Danceability is the name of the game for American alternative rock group Walk The Moon, and it’s been that way ever since “Shut Up and Dance” exploded as an international hit in 2014. The band just released their fourth and latest album, What If Nothing, on November 10 under RCA Records, and they seem to be experimenting with new sounds; while the album consists of its fair share of the upbeat indie-pop that fans fell in love with, a new grungier sound seems to take root in the album.
Sticking with what works and solidifying an identity as a band is almost always a good idea. In songs like “Press Restart” and “Feels Good to be High,” they cling to the fast, syncopated guitar parts that drive the danceable quality that helped get them famous (you’ll likely recognize this in the first 40 seconds or so of “Shut Up and Dance”), and their guitar tracks tend to sit particularly well within the mix.
The grungy experimentation they introduce in What If Nothing is most noticeably manifested in “Headphones,” in which they seem to take lo-fi and hi-fi sounds and mesh them together to create something pretty unique. As lead singer Nicholas Petricca told Rolling Stone in an interview, “The approach was just making noise, getting back to our roots of being a rock & roll band and just playing our instruments and letting the sound bounce off the walls.” They pair loosely- and coarsely-overdriven guitar riffs (think garage rock) with electronic-sounding, 8-bit-style synth fills, and it works really well.
Unfortunately, some of the songs seem to miss the mark a little when it comes to their lyrical composition. “Tiger Teeth” consists of a gawky metaphor comparing love to tiger teeth with lyrics like “A tiger in my heart again, when you swallow someone whole you are bound to choke. Well I guess we can never be friends; I ate you up the day we first spoke.” While the attempt is admirable, the metaphor falls short and winds up feeling somewhat forced and not as profound as it was clearly meant to be. However, the catchy melody of the chorus serve as a saving grace.
While some songs on the album struggle to be memorable, others shine through with quite high potential. “One Foot,” which was the album’s first single to be released, sticks out as a highlight because of its simple, catchy, melodic hook. Its sound is perhaps best described as a combination of a soaring falsetto voice and a synth lead, similar to the style of hook that make most current EDM hits so popular.
“One Foot” will likely merit a lot of radio air time with its catchy tune and accessibility, and the same can be said for “Kamikaze,” which was also released as a single before the rest of the album came out. “Kamikaze” is a pop song through and through—and a fantastic one, at that—but there are subtle hip-hop influences present in the vocals that really make it stand out. Its chorus has a swung, jumpy rhythm that also makes it super danceable, and it’s one of the most memorable songs on the album.
“Sound Of Awakening” is another highlight of the album and a true work of art. It’s over six minutes long—longer than any other song on the album—but not once does it feel repetitive or boring. They implement an electronic-sounding vocal effect and mix that signal with the unaffected vocal track to create emotion and depth. They’ve used this type of vocal effect before—check out the intro to “Down In the Dumps” from their 2014 album Talking Is Hard. “Sound Of Awakening” starts out a cappella but introduces instrumentation in a very dynamic and natural-feeling way, and there’s an attention-grabbing lapse of tempo about halfway through that really impressed me with the creativity and execution it warranted. It parts from the style of the rest of the songs, but it’s the most beautiful song on the album.
Walk The Moon did a great job with What If Nothing. It’s not revolutionary, but there is some pretty fresh musicality buried within it. Longtime fans will find more of what they originally fell in love with, and new listeners who will be intrigued and left wanting more. If you love the album, catch them live on their Press Restart Tour that kicks off on Sunday.