Review Summary: a bold pop debut of splintered electronic arrangements and deeply human execution
West-London songwriter Will Westerman talks about his music in a refreshing way. His speaking voice is melodic and unassuming; a pitcher of cool water in the fridge. Westerman's music can give the impression that he'd be at home on a high horse--detached and cerebral--but his candid descriptions in interviews strip away any sliver of pretense. "I just don't like excess", he told 3voor12 this spring. "I just like to be as concise as possible, I guess." The 26 year old's full-length debut, Your Hero is Not Dead
, checks all the right boxes a trendy indie record in 2020 should--minimalist production, esoteric musical references to the 1980s, cooler-than-school vocal delivery--but it accomplishes this by fulfilling Westerman's own core values, not by trying to do the "right" thing. The "lo-fi", laptop aesthetic that defines Your Hero is Not Dead
is only born out of necessity: as Westerman says, "...it's not [...] because it's cool to be lo-fi, it's just, like, I don't have access to four cellists... so, I'm going to use software."
Well, there are plenty of real performances on Your Hero is Not Dead
, but Westerman's ethos is appropriately-handled in producer Nathan Bullion's hands. The lack of non-synthesized instrumentation shouldn't be mistaken for laziness: sounds are staggeringly precise as arrangement pieces, darting from choppy staccato chirps to amorphous, legato leads with exacting confidence. Your Hero is Not Dead
is an album built out of little, surprising moments. 'Waiting on Design' opens with a flowing, vibrato-soaked build-up that suggests a full song of dense atmosphere, but after one minute, it takes a sharp left turn into a relaxed, bass-driven groove--defined by its negative space and periodic samples. Rhythmic syncopation dominates the record ('Think I'll Stay', 'Big Nothing Glow'), cutting up phrases into unorthodox subdivisions with the perfection only a computer can achieve--leaving the human elements (the spectacular electric and bass guitar performances) to jump in and out of frame with titillating irregularity. That Your Hero is Not Dead
doesn't have an icy, unapproachable feel (especially considering how often drum machines are left to do the heavy lifting) is a bit of a marvel: the whole album is deeply human, thoughtful and emotional.
It certainly helps that Westerman's vocals are as lovely as his demeanour: his gentle, full-bodied baritone melodies are shaped in the mold of classic new-wave vocalists. Better yet, Westerman's pop hooks: he makes easy work of his own adventurous chord progressions with ear worm after ear worm. Look to 'Confirmation' or early album highlight 'The Line' for a quick introduction to Your Hero is Not Dead
--Westerman's vocal delivery is emotionally affecting, instantly accessible, and perfectly suited for the gentle, calculated pulse of his instrumental arrangements.
Westerman set out to "make an album people would like to live in". When the question of whether he himself would like to "live" in Your Hero is Not Dead
arises, he barely manages to answer the question through his own sputtering laughter. "Would I like to live in it? Probably not right now. Maybe after a bit of time of not listening to it, then maybe. I've listened to it a lot. I've lived in it a lot." Well, that rings true: Your Hero is Not Dead
is certainly an album you can live in, but it's also an album that has already been lived in and furnished by its original occupants. Westerman's world is imaginatively realized and open for business.