dispense altogether with pop and go straight to the core of Walsh's art. The pensive, bluesy The Wages Of Dying Is Love (echoes of David Crosby's psychedelic If I Could Only Remember My Name and of Neil Young's depressed Tonight's The Night) and the Nick Drake-ian whisper Lions And Tigers And Bears decrease vital functions to the minimum, to a few guitar tones at a dying pace. A sleepy, doleful piano motif sustains the Tom Waits-ian dejection of Everybody Knows This Is No Fair. This group of songs best introduces and summarizes Walsh the artist.
The change of pace with the orchestral Gullwatching and the hard-rocking Top Of The Food Chain is not entirely welcome. It breaks a sequence that was becoming magic and destroys whatever intimate atmosphere Walsh had created.
Walsh still has to learn how to make a cohesive album, one that takes the listener to another planet and keeps him there for one hour. And the cause is that Walsh has not decided what he wants to be. Walsh has the talent to become either a pop star or a formidable auteur in the tradition of Neil Young and Tim Buckley. This is what they meant when they invented the expression "embarrassment of riches". Trying to be both at the same time may turn out unsatisfying on both counts.

Headphones (Suicide Squeeze, 2005) is an all-electronic collaboration between Pedro The Lion's David Bazan and TW Walsh.

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