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With every tune he jangles out, be it in the now-defunct Hungry, Mother, or in his current solo-project, Walker Lyle appears to coerce his audience into a familiar space of storytelling, seemingly tempting them to settle down with the familiar folksy, alt-rock tropes of returning to run-down hometowns, lethargic dogs, and old girlfriends that left you for someone else, but dammit, they’re missing out. These signifiers for bucolic nostalgia are easy places to slip into; the themes are comfortable, accessible, and commercially viable, but an audience that willingly wades into these spaces while listening to Lyle do themselves a disservice, namely in that they’re relegating an inquiry on transition to an inert description of whatever subject Lyle happens to be hitting at the time.
You see, Lyle isn’t necessarily a storyteller as much as he is a conversationalist. The aforementioned subjects do readily appear in his material, but they are addressed as artifacts that merit interrogation, and only insofar as they create a context for transition. Hometowns are relegating to wastelands, filled with “broken fences, shattered walls,” a sleeping dog and her owner, who contemplates her while “breaking sticks” and “sharing in the song she sings.” They occupy a broken space, mutually questioning whether their basic needs, both mundane and existential, will be met by their eroded locale, so dog and owner both begin a quest to ascertain whether or not they can function on any level in a setting that has faded in immediate value. Lyle and Hungry, Mother effectively employ a series of staid, restrained acoustic strums and low-toned drumbeats to push listeners into a zone of washed-out and strained dialogue; you’re encouraged to encounter the disquieting question of whether those past-stimuli, sweet or bitter, have any place when you’re meant to be in constant motion.
Lyle’s recent material provides an invigorating contrast to works like “Dog,” however. “Easy Killing,” the newest release off of the upcoming West Theos EP, is a sludgy, punch-drunk, anthem. It’s a clear deviation from Hungry, Mother, more assertive, aggressive, and fleshed out; its almost as if Lyle’s laid aside the ticks and confusion that nurtured or fostered the beginning of his career, done away with the anxiety that displacement nudged into his music, and replaced it with a celebration of the ambiguity that defines his current life-situation. He’s learned to be nocturnal lest “the sun drowns our song,” discovered a unique mode of thought through “poise in the hunt and music's love of starlight,” with a tone of musicianship that confronts and loves and riles and interrogates his paradigm.
Lyle’s musical dexterity really comes to life during a live show; he’s an anxious host in between sets and songs, self-consciously makes bad jokes, and teases out half-finished anecdotes in between sips of coffee or beer or whatever’s available, making for a curious transition once the music starts, because the guy transforms. The hyper-awareness dissolves, and with his face jammed up in the lights, guitar hiked up on his chest, he pours himself and his music out to his audience. Original material, some classic covers (“Mannish Boy” is usually an audience favorite), whatever he does he tumbles down and crushes himself into it. Hardcore kids mosh, indie kids two-step, old folks sway— regardless of who, Lyle’s performance pushes people into acting out something tangible as a means of solidifying the moment— it’s a visceral encounter well worth experiencing.