Walrus - 20000 Leagues (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


20000 Leagues (2007)


My love affair with vintage synthesizers started with the Rentals. Their debut opened my eyes to a world of crazy new sounds at a time when the rock world was all about guitars, and I knew I had to seek out these sounds and learn to create them myself. From modern to classic, I bought up albums by bands across the musical spectrum that were using these sounds. From the Hippos, the Anniversary, Motion City Soundtrack, the Cars, Gary Numan, to the Who's `70s work, we're just scratching the surface. When I got a 1982 Roland Juno 60, I tried to create those crazy Moog Cookbook sounds and I learned to play every line of Return of the Rentals. God, I'm a huge dork. What am I getting at? I'm a sucker for synth bands, but these days I need to be more discriminating because in this century the synth first became trendy, then became overdone. Chicago group Walrus found me on MySpace and offered to send me their EP. Checking them out, I noticed the synth presence and had to accept their offer.

The group is not a synth showcase by any means. The focus is clearly the well-done male/female harmonies that share a sweet yet biting sonic quality with the Anniversary's first disc more so than the pure innocent tones of the Rentals. A great example of the young duo's talents would be the 6/8 monster ballad "Sweet City Irony." Aaron Goldschmidt sounds a lot like Justin Pierre -- just listen to when the tempo kicks up a notch in "Goodnight Moon" -- but with Kate Gruber blending with him so often it keeps it from being a problem. Their synth lines are of a Motion City Soundtrack style as well, and matches their similar uptempo power-pop/pop-punk sound, such as on the speedy opener "Oxygen" with its quick synth runs. Some of the synth lines are simple patterns typical of a Red Hot Valentines style, like on the intro of "The Rockies Have Stories," but Grube knows a thing or two about her instrument and shows it with some nice knob-twiddlin' later in the song's outro.

Walrus attempts to go harder with "Maus" and I can buy into that; in fact, I really like the pre-chorus synth line over that breakdown. But then I hear double-bass drumming and it's a bit much; it doesn't fit with the EP's style stated thus far (yet inexplicably it fits in "Oxygen"). A couple weak vocal moments of Goldschmidt's are exposed in the acoustic "Anthony" as well as an awkward shift from straight to swung rhythms in the chorus in this lone keyboard-less tune. There are also a few clunky rhythmic shifts in "Story of Two Convicts" when they switch from a triplet-based breakdown to driving backbeats, but most of that tune is successful, particularly the powerful ending, which again has more double-bass which I could take or leave here.

20000 Leagues is a solid debut effort from a group of fresh-faced youngsters. I for one like them even more because of the fun attitude that oozes from their MySpace page with their pointless and silly videos, cheeky promo photos and an album of pictures they took at their prom. Ah, to be young! I wish I was in a band that sounded this tight in high school, and I can relate to that feeling of your first serious band being your whole life. I hope the inevitable post-high school choices allow the band to stay together. While the sound of Walrus is fairly derivative of their influences, as far as I am concerned their influences are the right ones so in turn I enjoy their work. I'm sure they will be shifting and changing with releases to come and they have plenty of time to grow. But for now, if you are a sucker for synth-filled tunes or guy-girl harmonies, Walrus do ‘em right.