Walter Mitty Returns to His Makeshift Orchestra for Entertaining LP

Puddles of Alligators is an excellent collection of b-sides and a welcome release for Indi-folk fans.

Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra is a acoustic folk outfit from the West Coast. They debuted in 2009 with Every Town Needs a Cowboy which found them immediate success within the underground folk-pop movement of the day. A handful of releases followed with 2011’s Overwhelmed and Underdressed as the highlights, each of them developing the band’s mix of unique instrumental pallets, carefree production, and quirky lyricism. In 2017, the band began to go by the name Walter Etc. with two releases that year which largely kept with they original style. Now, they’ve returned to the Makeshift Orchestra moniker to release Puddles of Alligators, a collection of B-sides which never quite made the cut on their early albums.

While several of the band’s best features are here in spades, there are also quite a few surprising highlights. The percussion work, though simple, is extremely effective. The ringing tambourines on “Chocolate Old-Fashioned,” and the odd cymbals and clackers on “Farm Trees and Fences,” are fascinating touches on already interesting songs. This certainly wasn’t missing from earlier releases, but there seems to be even more attention paid to it here.

Beyond this, there is some excellent guitar work on tracks like “All the Pretty Fishes,” and the closer, “I’m off to Paradise.” There’s nothing showy here, but the rhythmic acoustic is present and well played across nearly every second of this LP and the short solo near the end of the record is extremely enjoyable.

Best of all, this album features a few fantastic interludes. “Hand-Me-Downs,” is a youthful, energetic cut early on while “It’s Raining in My Living Room,” is a brilliant, atmospheric track which serves as a perfect center point to the album. These make for great connective tissue between full length tracks and the latter is especially experimental and creative. 

The album even features some strong production choices on tracks like “Suck It Up.” The raw, clipping sound fits the whimsical style of the band perfectly. The mix is dirty and inexact, but gives each track a feeling like you’re in the room with them, which is exactly where you want to be.

For fans of Walter Mitty, it’ll be unsurprising to hear that the LP is packed with fantastic kazoo parts. From the earlier “Funny Faces,” to later entries like “Scrubbing the Mold,” and “Carry Me Back to the Purple Palace,” Walter Mitty continues to be the only artist in the industry, to my knowledge, who can consistently rock a kazoo solo at a moments notice. Its use much like the way a harmonica is utilized on many folk records, but the abrasive buzz is just an entirely different sound.

The LP’s strongest point though, comes in the simply hilarious lyricism. The opener, “Pink Eye,” jokes about the millennial stoner life with a sardonic tone which is summed up in the line “nice to meet you, I’m pathetic, let me be.” “Mellow,” on the other hand, is a short turnaround which poetically celebrates an enjoyable, but uneventful day with even more sharp-tongued sarcasm. Nearly every track features a few hilarious one liners, as is often the case with any of Walter Mitty’s work.

The album certainly isn’t perfect. Cuts like the title track or “Wetter Days,” are a bit boring as they lack any shining kazoo solos or memorable lyrics. Additionally, the pacing is a bit fast for my taste, without a single track clearing three minutes and only a few clearing two.

That being said, for fans of the band like myself, this is a welcome addition to the rather prolific catalog. The excellent instrumentation, hilarious lyricism, and well-played kazoo were expected from the beginning, but the addition of interesting interludes and raw production are welcome surprises.

Puddles of Alligators is an excellent collection of b-sides and a welcome release for Indi-folk fans.

6/10

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Taylor Swift Returns to Form With Her Seventh LP

Ultimately, Lover is everything fans could ask for from a new Taylor Swift album and just a bit more.

Taylor Swift needs very little introduction at this point. The pop singer-songwriter from Reading, Pennsylvania has become something of an icon in the genre and has likely done more than almost any other artist to shape the current landscape of radio pop. Prior to this newest release, the six LP’s to her name thus far have netted about 42 platinum certifications with 2008’s Fearless being one of the few albums to ever reach diamond certification. That being said, the last year has been something of a rough time for Swift. She left her longtime label, Big Machine Records only to have her music bought out from under her by longtime enemy, Scooter Braun and her most recent release, 2017’s Reputation was her least successful to date, both critically and financially. With all this piling up and the pop landscape shifting drastically below her, Taylor needed a win and she got it in Lover.

If anything, this album is a testament to Swifts ability to process criticism and improve because of it. Where her previous release was entirely too dark and lifeless, Lover is a blast! Tracks like the opener, “I Forgot That You Existed,” “Paper Rings,” and the better of the lead singles, “You Need To Calm Down,” will have longtime fans and casual listeners alike dancing immediately. It’s a stark contrast and absolutely the right choice for Swift as its her ability to write feel-good jams which has delivered her lasting status in the industry.

That ability hinges, above all else, on excellent pop songwriting. Songs like “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” and the album’s title track feature tight rhyme schemes that color in nearly every line with exciting moments. It’s the care she puts into every couplet which has garnered Swift such a reputation as a songwriter. Though most of her writing isn’t life-changing or especially moving, it is tight, catchy, and dynamic.

Unfortunately, this talent seems to fall apart on a handful of tracks. “The Man,” and the lesser of the lead singles, “ME!” Were particularly frustrating for me. Here, Taylor tries her hand at a more opinionated style of writing, as apposed to her usual storytelling, and in both cases, the  results feel shallow and uninventive.

