Walter Ego could be characterized as Elliott Smith with a better sense of humor and command of a more diverse number of styles. Bass is Walter Ego’s main axe, but he also plays pretty much every other instrument you’d want in a rock band. Last year, he challenged himself to record two songs a month. The result is his 24 in 2015 playlist, streaming at his site and available as a free download. He’s playing his dozen favorite tracks from the project this Saturday night, March 26 at 7 PM at Sidewalk.
Much as a lot of these songs are very funny, they’re also relevant. Walter Ego doesn’t suffer fools gladly, he abhors gun violence and blind obedience. The project’s first songs are typically just a single instrument and vocals; as it goes on, the songs get more fleshed out, Walter Ego as a one-man orchestra. The first number, Triangle Player, is a characteristically tragicomic one. See, Walter Ego is also a classical music fan. This elegant piano waltz contemplates the job of an orchestral triangle player, who doesn’t have a very hard job…yet it has some unique frustrations. The second January tune, Why Can’t It Stay Exactly Like This Forever is guitar and vocals, a subtly sarcastic look at how change might not be such a bad thing after all:
Dylan goes electric
John Henry is replaced
She loves you not, she doesn’t care
Dylan stays acoustic
John Henry keeps his job
She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah
The punchline after that, like a lot of them here, is too good to spoil.
February’s first song is a darkly chromatic noir cabaret piano number, We’re Going In the Wrong Direction, with another metaphorically-charged lyric and one of the album’s more vividly icy vocals. Be My Enemy also has a noir cabaret feel, an irresistibly amusing reference to an iconic Pink Floyd song, and the kind of subtly savage political message that will recur many times throughout these songs.
March’s first song is In Threes, an art-rock piano ballad, Walter Ego having fun with numbers and celebrity death myths. The second one is The Banishment Button, a swinging phaser-guitar rocker that seems like it’s going to be punk rock but has a lot more depth than that. April’s recordings include the darkly catchy art-rock anthem Everything’s Captured, weighing the “pros” and cons of the surveillance state, and Do Over, a sardonic new wave vignette weighing the dilemmas of ontogeny recapitulating philogeny.
The diptych Difficult Street is a slinky, sarcastic organ-and-drums number told from the point of view of a spoiled one-tenth-of-one-percenter. After that, the Moody Blues-esque folk-rock anthem Making Money – a droll counterfeiter’s tale – makes a good segue. June is represented by This Is What Happens, a coy right-brain-versus-left-brain scenario, and the absolutely brilliant I Woke Up In the Modern World, a vintage Springsteenesque sendup to paleoconservatives.
Set to swinging parlor piano pop, My Manifesto offers a subtly creepy look inside the head of a Unabomber type. If You Could See Inside My Head continues the theme – as goofy as this shuffle is, in a way it’s even creepier: “I guess that you think that amatuer brain surgery is fun,” the narrator taunts.
The surrealistically bouncy Radio Backwards is a twistedly hilarious counterpart to Elvis Costello’s Radio Radio. Say What’s On Your Mind take a snidely slinkys slap upside the head of a passive-aggressive type, one of the few songs here where Walter Ego really cuts loose on the bass.
Who Says I Have to Be Consistent is one of the funniest and most spot-on tracks here: as usual, it’s the song’s implication that’s funniest. The punchy psych-pop tune What Was I Thinking About? introduces horns for the first time; it’s one of the most poignant numbers here, bringing to mind Lee Feldman‘s recent work. By contrast, the swaying paisley underground-tinged White Bones offers a cruelly accurate answer to anyone who might dispute the science that establishes Africa as the birthplace of humankind.
Electric lead guitar makes its entramce in The Red Mercury Blues. a salute to a dangerous element that’s not easily labeled. I Am Here Now is the most surreal number here, a vamping Velvets-ish look at a post-Facebook world, with a trick ending.
The playlist winds up with three of its strongest tracks. With its jungly drums, blippy organ and synth brass, Welcome to Us blends elements of Afrobeat and psychedelia: finally, twenty tracks into the album, Walter Ego takes a guitar solo, and it’s good! Give Me a Gun For Christmas is just plain hilarious as a spoof of Xmas songs in general. And Martin Luther King Zombie Killer is just about as amusing, imagining a secret life for the civil rights leader, who “had a dream but also had a nightmare.” As usual, the subtext is murderously funny, and cruelly accurate. If the best album of the year is measured in terms of both quality and quantity, it’s going to be next to impossible for anyone to top this in 2016.