It feels like an age since Will Westerman released ‘Confirmation’ in 2018, a curious, brilliant alt-pop bop about trying not to overthink things. The west Londoner’s debut album arrives two years later at a time when our collective psyche feels under even fiercer strain and examination. By deciding to include that song on his album, Westerman notes that nothing much has changed. What first inspired him to make music was the “unspoken understanding” it gives to our lives. And he’s still learning.
‘Your Hero Is Not Dead’ is an entrancing exploration of the psyche that considers the fallibility of being human. Amid its waterlogged guitars and metronomic drum machine beats lie gleaming acoustics and chirping synths. Vocally, comparisons to lofty folk experimentalists Arthur Russell and John Martyn are justified.
Lyrically, too, Westerman plays with juxtapositions, such as lathering a soothing balm on the chronic pain depicted in ‘Think I’ll Stay’. He loops brisk acoustics and a muted ‘80s electric guitar to carry the listener in a dreamy drift. “Turn back now, Comanche / Walk me through the blue cornered sundown”, he sings over reverb-laden rim taps. Westerman muses about environmental destruction without wallowing too much in it, opting instead to appreciate what remains of earth.
‘Big Nothing Glow’ and ‘Waiting On Design’, meanwhile, utilise more opaque lyrics, fidgety structures and peculiar melodies to present abstract thought. They work to reflect the fluidity of conceptual thinking. “Paper your cracks just to keep them alight”, Westerman muses on the former; “22,24 let me inside or once / Or twice” on the latter. But even a smart arse would struggle to wholly understand what he’s singing about.
‘Waiting On Design’ starts as a beat-shifting guitar ditty punctured by electronic glitches. It takes a while to find its rhythm, limited by a cadence-style chorus that effectively resets the song each time. It feels like a hard listen – maybe that’s the point.
Elsewhere, ‘Think I’ll Stay’ and ‘The Line’ showcase Westerman’s ability to snap his melodic synapses into action. On the former he employs aquatic guitars and squelching beats to craft an oddly uplifting song about appreciating life in the face of persistent pain. ‘The Line’ slowly nestles under your skin with cajón drums, lithe guitars and luminescent ‘80s synths that recall early Peter Gabriel. Here, Westerman notes a disintegrating relationship: “Stuck with the infinite / Is there a place for us’?”
Westerman does well to investigate the multiple facets of being human instead of regurgitating art’s favourite topic – love – on this impressive debut. Somehow, he manages to tame the album’s kinks into a cohesive if not beguiling whole that’s eminently challenging and comforting to listen to.
- Release date: June 5
- Record label: PIAS