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.