“I don’t think we have a specific classification or term of what we do,” says Justin Murphy, the vocalist and guitarist in Nova Scotian psychedelic scamps Walrus. It’s true, on second album Cool To Who, Walrus press their faces against the magical sweetshop window of genre-blending delights, taking it all in.
At first listen, their sound cocks a hat to that certain 60s boy band (a clue is perhaps in the name and one assumes The Eggmen was already taken). It’s a lazy analysis, perhaps, but what is often telling is how much an artist denies or embraces that comparison. Walrus don’t do either. Formed in 2012 by brothers Justin and Jordan Murphy, alongside two friends, the band seem entirely focused on just being themselves, whatever that happens to sound like at the time. So, to offer another reference to those who need one, Cool to Who is how Nirvana may have ended up sounding had Cobain been obsessed with Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s not Raw Power and My War. That is to say it’s a fun, multi-layered, hard-to-hate record that flips the bird to musical snobs.
Going in, ‘Breathe’ sets up a rather sweaty, claustrophobic start, before opening up in relief to the kaleidoscopic title track, an instant hook into Walrus’s skewed upside-down inside-out view on the world. This is echoed in Chad VanGaalen‘s visuals (below) for recent single ‘Half Smoke’. The track skitters along nicely with its garage-like pounding drums and bluesy staccato guitar punctuation, before we’re sacked to the ground by Justin’s grizzly baritone in the earnest opening bars of ‘Marcel’, “cos all I ever wanted was to be myself with you”.
It’s those dramatic ups and downs throughout Cool To Who that keep things interesting in what could otherwise be a rather ordinary album. As one song drifts away, a eerily familiar intro emerges for the next, like a bizarre dream sequence. ‘Mr Insecure’ oozes with all the classic psych rock moves and turns, spiralling downwards into the grip of paranoia. Stand-out track ‘Played Out’ follows, a full-on guitar meltdown that uses the space between its catchiest moments for some improvisation and tension building. It’s worth mentioning here that the band recorded the entire album live over two sleep-deprived days at the former prohibition-era rumhaven, The Old Confidence Lodge, now a theatre with an enormous 18th century hall. Something about the yellowed plaster walls and smoky velour curtains ekes into each song, giving the whole thing a unique sheen.
The energy and suspense conjured by performing live is clearly a vital ingredient for Walrus’ impact, much like that of two other musical brothers. ‘Ballad of Love (Or Something)’, a song playfully described by Justin as being “Oasis in their prime”, is actually not a band comparison, showing off a mastery of both melody and power choruses. Not a million miles away, ‘Bored To Death’ takes a contrasting approach, though more back-beating than browbeating, with clean guitar licks and hand claps. By closer ‘Anymore’, with its nostalgic chord progressions and hazy lyrics about time running out, you may just be a little bit seduced.
It’s easy to imagine Walrus as the real deal (although Avis Car Rental disagree); a genuine and hard-working band who translate their live dynamism and passion into an engaging record. Sadly, these days that isn’t always enough, and Cool To Who may not age well. But who cares? As Justin says, “We’re not trying to sound like one specific thing and aren’t trying to pretend we’re a jazz band or something either, so I suppose we sound like ourselves, a maturing version of what we have always been.”
‘Cool to Who’ is released on 18th October via Outside Records’