This Walter Martin article was written by Ben Malkin, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Stephen Butchard.
On ‘Arts & Leisure’, singer-songwriter and Walkmen member Walter Martin squashes folk, blues and a batch of charming stories into a blender to create a smoothie of musical expression. And it’s not like Martin has put all of his eggs into a limited supply of baskets with this emphasis on fusing genres. The songwriting and production are both strong – the stories, the structures, the stripped-back, strained strokes. The fluttering, butterfly vocal tones compliment the lyrics nicely, and Martin accomplishes this with quite a wide range of approaches to singing.
On the opening track, ‘Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich & Famous’, Martin’s vocal skill reaches peaks so high that the altitude will make you feel dizzy. On a few lines, such as when he sings “saving up for a guitar”, his voice ascends into this little falsetto flicker; it’s very quaint and pleasant. On ‘Daniel in the Lion’s den’, the same kind of swooning wispiness is met, but slightly more rugged, and on ‘Michelangelo’, pain-stricken blues drains from the vocal chords.
Going back to ‘Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich & Famous’, the song is a key example of Walter Martin’s talent as a lyricist, even he is just simply recollecting a list of occupations he once had. The guy sure can captivate, just by singing about delivering pizza. Not every song is necessarily autobiographical; there’s a decent amount of adventure in the writing, and Martin uses this to paint a few pictures with his lyrics and music.
In terms of the album’s music and its sound in general, its variety of instruments is really interesting. The percussion is sometimes basic, sometimes ethnic, sometimes loaded with handclaps. The brightness and boldness of the guitar tracks are complimented by accessible chord progressions, particularly on ‘Down by the Singing Sea’, which is mainly made up of a recurring I-VI progression; simple, straight-forward but oh-so satisfying. The bouncy ‘Amsterdam’ has a jolly, jumping, late-‘60s Beach Boys feel.
The only negatives would be the tracks that just seem like they’re there to make up the numbers. ‘In a Gothic Church’ comes to mind. These songs are there to simply epitomise the album, to say “yes, this is a folk song” or “yes, this is me finger-picking my guitar”. Gladly, you can count the amount of songs that feel like this on one hand, assuming you have the standard amount of fingers.
‘Arts & Leisure’ is a fun, interesting affair. A lot of the songs give off that ‘sitting in the woods with your acoustic guitar’ feel, reclining against a tree and all that. It’s an album that’s easy to like; while challenging the listener can be very rewarding, Walter Martin played things safe here, and the results are greater because of it.