Some styles are harder to succeed in than others; virtuosity, sweeping conceptuality; these are hard to master because they demand skills which are almost unobtainable. The laidback, silver New Wave of 26 year old Londoner Will Westerman’s sound is hardly revolutionary: but his chosen style comes with its own set of dilemmas. There are hints of Peter Gabriel, 10cc and Beach House to a washed-out style which has captured hundred bedroom outfits over the past decade, and it’s precisely this saturated market which makes Westerman’s debut so satisfying. Stare through a dozen supporting acts of cardigan wearing, feet-staring dream-pop bands and it’s easy to forget that this ethereal sound can be enchanting rather than bewitchingly dull, and he strikes that chord immediately.
The approach of the record is slow and cerebral, but among the sounds Westerman plays with producer Nathan Jenkins are sticky choruses and instrumentation which builds into graceful cacophonies; ornate in construction but relaxed in execution. Westerman’s voice is punctuated by circular guitar playing and filled with 21st century touches in the form of thunderous kick drums, loose hi-hats and looped guitar vamps. Songs like “Big Nothing Glow” are intensely detailed but remain elastic, bathed in shimmering synths and thick reverb which keeps the tracks loose and compelling. There are guitar solos too: lots of them.
With references to architecture and a bauhaus aesthetic, it’s an album which would have fit in the canon of early 80s British New Wave alongside Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and co., but Westerman’s concerns are very 2020. Lead single “Blue Comanche” is one of the album’s most luscious, but it’s words sting with anxiety over the ever-expanding harm of environmental loss, with references to acorns and cyborgs abound. It’s hard to imagine this single staying far from the top of the singles charts in 1981, boasting a staunch commitment to whirring synths and call-and-repeat vocals.
Westerman can be emotionally distant – these are erudite songs about grey areas, discourse and modernisation – but they also possess a rare nuance, such as on “The Line”, which wonders aloud where “the line is”. The context is left open – it could refer to political discourse or a row between lovers – but that’s where the poignancy comes from. And somehow the song still slaps: the ear-worm chorus soaring over a fog of synths and sharp guitar licks. Despite their sibylline character, others tracks express concrete affirmation, like the uptempo “Think I’ll Stay”, a reflection on chronic illness which ends with the proclamation: “don’t know how I got here / but now that I am I think I’ll stay”.
This debut album isn’t freewheeling and it isn’t revolutionary, instead it’s a remarkably precocious mastery of a style which has for too long being lost in the fog of it’s own introspection. Will Westerman meets that with directness, precision and a healthy dose of magic.
Words by Liam Inscoe – Jones.