Home Read Albums Of The Week: Walker Brigade | If Only

Albums Of The Week: Walker Brigade | If Only

X marks the spot — along with Pixies, Sleater-Kinney, Pretenders, Soft Boys & more — for the enigmatic L.A. post-punks on this debut collection of EPs, singles & new fare.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:If Only is the long-awaited full-length debut from L.A. neo-postpunk quartet Walker Brigade. Featuring a whopping 20 tracks — including all the prior singles and seven bonus cuts — If Only finally gives the world a proper introduction to one of L.A.’s best-kept secrets. Melodic, abrasive, slyly funny and completely beguiling, Walker Brigade has truly arrived.

Walker Brigade have always been one of the most exciting and enigmatic bands in the Los Angeles guitar pop scene. The art-punk-pop four-piece, veterans of countless live shows and a slated acclaimed singles, present themselves with a blazing onstage presence, jagged but tuneful hooks, and an arresting male-female vocal frontline in guitarists Tracy Walker and Jeff Charreaux. The drive of the rhythm section — drummer Craig Tyrka, a N.Y. transplant with many a CBGB gig on his resume, and bassist Mark Fletcher, whose jazz-punk fusion style recalls Mike Watt — provides the unique bedrock of the band. The full package recalls the energy and ambition of their oft-cited influences — X-Ray Spex, The Soft Boys, Mission of Burma and inevitably hometown heroes X — with a distinctly modern twist. Walker Brigade have described themselves as “serving up anthemic despair with savoir faire since 2014”, and If Only is an overdue summation of exactly what that means.

The sound is an invigorating throwback to the days circa 1978-1981 when “angular” and “catchy” went hand-in-hand, before New Wave smoothed over the rough edges. It’s inventive, original, cathartic and more than a little mysterious. The band seems to thrive on mystery, if not outright contradiction. Take the fact that If Only sports two covers amongst its spiky-sweet originals: one by Wire (Sand In My Joints) and one by, um, Mel Brooks (I’m Tired as originally performed by Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles). There’s the bewildering amount of invented and real names by which the members, and indeed the band, have been known since their inception. And there are even Grammy considerations: A resounding mainstream nod for some of the most invigoratingly fractured and bracing music around.

In yet another paradox, although Walker Brigade‘s recordings were selected for the “Best Rock Album” category, there was no album … until now. If Only collects three tracks previously issued as digital singles, along with most of the now out-of-print debut mini-album Therapy Animal and new material for the definitive introduction to the band as an artistic force. Taken as a whole, it’s a hell of a document. Walker Brigade describe their music as “informed by the isolation created by social media, private mythologies and identities, and the desire to play the timeless music of the post-punk era,” but the music isn’t limited to that early heyday. The eerily catchy Disease evokes Pixies and The Breeders, V.D. Doll rides a revved-up blues progression, and Shake Shimmy borders on melodic hardcore.

The single Choker shows the band — and the Walker/Charreaux vocal chemistry — at its most melodic, even as the lyrics warn “trust nobody, not even me”. There’s also Judy Holliday, sounding like an art-damaged Pretenders tune; What Is Wrong With Me, which puts a new spin on the X template; the near-Stonesy future single Fancy Boots, with Tracy’s full-throated declarations on No bringing to mind Sleater-Kinney at their fiercest. The band’s sonic signature unites all of these diversions, sandwiched between the primal throb of the opening Fallout and the punk cabaret of the closing cover I’m Tired (the video must be seen to be believed). The lyrical landscape, mostly envisioned by Tracy and Jeff separately and together, is nothing short of fascinating, living up to that promise of private mythologies — fans will find themselves either puzzling out the seemingly coded connections, or simply giving themselves over to the gleeful wordplay on offer.

A generous selection of bonus tracks rounds out the package, featuring covers of tunes by key influences The Soft Boys and The Only Ones, alternate mixes of the singles, and a few surprises it wouldn’t do to spoil. The new record is at once a summation of the musical cosmos-unto-itself that is Walker Brigade for those who’ve been watching and waiting all along, and a brilliant introduction for the world at large. Despite its title, If Only is anything but tentative… it’s a statement as brash as they come, and the time has come for Walker Brigade to be heard far and wide.”