Release Date: 11/10/2017
I want to begin this review with a disclaimer. I’ve been a super-fan of Walk the Moon since Spring Break of 2015. Inspired by the breakout popularity of “Shut Up and Dance” and my previous enjoyment of “Anna Sun,” I sat down in the living room of my grandparents’ Florida vacation home and fell in love with the band’s entire discography. I was addicted to their sunny, 80s-inspired sound. In the years following, I attended two live performances of theirs and bought both of their studio albums on vinyl. I know every lyric to basically every single one of their songs. My friends turn to me whenever they come on the radio. Basically, I’m crazy about this band.
So that’s why its hiatus after its last album Talking is Hard was, well… hard. And it’s why this review is probably going to be more than a little biased.
That being said, this album isn’t perfect. It’s definitely good, but there’s at least two tracks here that I didn’t care for. (And considering I hadn’t met a Walk the Moon track I didn’t like before this album, that’s a fairly big deal.)
What If Nothing is obviously an experimental album for this band. It’s honestly a little all-over-the-place as far as style is concerned, but as a huge fan of this band, I kind of appreciated it. I love to hear four of my most favorite musicians in the world experimenting with the limits of their abilities and stretching their style.
In a vast majority of cases in this album, this experimentation is a huge success. My absolute favorite track off the album, “Can’t Sleep (Wolves),” definitely takes on this new atmospheric, spacey sound the band is experimenting with while also, I think, remaining true to the same optimistic, energetic sound I’ve always loved from them. This track, as well as “Surrender” and “Kamikaze” draw both from the band’s past as well as its new sound evenly. Then there are wild, out-there experimentations like “Headphones” and “Sound of Awakening,” which seem more interested in trying new things than sticking to what Walk the Moon has always done. For me, both experiments were huge successes. “Headphones” is an absolute banger, and highlights the instrumental talents of Kevin Ray, Eli Maiman, and Sean Waugaman. “Sound of Awakening” is a song with an intense build and beautiful payoff – probably a surprise favorite off of this album.
I also want to shout out to “Tiger Teeth.” Until this album, this track could only be heard in live recordings,as the band felt that it never quite fit onto any of their former albums. So now, for the first time, “Tiger Teeth” has its own studio recording. I think there was a lot of anxiety surrounding this song’s transition from acoustic to recorded, but I thought it made the transition well. A lot of the simplistic beauty of the acoustic is preserved in the clean, electronic sound of the studio version. It was a joy to hear.
Not every track worked for me, though. “All Night” had some nice musical ideas, but I felt it really needed to push a little harder. The vocals get pretty intense, but the rest of the song never seems to catch up with where the vocals lead. “Kamikaze” actually takes some of the same musical ideas of “All Night” and pushes them enough that the song becomes a success. Unfortunately, the fact that these two songs are back to back in the album highlights the faults of the former even as it shows off the merits of the latter. In addition, I felt “In My Mind” was too repetitive and boring for my tastes.
Overall, however, I think the majority of this album is incredibly refreshing for me. As a huge fan of this band, I’m excited to see them experimenting with their sound and striving to better themselves. It bodes well for their future that they’re not complacent to rest comfortably on the style they established in Talking is Hard. Perhaps it wasn’t perfect, but I think a lot of the ideas introduced in What if Nothing have a lot of potential to evolve into something absolutely amazing in the future. I’ll be looking forward to watching that progression in the years to come.