Walter Martin Takes The Moments In Charming Stride On "Arts & Leisure"
by Brody Coronelli - Link: Twitter
When the aim of many singer-songwriters is to tell their stories using metaphors, dreamlike imagery, and flowery tongue, it can often be difficult for listeners to distinguish fact from poetry. While this technique works for many artists on their paths as musicians, Walter Martin seems to want nothing to do with it.
A member of the indie-darlings The Walkmen-- the long-standing band that announced an indefinite hiatus in 2013-- Walter Martin first took his shot as a solo-artist on 2014’s We’re All Young Together. A family-oriented album aimed at children, We’re All Young was successful in its own right, but it ultimately failed to distinguish Martin as a serious solo artist; an approach many of his former bandmates had already achieved. On his new LP Arts & Leisure, Martin takes his well-overdue jab at making a contemporary record that’s all his own, and what follows is a charming and breezy album that wears honesty on its sleeve and a smile on its face.
From side A to side B, Arts & Leisure plays similarly to the newspaper section it was named for. Martin offers a lineup of casual, front-porch driven songs that mainly detail-- for the most part-- normal experiences like art museum romps, vacations, first jobs, getting older, and otherwise small events. However, the eventual charm of these songs lays in Martin’s perspective and storytelling; short and sweet, feet-back and relaxed, and subtly optimistic. Even on the alt-country tinged “Old As Hell,” a song that details the nagging ordeal of entering old age, Martin keeps his quiet, positive cool as he sings about the little pleasures of life, asks for more time so he can appreciate life, and simply embraces the grey hairs. “Oh well, I’m old as hell/Supposed to be wiser but I can’t tell/My life in a cherry pie, but I’d like a couple more years before I say goodbye,” he sings, taking the passing years in stride.
Where the album is themed lyrically, the music behind it all stands by and compliments it with easygoing charisma. While songs like the beachy “Down By The Singing Sea” and the cobblestone-romping “Amsterdam” reach luminous, Paul Simon reminiscent heights, many of the songs maintain an organic pulse that can only be achieved by a few friends playing on a front porch. This is not only due to the bluesy guitar melodies and distant, alt-country flavored fills, but the complete lack of conventional percussion. Whenever it’s possible, Martin rhythmically backs these songs with anything but a drum kit, instead utilizing tambourines, maracas, and even the simple sounds of clapping and stomping. There’s no full scale, expensive sounding production or execution on this LP, and in the end it makes the casual lyrical material even more embraceable.
Despite the well-played combination of subtle, breezy instrumentation and low-key lyricism, Arts & Leisure especially shines when Walter professes of his not-so-little crush on art. On “Michelangelo”, he sings about the notorious artist as if they were close friends living only a few blocks down the street from each other. On “Watson and the Shark”, Martin recounts a childhood experience he had with the painting of the same name by John Singleton Copley, describing his first, transcendental experience seeing the art and forging a story around the static image.
In all, Arts & Leisure is a charmingly crafted look into the mind of an already well-established musician. The LP intentionally lacks emotional depth and is instead filled with optimistic recollection and easygoing thoughts, and while the prevalence of Martin’s breezy comfort zone may turn off some listeners looking for an emotionally-robust and hard hitting record, the space these songs live in is inviting for anyone willing to kick their feet back and relax for awhile.
Listen to: “Amsterdam”, “Michelangelo”