Chris Walla – Field Manual

It should be quite obvious to anyone listening to Field Manual that Chris Walla is a very intelligent individual. With subject matter ranging from Henry Ford’s assembly line, letters to Senators written by librarians, and FEMA, this album is a far cry from the simple, safe garden variety topics that bands generally stick to. On Field Manual, Walla goes all out, reaching for subjects that matter, and writes songs that would challenge most artists. However, I believe that it’s important to remind you, that Walla is not most songwriters. It’s because of that, that Field Manual is not most albums.

The opening track, titled “Two-Fifty,” launches this album with haunting monk like harmony vocals over a repetitive, parade-friendly marching drum type riff. Halfway through the song, Walla adds a guitar riff which reminds me a great deal of an alarm that seems to lend it’s warning to the point that his lyrics are trying to make. They seem to imply that in order to to complete a task, a person needs more than just the monetary means, they also need a plans, systematic efficiency and direction with a beginning and an ending point.

Direction and necessities actually seems to be a reoccurring theme on Field Manual. It pops up on “A Bird is a Song,” a piece about searching for and keeping life in order. Softly spoken lyrics over calm guitar picking highlight the story. The structure of the song makes it pretty obvious that Walla is making an effort not to distract the listener from his words. He states, “I don’t have to talk but I want to listen,” the first time through, before restating his perception from a second point of view with, “I don’t need to see, but I need a vision.”

But it doesn’t end there. Necessity shows up again two songs later on “Everyone Needs a Home,” a song dedicated to highlighting the importance of having a place in the world filled with people who love you. Heavy bass tones, acoustic guitar, and piano structures echoing the lyrics remind me of a song that Rocky Votolato might have written, if given a shot at these lyrics.

The next two songs following “Everyone Needs a Home” showcase Walla’s ability to write flawless pop songs. Catchy lyrics and hooks are present and accounted for on both “Everybody’s On” and “Our Plans, Collapsing.” The last of these two songs, while driven and poppy is a bit of a downer. The lyrical content reflects on collecting yourself after falling out of love. Descriptions of getting use to a single bed again and the inability to find hope in things once loved highlight the sickness a sudden change in plans can leave. Tackling a subject that has been written and rewritten a thousand time, and giving it the new angle need to keep it fresh sheds light on Walla’s creative nature. This is honestly songwriting at its best.

Ending just a strongly as it began, Field Manual‘s second to last track “It’s Unsustaniable,” is that track for those of you needing your “Man, when does the new Death Cab album come out?!” fix. Under a unique combination of jazz and folk structuring, Walla describes his surroundings and the way they make him feel. We get to see an honest and real part of Walla on this album and this song. At five minutes and fifty-five seconds, the song doesn’t rush through to get to its point. It slowly eases into it in a beautiful and calming manner. The wonderful line, “It’s not unsustainable, so don’t explain me away,” closes the door on a highly emotional and candid album.

Look for Chris Walla’s Field Manual, released on Barsuk Records, in stores tomorrow, January 29th, 2008.

In other news, also look for new albums from both Death Cab for Cutie, and the Postal Service at some point in 2008. It appears it will be a busy year for Chris Walla.

Barsuk Records
Chris Walla’s Myspace

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