Review Summary: A thrilling debut for a band with no perceivable limit to their creativity or depth
Too often, all of the days spent listening to music – as well as the subsequent hours critiquing it – roll together into an amorphous blob of wasted time. I find myself pining for an elusive sound or feeling that I can’t place while trying to make more out of an album than I should. It stems from a desperate desire to relate to music in a profound way like I used to, when I was younger and more idealistic. Although it’s mostly a vain exercise, every so often an artist comes out of nowhere
to make all those hours that I pour into this massive hobby worth the effort. They obliterate any and all reasonable expectations, leaving behind a unique musical footprint while planting their sound in your mind forever. The last time I felt this strongly about a new artist was when I heard The Glow Pt. 2
, and before that In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
. Yes...get ready to etch Westelaken alongside such important names.
Okay, you got me – and since it’s important to admit hyperbole when it occurs: no
, Toronto isn’t nowhere
. Everything else I claimed about Westelaken, I stand by. As a band, they’re nearly impossible to pigeonhole: Jordan Seccareccia’s raw, charming vocals lend themselves to indie-folk by default, but he often sings over raucous punk or jaunty piano rock. The guitars ring with a mild country twang that becomes more conspicuous when fiddles joins the mix. Trumpets blast throughout the air on more than just one occasion. Sometimes there are shouts that verge on becoming screams, yet other times Westelaken
lays low – opting for sensitive, existential croons that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Foxing record. Westelaken don’t seem to have one mode, but that’s what makes their music relentlessly exhilarating from start to finish.
Their self-titled debut embodies all of this raw, creative energy. At times it almost seems like the band has more ideas than could possibly be contained – which is evidenced by the hyper eclectic ‘Pink Lights, and The Dixieland Band.’ The song begins as a gentle piano ballad, explodes into a guitar/trumpet solo, and ends with a divergent group chant. What’s amazing about Westelaken
is that while not every song transforms wildly within itself like ‘Pink Lights’ does, each track brings something undeniably different to the table. Opener ‘The Lord Comes Home to Me’ sounds the part of a darker and more morbid Fleet Foxes: “there’s a lone fish dying on the sand / motionless and wretched / the tide is flat, the shoals relaxed / the breeze brings no relief / nothing moves in the morning by the sea.” The existential poetry and allusions to death turn towards the present when he sings, “wielding torches and marching from the shore…statues made from flesh and stone / the past comes back to life / from deep within their bones / and years ago as history records, these men were soundly destroyed / and from what I know, oh Lord, the heavens were overjoyed.” While ‘Lord Comes Home to Me’ represents the album at its most fragile and thoughtful – acoustics plucking and echoing along the way – ‘Staring at Americans’ acts as a counteractive force: exuberant and sloppy, intermixing boisterous shouts and electric guitars as if the Westelaken of ‘Lord’ never even happened. After the opening trio of songs, it’s clear that this band has no rigid bounds, and as listeners, we’re the obvious beneficiaries.
‘Life is Sweet’ ushers in the album’s midsection with a quaint, spryly bouncing folk song; pianos and bass drive the moment, while Seccareccia’s echoing vocals step up to fill the void in a way that you wouldn’t have assumed he’s capable based upon the raw, almost lo-fi nature of his vocals in the preceding songs. It’s an enjoyable and melodic ditty, but mostly just an intermission before Westelaken primes their engines again with ‘I Was a Vulture’ and ‘Jackie Chan.’ The former is almost Conor Oberst-esque; Seccareccia wails melodically along to a soulful piano melody with an Americana sway to it before launching into trumpet-accompanied shouts of “nothing’s gonna change!” The latter, ‘Jackie Chan’, is a lively, rhythmic piano rocker whose tempo ignition halfway through will make you want to get out of your seat and dance. Cheerful pianos rain from the ceiling while the drums add a kick to the song’s step, and Seccareccia’s vocals sound like they’re on the verge of scratching right through your speakers and pulling you onto the dancefloor. The sheer fact that Westelaken can evoke such a wide array of responses – from contemplating death to dancing like there’s no tomorrow – says more than I ever could about their diverse skill set.
Normally, diving six tracks deep allows you to discover a feel for an artist – but on Westelaken
, the blind turns persist. ‘Lonesome As I’ve Been’ is the closest the band comes to earning that country tag which seems to be liberally tossed in their direction, with a self-described “honky tonk” fiddle that contributes to the song’s antiquated, almost show tune-y atmosphere. It would be the sort of track that one might slow dance to if it weren’t for Seccareccia’s cracking inflections and passion-imbued emotional peaks – moments that make ‘Lonesome’ all the more special. Westelaken
’s back end is anchored by a pair of six minute tracks – ‘There, Theresa’ and the eponymous ‘Westelaken’. The penultimate ‘There, Theresa’ begins with a plodding beat and whispered verses where Seccareccia’s vocals become echoed and overlapped – practically rippling – giving off the idea that he’s singing from a dream. Before the song concludes, it detours into an oasis of ice-tinged pianos, distantly buzzing guitars, and an airy fuzz – before circling back for a crescendo of thunderous, avalanching drums. It’s a breathtaking sequence of events, and it just might be the most elaborately constructed song on the album. ‘Westelaken’ is a bit more straightforward, an all-systems-go indie rocker that ramps up the electric guitars, brings the drums to the forefront of the mix, and steps on the gas pedal. It feels like one of those moments that is meant to leave you breathless, and to take all the remaining pent-up energy that the band has and “leave it all on the field”, as the saying goes. It succeeds on both counts while also managing to subvert any clichés about indie-folk bands and closing tracks. There’ are no sad violins or acoustic guitars – it’s pure, raw vigor; an outlet for kinetic energy.
is a thrilling debut for a band with no perceivable limit to their creativity or depth. The passion and spontaneity with which this record unravels is comparable to only a few indie bands that I’ve heard, and the fact that nobody seems to know who the hell Westelaken is only makes their efforts more impressive. This album and band are diamonds in the rough, and deserving of far more accolades than they will likely ever receive. Even where the recognition is lacking, however (the band has 200 Facebook fans and 17 Twitter followers as of this publishing), Westelaken means a lot to those of us who crave a figurative shot in the arm when it comes to digesting music. In this age of digital streaming, we almost become numb to the time and effort it takes musicians to craft art – we make it disposable, meaningless. Westelaken
is a reminder that the right album can come along at any moment and fill you with a joy you didn’t know you had in you. I found myself involuntarily grinning from ear to ear as I spun Westelaken
for the first time. It’s something truly special, appreciably rare, and absolutely worth waxing on about for six paragraphs. It’s one of those moments that reversed my waning passion for music criticism, and – as cliché as it sounds – at least partially restored my faith in music. I hope you give it a chance to do the same for you.