THIS IS THE world--or perhaps the end of the world--according to Walker Kong's Jeremy Ackerman.
"I was obsessed with nuclear war, technology, and the rapid growth of cities," Ackerman says of his adolescent notions of mortality and cold-war anxiety. "[I was] staring at this screen window while driving through southern Minnesota, thinking about dying, a young kid thinking about his future."
Death and destruction are surely unlikely elements to compose one of the year's brightest pop records, Walker Kong's There Goes the Sun (Magic Marker). While Ackerman is describing his morbid state, I'm left scratching my head, pondering quotes from the cute, death-obsessed Alvie Singer of Annie Hall.
Yet huddled inside a booth at the Dinkytowner, the perky sextet is itself a fortress of safety, a shield from bad vibes. Attempting to classify their pastoral and delightfully cynical new release--an eclectic mix of electrically charged pop and funk--is a challenge for the band and for me as well. A playful round of free association ensues in the effort to describe Walker Kong's sound: "Sexuality!" announces keyboardist Sara Vargas. "It's about dancing," offers guitarist Tony Mogelson, "and the destruction of our Earth." After careful consideration, I construct the following summation: postcoital apocalyptic chamber-pop that you can dance to! Hmmm, perhaps it's time I hung up the ol' tape recorder and reporter's notebook.
Aphorisms aside, the record finds a group who've shed their naive boudoir-pop image (and the Dangermakers part of their name) and swelled to six people, including Florida members Mogelson and percussionist Kevin Riach. Like a group of kids who have tired of Nancy Drew only to pick up a copy of A Clockwork Orange, they've also matured into a more experimental collective. Ackerman has taken a reflective turn in his songwriting, finding solace and inspiration in artists like John Cale. He credits the stylistic change to the band's previous two EPs, which "segued into the careful growth of the band."
Featuring an array of instruments from bongos to vintage organs, and showcasing the technical savvy of producer Brian Tester (Triangle), There Goes the Sun has enough postmodern-pop mettle to predicate the demise of the unadventurous pop poseur (if not quite the apocalypse). The record reveals itself with humility, crouching beneath the hushed guitar distortion of "My Photographer Friend" before heading blindly into the infectious percussion of the darkly comic "Executionersong": "You murdered for passion/So sweet is the cure/I must be your executioner."
Bustling sequencers underscore the playful harmonies of "Viva Homosapiens," which sees Ackerman ask, "Do you remember the sight of the only thing that could change your mind?" "Pulitzer Prize" is most indicative of the group's endorphin-enriched live performances. Rich with Riach's hyperactive hand drumming, crafty guitar, and numerous "bah-bahs," it motivates even the most statuesque of concertgoers to start shimmying discreetly.
The participation of a willing audience is essential to Walker Kong, who won't tolerate timidity. "It amazes me how unwilling people are to go outside their personal space," muses Ackerman. While counting the audience as part of their band, Walker Kong also regularly taps friends from the local scene to join them, including members of Triangle and the Mike Brady Trio.
The band speak with a seventh-grade-dance kind of nervous anticipation about There Goes the Sun, their first release on Portland's Magic Marker label. For the upcoming release party this Friday, they'll be joined by a dense horn and string section, and of course, by their friends. This just might be the end of the world. But if it is, then I feel fine.
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