On the other hand, much of this record eschews the tendency toward upbeat, danceable music and instead focuses on slow, growing waves of sound which seem only to keep building. Tracks like “The Archer,” and “Cornelia Street,” are bright and enveloping with warm, towering synths coloring the soundscape. The pallet is, admittedly, a bit narrow, but the overall sweetness of the sound makes up for any shortcomings, and when the pallet does expand, as in the addition of the Dixie Chicks on  “Soon You’ll Get Better,” it does so quite well.

This is all made infinitely better by the records’ strongest quality: the bright, shimmering production. The shift to Republic Records is felt in the pristine clarity of tracks like “Cruel Summer,” and “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince.” The tuning on Swift’s vocal is warm, the buzz of the synths is interesting, and overall mix is just perfectly balanced.

The record’s weakest point, on the other hand, is the bizarre percussion that litters several of the albums better cuts. Tracks like “I Think He Knows,” or “London Boy,” would be perfectly respectable if not for the strange and often annoying trap drums which feel entirely out of place. For a record with such well produced instrumentation, this poor percussion robs nearly every track of any organic feel that was possible.

Overall, this album is a success. There are a handful of poor choices in the lyrics and the 60 minute runtime definitely drags as the final few tracks feel totally unnecessary, but these issues can’t outweigh the album’s strengths. The fantastic songwriting, lively production, and carefree tone carry the day and even the worst tracks have a strong moment or two.

Ultimately, Lover is everything fans could ask for from a new Taylor Swift album and just a bit more.

6/10

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Anderson .Paak’s Quick Turnaround Yields Fun but Not Quite Stellar Results

Ventura is a flawed but ultimately electrifying piece of modern soul and yet another great addition to the ever growing Anderson .Paak catalog.

Anderson .Paak is a hip-hop/R&B artist from Oxnard, California. He debuted with a few notable underground projects in the early 2010’s, including the Cover Art EP which aimed to reclaim blues and R&B tracks written by black artists which were better known for being covered by white artists in the 1950’s. His breakthrough came first with 2014’s Venice, and then with his 2016 smash hit, Miami. The latter is a far more impressive release and brought to life the grooving, soul-funk style which set .Paak apart from the other members of his 2016 XXL Freshman Class. With his 2018 follow up, Oxnard, Anderson was launched into the stratosphere of modern music with what was largely regarded as one of the best albums of the year. Now, just a year later, he’s returned with Ventura, yet another groovy piece of Neo-soul mastery.

Eagle-eyed music fans will notice before they even hear a sound that the record has a fantastic lineup of features on nearly every track. While the vast majority of these are quite impressive, two stand about above the heap. Namely, the one and only André 3000’s tongue-twisting verse on the opener, “Come Home,” and Smokey Robinson’s silky presence on the follow up, “Make It Better.” In both instances, the features elevate the tracks to incredible heights.

Despite an incredible ensemble, Anderson still commands a leading presence across the project, and carries a few of the tracks alone. “Yada Yada,” is an absolute clinic in soul and funk vocals with .Paak’s rough sweetness burning through every line. “Chosen One,” however, would be entirely forgettable if not for the fantastic rap verse near the end with a few eye popping name drops and a fascinating flow. He’s really come into his own, and his work on this record is extremely exciting for longtime fans.

Beyond vocal performances, Ventura’s instrumentals are electrifying. Each cut features a massive pallet from an interesting mix of organic and electronic sources. “Reachin’ 2 Much” sees a foundation of thick bass guitar and thumping kick drums supporting howling synths and bombastic horn sections. “Winner’s Circle,” on the other hand pulls elements like skat singing and woodwind melodies and a hilarious opening sample.

The record is at it’s best however, when the entire band finds the somewhat intangible groove they seem to be searching for at all times. This happens to great effect on “Jet Black,” a track which is essentially carried by the groove and lacks the bells and whistles of other cuts. The album’s highlight, however, is the lead single “King James,” which is built on an undeniable beat and adorned with thoughtful, politically charged lyrics and a luscious saxophone. It’s here where Anderson is at his best.

I do, however, have a handful of complaints. The most consistent issue throughout is pacing. More than a few tracks drag on far longer than necessary and seem to go nowhere for the last half. “Good Heals,” on the other hand, is criminally short and feels extremely half baked.

The most frustrating shortcoming, though, is the way that Ventura absolutely limps through the finish line. The closing tracks, “Twilight,” and “What Can We Do?” Are both completely lifeless and unnecessary. The Nate Dogg feature on the latter is a nice touch, but the track itself feels like a lost, Nate Dogg B-side and is totally out of step with the rest of the record. It’s a shame, because the rest of the project is quite strong, and could’ve been brought home well.

That being said, Ventura is a success, overall. Once again, Anderson .Paak has come through with a unique brand of Neo-soul and funk that has the ability to excite fans young and old. His respect for the masters like Smokey and James Brown is palpable, but his rap background bring a unique spin.

Ventura is a flawed but ultimately electrifying piece of modern soul and yet another great addition to the ever growing Anderson .Paak catalog.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB