Walter Martin's solo debut, We're All Young Together, was an album for kids that grown-ups could love, but his follow-up, Arts & Leisure, takes that young-at-heart whimsy in directions only adults will appreciate fully. Equal parts memoir and meditations on art and mortality, these thoughtful, downright cozy songs come alive with close listening. Martin's lyrics are as full of vivid detail and imagery as the artwork that inspired him; he puts his own wry imprint on his subjects, whether marveling at Michelangelo's inspiration ("I wonder how I can be more like him/Where I see a cracked ceiling, he sees the birth of man") or recounting the time Billy Joel walked into the museum he worked at on "Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich and Famous.
When your longtime band calls it quits, it can be a challenge setting off on your own and finding your own voice. The Walkmen's Walter Martin took a fairly unconventional path, first with his 2014 solo debut, We're All Young Together—an album geared towards families with farfetched stories about things like rattlesnakes and chimpanzees—and next with this year's largely arts-centric Arts and Leisure. On Arts, Martin further uncorks and refines his own voice—one that's largely honest, curious, humorous, and relatable—to share his unique view of the world.
Being in a band is a tricky prospect as it’s a delicate balancing act of egos and passions. It’s a miracle some bands last as long as they do. In November 2013, the Walkmen went on what vocalist Hamilton Leithauser called an “extreme hiatus”, something he later came to regret saying. A break can be healthy for a band, a way to pursue passion projects, rejuvenate the creative juices, and enjoy time away from each other.
Of the handful of solo endeavors that sprung up from The Walkmen’s 2013 pause, organist/bassist Walter Martin’s We’re All Young Together was the most unexpected. Martin ambled straight past the dad-rock category and made a record for kids. It wasn’t bad, either. The singer’s scraggly delivery and ramshackle energy made We’re All Young Together not just tolerable but frequently charming, and though he’s tweaked the theme and target audience, the follow-up shares that living-room-couch spirit.
The Upshot: With the kind of laconic detail and precision normally reserved for a Paul Simon or Loudon Wainwright, the young songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with indie-rock band The Walkmen serves up a classic. If nothing else, Walter Martin deserves accolades – and maybe a Grammy nomination – for rhyming “Philippe de Montebello,” former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with “unsuspecting fellow” in the album’s opening song, “Jobs I Had Before I Got Famous. ” It’s a wry, autobiographical song that paints the young Martin – now a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with indie-rock band The Walkmen – as a merry prankster in his youth, working at the Met’s switchboard and transferring calls to its director to his sleepy roommate at home.