No Any Walls: Heavy on Earth (Music Review)

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 2.21.30 PM

Imagine, if you will, a faded photo of an old barn or of the rusted corrugated iron shell of an abandoned mill or factory.

Now imagine that photograph can sing.

That’s what listening to Heavy on Earth, the new EP from No Any Walls, is like. The music is recorded with a lo-fidelity vibe that gives the songs a sense of intimacy and immediacy that’s complemented by the rusty door-hinge tenor of singer Gary Hello’s vocals and his urgent, at-times driving, guitar playing. As each tune emerges from a haze of distortion and tape hiss, it’s easy to pretend you’ve just stumbled upon an old cassette that you found in the glove compartment of a used car — and realizing that you’ve not only found some great tunes but also that you’re gaining a first-hand glimpse into the hard-lived life of someone you wish you’d had a chance to have met.

Idling comfortably at the intersection of Nirvana’s Never Mind and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Heavy on Earth offers a gritty and moving lo-fi portrait of our depressed yet not entirely hopeless cultural landscape.

Thank You for Holding

Quick note to say that my new album, Thank You for Holding, is now available! I’ll have more to say about the individual tracks in the coming days, but for now, here’s the basic premise:

Sometime in the distant (or maybe not-too-distant) future, someone placed a call to an automated customer-service center mere moments before the world ended. Ever since then, the robot who answered the phone has been assuring the caller that a customer service representative will be available shortly. In the meantime, the robot has learned to play the flute. But all is not well, as the robot’s circuitry is starting to run down.

How did it all come to this?

The only way to find out is to listen…

Who’s Johnny?

First, apologies to El DeBarge for the title of this post.

Second, I guess I should have listened to my cousin Steve. When I played some of the tracks on my new EP for him, he said that “Johnny’s Secret Army” was the one that really stood out. So what did I do? I made “Fuzzy Logic” the featured track. And what happened? One of the first blogs to write about Garden Variety picked “Johnny’s Secret Army” as their favorite.

Shows what I know.

In any case, the song raises an obvious question: Who’s Johnny?

I actually wrote the earliest version of this song in 1996 when John DuPont murdered Dave Schultz at the Foxcatcher Farm in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. The tragedy was depicted in the 2014 film Foxcatcher starring Steve Carell, and when I wrote first wrote the song it was titled “Incident at Foxcatcher.”

Coincidentally, my sister’s swim team used to practice at Foxcatcher Farm not long before the murder took place. DuPont had given the team permission to practice in his Olympic-sized pool. When he forgot that he’d given them permission, he mistook them for trespassers and chased them off his property. That incident, however, made it into neither the movie or my song.

The thing that always struck me about John DuPont was that no one ever stopped him or really questioned him. He had so much money that he was essentially above the law. As a result, he lived in his own fantasy world, a point made very clear in Foxcatcher.

With this in mind, I imagined DuPont living in a fantasy world where he had a secret army of loyal followers with tanks and guns. But DuPont was also paranoid and suffered from delusions of grandeur, so I imagined him imagining himself pitted against forces of absolute evil — Nazis and Satan.

Of course, DuPont was far from young, innocent, or charming (as the song suggests), but again, the song takes place in his mind. Or at least the mind of someone very much like him. When the French horn kicks in about halfway through the song, I imagine the main character completely losing himself in his fantasy — lifted on the wings of angels to do battle against the devil even as he’s backed into a corner.

Admittedly, the narrative of the song is a little hard to follow, but it has a few good lines. For example, I love “Satan’s got the higher ground but we have cooler hair,” if I do say so myself. And not to toot my own (French) horn, but the brass arrangement isn’t bad either.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Listen for yourself…