Walking Bicycles – To Him That Wills The Way (Highwheel Records)


Before I talk about this record, I need to say a few things about my preference in musical formats. Until someone comes up with a format that combines the sound of vinyl, the predictability of CDs, and the portability of digital, I’m a staunch CD guy. I know everyone says vinyl sounds the best, and maybe it does, but I’ve got too much time and money invested into CDs to turn back now. Plus with vinyl there’s still issues with dust and scratches affecting the sound over time. I definitely don’t like digital. Yes, I like the portability, but there’s such a big difference in music imported from CDs vs. downloaded MP3s – that difference being that the downloaded MP3s sound like crap. Most people can’t tell the difference, but I can, and it always bothers me whenever I’m forced to listen to downloaded MP3s.

I bring this up because To Him Who Wills The Way is only available on vinyl and digital formats – no CD. It’s not the first release to go that route, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it rankles each time. I digress…. now onto the music.

Regardless of format, this is a strong record for the Chicago foursome. Perhaps they don’t veer far from the same hard-hitting post-punk they debuted with a decade ago (and it’s hard to believe I’ve been reviewing their music for that long), but they do add some new twists and turns into their sound. Opening track “Impending Doom” starts with a synthy chorus that sounds like it was ripped straight from a Werner Herzog film, then it evolves into something dark and foreboding that reminds me of Black Sabbath (always a good thing) with Jocelyn Summers’ vocals filtered through what I think is an echoplex, creating an effect that instantly recalls old Jane’s Addiction records. This is also a good thing. Elsewhere, “Eyesore” is a textbook example of the Walking Bicycles aggressive-meets-atmospheric sound, and could have come from any of their releases from the past decade. That said, those stabbing shards of guitar on the chorus certainly make it hard to forget. “War Paint” is another standout track, with tight rhythms from Jason Leather and Deric Criss setting the stage for another gloomy and claustrophobic number, with lyrics perhaps referencing guitarist/Highwheel Records label head Julius Moriarty’s recent three-year jail stint for pot possession (a ridiculous sentence in my opinion). To Him That Wills The Way ends quickly, with ten songs clocking in at 29 minutes, but it doesn’t waste a second of that time and I find myself returning to it regularly. Now about that CD release…

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Walking Bicycles – ¿GO? (Highwheel Records)


Walking Bicycles have piqued my interest over the past few years with two EPs of concise and powerful songs, and their first full-length album, quizzically entitled ¿Go?, is no different. The album focuses mostly on an aggressive and dynamic form of post-punk built on a foundation of Joy Division and Siouxsie and The Banshees records, but it also recalls early-1970s bands like Can (on “Solitude” and “Sunday”) or early Black Sabbath (“Obvious Path”). They even indulge their jazzy side, which pays off on “Dead Idols” (featuring a melodica and upright bass) but doesn’t pan out quite so well on “Sunday” which has an off-kilter beat that was probably more fun for the band to play than it is for me to listen to. Forgetting that small misstep (and the grating ending of “Claustrophobic”), ¿Go? is highly enjoyable, with “Old San Juan”, the title track, and the aforementioned “Obvious Path”, ranking among their best songs to date.

Walking Bicycles – Disconnected (Highwheel Records)


Chicago’s Walking Bicycles continue the hone their unique sound on their second EP, and I’m still at a loss to categorize it. Is it Post-Punk? Shoegaze? Indie-Rock? Stoner-rock? All of the above? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, because being hard to pin down is a good thing. The major difference between this EP and the band’s first is the overhaul in production. This time out, the band worked with two big-name producers, with four songs produced by Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Wheat, Califone) and four by Steve Albini (Nirvana, The Pixies, and pretty much everyone else) who never takes a producers credit, instead referring to himself as “engineer and mixer”.

I expected the hot shot producers to bring new depth to the band’s sound, but both Deck and Albini recorded them dry and brittle, with Julius Moriarty’s guitar too restrained and Jocelyn Summers’ vocals too far in front. If anything, I prefer the more “action-packed” sound of their first EP. Despite production gripes, the songs on Disconnected are as strong as ever, with “Desperate”, “Welcome To The Future” (done twice – once from each recording session), “The Hermit” and the Gang Of Four-ish “So Far” all prime examples of the catchy-yet-challenging sound and unique vocals (it’s refreshing to hear a female vocalist that can bring something new to the table) that brought me to the band in the first place. This will stay in your CD player for a long time to come.

Tracklisting:

1 Sympathy
2 Welcome To The Future
3 Desperate
4 So Far
5 Car Crash
6 The Hermit
7 Shag
8 Welcome To The Future

Walking Bicycles – Walking Bicycles (Highwheel Records)


Chicago trio Walking Bicycles’s debut EP doesn’t sound like anyone else, and that makes this a hard review to write. I can’t write convenient comparisons like “sounds like ____________ singing for a more atmospheric version of ____________, with ____________ producing.” Their website (www.walkingbicycles.com) describes them as “dark neo-new wave” but I find ’em more complex than that. Opener “Lost Coast” is a post-punk storm of paranoia and fear, both atmospheric and hard-hitting at the same time – which would actually be a good way to sum up the band’s sound without having to resort to genre-categorization. “King Of The Mountain” is playful, with Jocelyn Summers’ vocals taunting the listener as the band hammers away, sounding something like Fugazi on drugs (as improbable as that would be). “Killing Time” closes in on a shoegaze sound with sheets of guitar noise riding above the tight-as-hell rhythm section. Things slow down on “Heavy Horse”, which has Walking Bicycles earning that “dark neo-new wave” tag. “Stitch” is more upbeat but isn’t as catchy as some of the other songs. It’s not bad, just not as exciting as what came before. The album ends with “Worthless”, one of the best songs on a really good EP that stands up to, and deserves, repeated listening.