After the breezy summer pop of ‘Gloom Cruise’ and the buzzing indie-punk of ‘Dark Comedy Performance Piece of My Life’, it would be difficult to second guess what Dustin Hayes might do next. Certainly, a largely acoustic outing wouldn’t have been top of the pile of suggestions to take to the California-based artist.
Yet, despite the change in sound, ‘There There’ still embodies the same soul as its predecessors. There’s still a resigned and world-weary humour at its core, offset by a sense of boundless optimism that things could be better. In this tension – as in their previous efforts – Walter Etc. frequently strike gold.
Musically, ‘There There’ finds itself most closely related to 2014’s ‘Well Soon’, even if it lacks the gusto or verve. Instead, it’s the sound of a folk-punk band coming of age, earthy and rootsy, with the confidence and ability to let the music unfurl gently, rather than racing towards a frantic conclusion.
Coming soon after 2020’s ‘Dark Comedy...’ – a break-up concept album – ‘There There’ is a much more traditional album, with Walter Etc. ruminating on themes like economic ideals, personal politics, spirituality and the power of nature.
Opener ‘Wildflowers of America’ is a perfect example of this desire to marry the personal and political, resulting in a grand snapshot of America in the twenty-first century. Quietly powerful, it sees Dustin reflecting on his white privilege, pollution, wildfires, missing children, and the power of being present. Lead single ‘UBI’, meanwhile, dissects ideas of universal basic income through the lens of a man who can’t quite grasp the concept, while ‘Me Vs The Algorithm’ considers how artificial intelligence and computer systems can place a value on art.
Light enough to dance on sunbeams, ‘There There’ is the most perfect headphone music for reflective summer afternoons. Sure, some weighty ideas are neatly spaced throughout, but these are merely ballast for the record’s quiet, understated beauty.