Walk It Off

by Jason Hoffman Walk It Off
I’ve heard a lot of music in my declining capacities as a crotchety “rock critic,” and I’ll admit that most of it goes right on through the ol’ fuzzy noggin. But not the music of Vandolah and their new album Walk It Off. Nay, this nefarious beast insists on making repeat performances throughout my day, conspiring to ruin my weekend by reminding me that the song I am suddenly desiring to hear is on a CD safely locked away at work. And if the subtle and catchy melodies weren’t enough to drive one insane, the lyrics themselves are either the work of a sublime poet or a madman. Just a sampling: “Remote-toting vandals deactivate the handle,” “Say you will / Be my wrecking ball,” “Just another one-trick snowman” and “Winter froze all the fall colors into browns and grays / Ices up all the gears in your jaw so you’ve nothing to say.”

Instead of being a mere collection of songs, Walk It Off is truly an album, where each song fits seamlessly with the others, each having its purpose and place to create a cohesive whole larger than its individual parts. To further bolster the effect the album is bookended by the brief, nostalgic “Cancel That Vision” that establishes a few simple musical motifs that are fleshed out in later songs and “Test Subject & His Moped,” the noise-laden finale which serves as a subdued summary of the previous songs. More than once Pet Sounds and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came to my mind while enjoying this album, but not in the “me too” manner of lesser bands. Yes, I know these are lofty statements, but, dag-nabbit, there’s some good music going on in Vandolah county.

The style is a clean alt-country in the vein of Wilco with a touch of Sparklehorse, resigned vocals from Pedro the Lion, a pinch of noise from Guided By Voices and some pop pepper via The Shins. All of the songs are sparsely recorded on eight tracks, sharpening the focus on the songwriting and performance instead of gimmicky studio tricks. Trying to pick a favorite from such a pool of strong swimmers is difficult, but a few melodies have haunted my memory more than others. “A Little Incentive” is a poppy, happy little contrast to the rest of the sober album, sounding like a picnic between The Turtles and The Shins with loads of infectious vocal harmonies. “Thank You All” has detuned dual guitars that heap mounds of tension upon an already strained melody that leads to “Put A Smile On My Face,” a simple song of acoustic guitar and harmonied vocals set to a melody of excruciating beauty that even heartless bastiches weep in its grip.

I don’t know how Mark Hutchins, Kyle Stevenson and Dan Gruenke do it, but they’ve churned out another masterpiece. Fans of album-oriented rock who aren’t swayed by media conglomerate dictates should definitely pick up a copy of Walk It Off, even if they’ve never purchased an album by a local band. Keep your eye on www.vandolah.net to find out where you can buy the album and details concerning a CD release party. Be warned: Once you stick this CD in your player, you won’t want to take it out.

Copyright 2006 Ad Media Inc.