Review Summary: Although there's not another "Anna Sun," Walk the Moon's sequel makes me want to road trip hard. Adult beverages may or may not be included.
Without revealing my age, I'll confess that I consumed way too much candy this Halloween. All the Skittles, Nerds and Jolly Ranchers were delectable until the bazillionth wrapper fell asunder to my feet, and with horror, I realized that the taste had become too sweet due to my lack of discipline.
Likewise, there’s no substitute for subtlety in songwriting, but that hasn’t stopped the legion of indie and alternative pop acts from striving for an overabundance of exuberance. Every genre that gains popularity and becomes somewhat mainstream fare suffers a curse: Tropes are developed, recycled and regurgitated ad nauseum. For indie pop, it’s being too damn bright and catchy.
Sure, it’s been all windows down, summer playlists fun bellowing with your bros on road trips or giggling, bikini-clad on beaches with your girlfriends sipping mixed drinks, but after several years of this reverie, you discern that “Best Day of My Life” really sucks something awful. The scales have fallen from your eyes; the novelty has finally worn thin. For every Awolnation and Bleachers, there’s an Imagine Dragons and American Authors to prove that today’s “hipster” music can be thoroughly uninspired and formulaic.
Cincinnati’s Walk the Moon treads the line between imitator and innovator (as much as the latter can be achieved these days). The quartet can deliver some sonic sugar highs -- see “Anna Sun,” yet they can also demonstrate savvy dynamics beyond their peers -- again, see “Anna Sun.” The big single off their 2012 self-titled debut never quite got the attention it deserved, reaching the fringes of Top-40 radio, perhaps missing out on account of its over five-minute runtime.
On 2014’s Talking is Hard
, the much shorter lead single “Shut Up and Dance” should have no problem breaking into hit music’s airwaves. It’s an addictive, pop-rock ditty, boasting 80s buildup verses and a racing, flirty chorus both in melody and lyrics: Oh, don’t you dare look back/Just keep your eyes on me/I said, “You’re holding back”/She said, “Shut up and dance with me.”
It’s a tad too saccharine for its own good, but overall, it’s difficult to complain about Walk the Moon here or on the group’s follow-up.
As a whole, Talking is Hard
retains both its predecessor’s accessibility and relatively more sophisticated songwriting, making it a better listen than the average indie pop effort. True, it’s vibrant, but not quite annoyingly so, and Walk the Moon proves to be a master of its craft, featuring neurotic and clever pauses and tempo changes throughout. The work of drummer Sean Waugaman is a plus, as there are a variety of percussion elements to serve as a metronome to Walk the Moon’s jubilant ventures, whether it be the glam rock strokes on the bridge of “Shut Up and Dance” or the tribal beats of “Work This Body” or “Sidekick.” Frontman and lead vocalist Nicholas Petricca’s eccentricity on numbers such as “Up 2 You” and “Spend Your $$$” reinforces the tonal diversity -- much of it hailing from the 80s -- that’s found on Talking is Hard
. Petricca’s keyboard and the guitar and bass lines of Eli Maiman and Kevin Ray provide lush, instrumental vehicles to match and carry the LP from beginning to end.
From the get-go, “Different Colors” is a resplendent, mid-tempo anthem that’s begging for single treatment. What it lacks in originality, it compensates for in execution and remains a highlight. The ensuing “Sidekick” is funky, and along with “Avalanche” and “Portugal” shows restraint while keeping the album’s heartbeat pulsing. Not everything, of course, works. The same themes of living in the moment and casual romance relatable to millennials abound a bit too frequently. The chorus of “Up 2 You” is jarring, and “Down in the Dumps” is as melodically cookie-cutter and as grating as indie-alternative pop can get with its synth arpeggios. Moreover, the finish nearly underwhelms with “We Are the Kids” and “Come Under the Covers,” though “Aquaman” concludes proceedings on a strong note coming close to capturing Savage Garden’s softer ballad moments.
None of these faults derail Talking is Hard
, which is a solid and consistent consolidation of what Walk the Moon excelled on in their debut, though nothing is as stellar as “Anna Sun.” Detractors will continue too begrudge the group’s antics as too energetic and effervescent, a flaw of the entire genre. On the other hand, those who loved “Shiver Shiver” will jam to “Sidekick,” and those who dug “Jenny” will crank up “Shut Up and Dance.” For me, there is just an incessant urge to roll down the windows, drive to a sandy escape and holler with my friends along the way.
"Shut Up and Dance"
"Work This Body"