Frontispiece from Children's Sayings by William Canton, 1900
I'm not writing about the new Light Footwork record in a timely fashion - National Historic Landmarks came out in the spring, but I didn't even know it existed until recently. That's the first problem - there are a lot of great bands that fly under the radar of most music publications and blogs, especially ones like the Light Footwork, who self-release their music. You have to proactively make the rounds of these bands' websites at regular intervals to see if they have something new - if you don't do that, you miss it. So it was about a month ago that I found out about National Historic Landmarks - I ordered it right away, which brings us to the second delay involved here. I've listened to this album over a dozen times, and I'm still not sure what to think of it. I know I like it, but I'm not sure how to talk about it.
The Light Footwork's first album, 2005's One State Two State, had most of the ingredients I like in an indie-pop album - strong male and female vocalists, a lyrical loquaciousness, and a good blend of musical influences. Becca Wilhelm's conversational vocal style and the songs' ambitious-but-accessible structures were the big selling points for me. In the half-decade between the two LPs, not that much has changed in the Light Footwork formula, but National Historic Landmarks seems less accessible than the debut somehow. It's more substantive, I think, but it's taking me a while to dig into it. The songs are built around the concept of actual historical landmarks and have names like "Danger Cave", "Shack Mountain", and "Bruton Parish Church", but this concept is more of a jumping-off point than a unifying theme. The songs themselves are all over the place.
This may be why National Historic Landmarks takes so long to sink in - for one thing, the vocals are heavily treated with effect this time around, making the dense lyrics harder to absorb. Wilhelm and partner Jay Underwood both play a variety of instruments on the record, supplemented by Willis Thompson on drums and a few guest players, and this gives the arrangements a lot of variety. The song structures don't really push the songs' hooks to the forefront, but the melodies are smart and some of the songs made an immediate impression. The appropriately Modest-Mousey "Oregon Trail Ruts" and the somberness of "The Hermitage" are early favorites of mine, although the best track on the record is probably "Carlsbad Irrigation Project", which really captures the Light Footwork's best assets on display. Just watch out for the song's groan-inducing final line - *spoiler alert* - it involves the phrase "Carlsbad / Carls-worse!"
"Carlsbad Irrigation Project" by the Light Footwork