Felix Walworth’s distinctive caterwaul has served as the grounding force for Told Slant for almost a decade. That voice, which lands somewhere between a quiver and a wail, has been the vessel for the folk-rock project’s scorched-earth sentimentality across two albums, 2012’s Still Water and 2016’s Going By, and now a third, Point The Flashlight And Walk. Walworth makes skeletal compositions that sound reanimated; their songs are crashing and communal and always heartachingly tender.
Walworth’s songs are usually centered around the bashing of drums and an outpouring of emotions. Those emotions have stayed, but Flashlight sounds more varied than Told Slant’s previous work. There’s more celestial acoustic strumming and quite a bit of harp, which Walworth taught themself how to play as they recorded the whole album in their bedroom over the last few years. These softer textures still coalesce into feverish and scrappy conclusions, but they demonstrate how adept Walworth has become at negotiating the quiet-loud dynamics that have characterized the band.
It’s on the whole a more confident operation, which befits an album that’s largely about learning how to better carry yourself in the world. If Still Water was about feeling static and Going By implied some sort of passivity, then Point The Flashlight And Walk is Walworth’s most direct album title and most direct album. It’s a command to keep moving forward no matter what, even if you can’t see the entire path ahead. Throughout the album, Walworth argues that the way forward is through the connections that we make with each other. That path is never easy to navigate, though, and just like a flashlight can only show you a fraction of what’s in front of you, Point The Flashlight And Walk examines relationships that are messy and complicated.
Told Slant has always been focused on the idea of community and the ways in which who we surround ourselves with can both fracture and uplift us. Since the start, they have been part of a crew that includes Bellows‘ Oliver Kalb, Sharpless‘ Jack Greenleaf, and Gabby’s World‘s Gabrielle Smith — all pop up in some way on Point The Flashlight And Walk, as part of the band or just voices peeking in through the background. Those friendships are a guiding light on the album, like on “Flashlight On,” which breaks into a breathless singalong of the album’s title. But as often as friendship can define us, it can also help us to avoid confronting our own demons. “I was hiding from me by putting you in the way/ And I could tell that you were hiding from you,” Walworth sings in a lyric that underlines this concern. “Like a flashlight on, following you/ I need you when there’s no moon to see to.”
Walworth has said that the album is about devotion. That theme manifests itself in what happens to that commitment when we’re left behind, carrying a flame for a relationship that no longer exists. Absence is what fuels the heaviest gut-punches on the album, like on “Family Still,” which builds to its midway point before dropping out suddenly as Walworth delivers one of the album’s most wrenchingly sincere lines: “My dad still listens to you when he’s driving around/ He says he likes the guitar sound,” they sing. “You’re my family still, even though we don’t talk now.”
Flashlight occasionally touches on the purity and innocence of childhood attachments — on “Run Around The School,” Walworth descends into a playful schoolyard taunt that harkens back to misadventures during recess — but it’s more focused on what happens when the illumination you depended on disappears in complex and failingly adult ways. “I just want to know you/ But that’s hard/ Because I used to,” Walworth sings on “Whirlpool,” a song about the ways in which simply growing older can sever the connections we once held dear. On “Fog On The Glass,” Walworth describes a fight that causes them to lash out in bitterness: “I didn’t mean it/ When I said I felt so alone in the room with you/ I think I just needed to know that I could hurt you too.”
The songs on Point The Flashlight And Walk circle around that central pain, an absence that has a rippling effect, much in the same way that Told Slant songs often coalesce around wordy phrases that are repeated until they become mantras. Those refrains are the high points of Told Slant songs and there are plenty to go around on Flashlight: “For the rest of my life, will I gnaw at this bone?/ That I am always alone” on “Bullfrog Choirs”; “I don’t want to run from you” on “No Backpack”; “But I don’t get wobbly for anyone/ So I’ll stay with you, stay with you, even when it’s scary to” on the penultimate stunner “From The Roofbeams.”
That last one ends on an ultimate torch-song declaration: “Take all these cannon drum heaven-trumpet feelings that I have for you…” Walworth leaves that last phrase unfinished, sublimated in a rush of regret and resolve. It’s those sort of breathtaking moments, when Walworth finds comfort in the uncomfortable, the unsaid, and the unknown, that make Told Slant such a reliable source of emotional catharsis. Walworth has always had a way of building their songs to conclusions that make intimacy and vulnerability and weakness into something worth shouting along to.
Point The Flashlight And Walk is out 11/13 via Double Double Whammy. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over.
• AC/DC’s Power Up.
• William Basinski’s Lamentations.
• 2 Chainz’s So Help Me God.
• Lambchop’s TRIP.
• Jesu’s Terminus.
• Molly Parden’s Rosemary.
• BENEE’s Hey u x.
• Octavian’s Alpha.
• Aesop Rock’s Spirit World Field Guide.
• Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin’s Fly Siifu.
• Emily A. Sprague’s Hill, Flower, Fog.
• Amaarae’s The Angel You Don’t Know.
• Marika Hackman’s Covers.
• DVC Refreshments’ Hits Only
• The Nels Cline Singers’ Share The Wealth.
• The Bats’ Foothills.
• The Cribs’ Night Network.
• Paris Jackson’s Wilted.
• Elton John’s Jewel Box.
• Colin Stetson’s scores for Color Out Of Space, The War Show, and Deliver Us.
• Chilly Gonzales’ A Very Chilly Christmas.
• Pentatonix’s We Need A Little Christmas.
• Martha Skye Murphy’s Yours Truly EP.
• Small Black’s “Tampa” 7″.
Told Slant Point The Flashlight And Walk [Vinyl]