Fresh-sounding game changer

Will Westerman spins something fresh where folk, rock and electronica intersect.
Will Westerman spins something fresh where folk, rock and electronica intersect.PHOTO: BLUE FLOWERS




Blue Flowers

4 stars

In a social media-drenched age where quietness is a premium asset, a newcomer like Will Westerman, who goes by his surname, is a godsend.

On first spin, the mysterious London songsmith's songs can be compared to the gently flecked melodies of Canadian legend Neil Young, or the output of spectral contemporaries such as Swedish troubadour Jose Gonzalez or American folkie S. Carey.

This double whammy of a single and a B-side proves to be a game changer - he now occupies a strange hinterland where folk, rock and electronica intersect, sounding like none of those but something completely fresh.

Confirmation takes Westerman, working with London electronic producer Bullion, to that sweet spot where humility belies real ambition. Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. At the centre is the 26-year-old's unusual voice - not showboatingly rich or fulsome, but a high register which is expressive in its minor shifts, like that of the late Arthur Russell. It makes your brow arch. It quests and questions, instead of wallowing in sedentary conclusion.

"Don't you wonder why confirmation's easier/When you don't think so much about it?" goes the chorus on the title track, encapsulating inchoate emotions that flicker between confidence and doubt.

"Trying and it won't work?/I still can't get my head around it" is the follow-up sentiment, shored up by a swirling sea of soft synths and oddly muted percussion. Discomfort has never sounded so soothing.

Will Westerman spins something fresh where folk, rock and electronica intersect.

That's the beauty of Westerman, synthesising contrarian emotions and influences which sometimes sound utterly natural and familiar, and other times slightly odd and alienating - and that's okay. He isn't there to advocate or bandy an anthem, but to excavate into the humanity with its complexities.

The B-side, I Turned Away, is more skeletal, anchored on a primitive keyboard drum-loop and guitar chords which trail like afterthoughts.

His voice is more muffled and indistinct. It frays, as if trying not to make a scene.

"None of my friends knew that there was something wrong with me," he murmurs over guitar riffs as they subside into the sunset.

"So chameleon, show me your hand/I'm old enough to give up on this romance," is the confession, but the delivery isn't brusque or defiant. "I was hoping we deserved more," he sighs.

"I turned away from all these moments," he chants the chorus, hoping against hope that repeating the words would break this circular curse.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'Fresh-sounding game changer'. Print Edition | Subscribe