ALBUM REVIEW: Walt Disco – ‘Unlearning’

I discovered Walt Disco at a festival in 2019, when I went to see them on the sole strength of the fact that they had what is objectively one of the best band names I’ve ever heard. I remember a very raw and very energetic performance which placed them immediately pretty close to the top of the ‘ones to watch’ list. The music reminded me of The Smiths without the stiffness that has always made them hard to approach for me, and with an intriguing dose of electronica injected in the mix. Already by the time that they launched their EP, Young Hard and Handsome, this Glasgow outfit had travelled rather far from that initial impression, growing bolder, more experimental, and somehow even more glam. So this album, perhaps bizarrely for a debut, feels more like the conclusion of an arc than like a beginning. Or the end of a beginning, in a sense.

Unlearning is a very apt title for it, both in the topics the lyrics address – I have written elsewhere of how, for instance, the opener ‘Weightless,’ with its broad, primal sound and its soul-baring lyrics, speaks to me on a deeply intimate level every time I listen to it – and in the fact that the songs, too, are a series of snapshots of a process of unlearning, of sorts. The album features some of the band’s older production – note for instance ‘Cut Your Hair,’ one of the first songs I became acquainted with – where both the Smiths callback and the heavy post-punk influences of their early days are still clear, although distilled here in a much greater clarity of sound, thanks to a discerning production. Some other familiar bits have somewhat of the transitional to them, such as ‘Selfish Lover,’ with its eminently danceable tune, but also a much greater depth of arrangement, the electronic section much better integrated in the overall rhythm of the track; this song has ‘live favourite’ written all over it. ‘Those Kept Close‘ is an out-of-left-field ballad, showcasing the band’s trademark sounds rearranged into something slower and more haunting.

Most importantly, it shows the early signs of what is found in the newer songs on the record, the ones where the band clearly felt emboldened enough to embrace their wish for playfulness and experiment with sounds, distortions, irregular rhythms, synths and keys in order to produce something truly unique. See ‘How Cool Are You?‘ – I’ve rarely heard a band have so much fun on a studio track as they’re having on this one – or the discordant, disquieting ‘Macilent‘ with its bold, broad chorus, and perhaps most notably ‘Hold Yourself As High As Her,’ which to me is the stand-out song on this record: the greatest goal a band can probably achieve is to sound like nothing else does, and this track, with its vagaries of rhythm section, its interplay of glam, pop, dance, and electronic, its almost videogame-soundtrack bridges and its eerie vocals, does exactly that. The instrumental ‘The Costume Change‘ (a prophetic title almost, too) also speaks of this newfound confidence, taking its time to weave a dramatic, futuristic musical tapestry just because it can. It’s like watching the band, indeed, unlearning the ties keeping them bound to their points of reference, and coming out of a metaphorical cocoon with a fully-fledged voice.

That is not to say that Walt Disco have abandoned the connections they had with some fairly iconic bits of music history: it’s just that those connections are no longer ties, they’ve become bridges. ‘Timeline‘ can incorporate a Bowie-esque bass line without feeling like a mere quote as it then blends it into a techno-pop synth line. The Smiths-like vocals soar above the status of simple reference in closing track ‘If I Had A Perfect Life,’ as they stand out against the backdrop of a boppy and yet complex instrumental line that somehow reminded me of the Horrors in the early days. ‘My Dear‘ could be a song Adam Ant didn’t write by accident, but those almost hard-rock guitars turn it into something entirely different (and another track that would certainly be amazing to hear live). ‘Be An Actor‘ is almost a compendium of new ways to play around classic glam sounds, from the point of view of 2022 looking back.

I love bands that make me feel like they’ve achieved something innovative and complex, and this record certainly does that, but I love even more, bands that make me feel excited, and Unlearning has an immediacy, a freshness, and a courage that can only spark excitement. As Walt Disco soon embark on a UK tour, I can’t wait to see them tread the stage, and I am sure they will do so with the same maturity and enthusiasm they have poured into the record.

Unlearning is released on April 1st for Lucky Number. Pre-Order on physical / Pre-Save on digital platforms here.

Walt Disco is touring the UK throughout March/April 2022:

Mar 30th – Glasgow, UK @ St Luke’s
Mar 31st – Belfast, UK @ Voodoo
Apr 1st – Dublin, Ireland @ The Soundhouse
Apr 2nd – Liverpool, UK @ Jimmy’s
Apr 4th – Sheffield, UK @ Yellow Arch Studios
Apr 5th – Hull, UK @ Tower Ballroom
Apr 6th – Newcastle UK @ The Cluny
Apr 8th – York, UK @ The Fulford Arms
Apr 9th – Leeds, UK @ Hyde Park Book Club
Apr 11th – Nottingham, UK @ The Bodega
Apr 12th – Birmingham, UK @ Dead Wax
Apr 13th – Cardiff, UK @ Clwb Ifor Bach
Apr 17th – Manchester, UK @ YES
Apr 18th – Bristol, UK @ Rough Trade Bristol
Apr 20th – London, UK @ Scala

Find Walt Disco on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Chiara Strazzulla
Chiara was born in Sicily and lives in Cardiff, where she is a freelance journalist and teacher of Classics. She is an internationally published novelist and has collaborated with a variety of publications both in English and Italian. She has been a music lover her whole life, and her taste in music ranges from glam rock to punk by way of blues and country.

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