“Tell me what you’re gonna say / When you turn around and you walk, walk away” sings Walker’s Cay frontman Gary LaBarr in the theatrical chorus of the all-new single “Tell Me,” released last April to a warm reception from fans and critics alike. As potent as any of the grooves in this song are, the lyrics that LaBarr fashions over the textured riffing in the foreground are definitely half the reason to check out Walker’s Cay this month. Along with “Tell Me,” the band is offering up another single in “Why Oh Why,” and in all honesty, you can’t really go wrong with either right now.
Beyond the lyricism that Walker’s Cay bring to the table with them, the real meat and potatoes of these two tracks is the fretwork. “Why Oh Why” starts off with a cryptic acoustic string salvo over nascent white noise, alluding to all of the contrasting texture and tonality awaiting us just over the horizon. “Tell Me” is just as multilayered from an instrumental perspective, and in my opinion, neither one of these songs would be quite as powerful were they fitted with any centerpiece other than six-stringed guitars as loud as they are proud.
I really love the depth of the percussion in “Why Oh Why.” In so many ways, it puts a giant exclamation point on the song’s narrative without ever interrupting the steady flow of lyrics coming to us at the top of the mix. Intricacies like this are precisely the type of details that so many rock bands straight up ignore when making new music nowadays, but Walker’s Cay seem to take things a lot more seriously when it comes to maintaining compositional integrity. It’s refreshing to find, and definitely not something I expected I’d hear this spring.
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The mixing in both singles is spot-on excellent. Superbly efficient but generous when it comes to equalization and putting most of the spotlight on the relationship between vocals and guitar, Walker’s Cay put on a clinic in how to make a lean and mean rock song in “Tell Me.” “Why Oh Why” is a bit noisier, but even at its most abrasive, nothing ever sounds muddled or shoved together in some halfhearted attempt at postmodernity. These guys are too smart for that kind of nonsense, and you don’t have to be a professional music critic to pick up on as much here.
If this is on par with what we can all expect to be hearing out of the Walker’s Cay camp in the next few years, I believe this will only be the first occasion on which they make it into the headlines. Rock hasn’t felt like itself in a long time, but rather than simply looking backwards for direction – as so many modern bands have in 2020 – this is a group that is using history as a compass while exploring places unknown. Their odyssey has just begun, but I’m already very excited to see what they’re going to come up with next.