Big Walnuts Yonder brings together four artists with enough in common to make sense, but not so much as to mark an innate direction. Mike Watt, Nels Cline, Greg Saunier, and Nick Reinhart make up a supergroup of the off-kilter for their self-titled debut, and they bring each of their strengths to the album while maintaining the sensibility of a band. The recordings are unsurprisingly unpredictable, and the sound of a group having fun while taking themselves seriously.
The album opens with a big bass groove, as if to confirm suspicions that it’s really Watt’s album, bringing some math and spaz to a Minutemen-based sound. The track shifts quickly, though. “All Against All” fits in with Watt’s work, but his bandmates bring their own sorts of textures to the track. Much of the album could play like this, a big game of name-the- primary-artist. “Flare Star Phantom” seems to offer everyone but Watt a turn, but as you play the game, the melding of the sounds becomes more apparent.
“I Got Marty Feldman Eyes” has its punk roots, but shifts into something more exploratory, and hints at spaciness while relying on classic rock style. “Ready to Pop!” likewise wants to ground itself in pop-rock, but Reinhart (presumably) drags it off in a mathier direction. The whole band chases, with Saunier pounding a complicated but steady beat, until the whole thing breaks into noisy static.
These sorts of tensions drive the album. You can almost hear a casual rock album coming out, but there’s so much weirdness and so many shifts to fit into the album. What makes it work is that the group remains committed to the songs as songs. The potential to get lost in lengthy jams, or in tossed-off free jazz or prog obssessiveness lies within the nature of these recordings, yet all four artists stay focused on the surprisingly tight songs. Most of the songs started as Watt’s basic song structures, and the group built them into something more, while staying true to the structures.
“Heat Melter,” in closing the album, shows the band locked in. They’re tight, playing both in unison and in dialogue across the track, developing groove as much as melody. They don’t shy from their strengths, but they don’t struggle to feature them either, creating an album that never feels like a flippant one-off. Big Walnuts Yonder might be doing a whole bunch of things, but it’s largely an album about making those things cohere.
Via Dusted Magazine