Wall is not the first band to break up before its first album ever saw the light of day. The Modern Lovers are perhaps the most notable band whose debut was preceded by the band’s untimely demise. But even such a precedent (and Jonathan Richman’s well-chronicled career after rebranding the name) only partially mitigates the sinking feeling that something of great value had been lost. It happened so fast even the album is just called Untitled (Wharf Cat Records).
New York has changed a lot since the halcyon days of No Wave, but Wall isn’t having it. The band wears its influences like a badge of honor, rekindling memories of the city before CBGB was an overpriced clothes boutique, when Alphabet City was a genuinely scary place, and when the heartbeat of the city pumped blood through innovative artists rather than price them out.
The best of Untitled is reminiscent of those great moments when Sonic Youth attempted to be a pop band (Goo and Daydream Nation most notably). Comparisons of singer Sam York to Kim Gordon are obvious since York affects that same monotone, flat-lining style that feigns indifference. This is evident on “Shimmer of Fact,” whose bassline is more slithery than shimmery, and also on rambling, shambling cuts such as “Save Me” and “Weekend,” which stumble over themselves but never hit the ground.
At other times, Wall goes even further back in the Gotham time machine for inspiration and perspiration. “Everything In Between” is primordial art punk, with reverb-drenched guitars, droning percussion, and word association lyrics. As the song starts to fade away, the tasteful fuzz of sax suddenly comingles with the guitars before seamlessly replacing them entirely. The next cut, a faithful cover of Half Japanese’s “Charmed Life,” keeps the sax appeal and a Dollsy groove that would have perfectly fit on Too Much Too Soon.
Even the lyrical nods to current times have a retrofitted feel to them. Blondie got its name because that was what the term Debbie Harry was catcalled with as she walked the Manhattan streets. Four decades and increased sensitivity to the subject hasn’t changed anything though. “Turn Around” tells a similar tale, though York is sassy enough to give it back. “High Ratings,” which kicks off the album, is a nod to social media where she repeatedly sings, “Validate me.” If it were possible to hear eyes rolling, you would. “Wounded at War” is a melodramatic protest song about how we treat PTSD-addled returning veterans. “Here in America we want heroes,” York sings. “Make war glitzy, make it grand. Something simple we understand.” If The Monks could incorporate anti-Vietnam sentiments in 1960s Germany, no reason Wall can’t decry the military industrial complex now.
Album closer “River Mansion” features an underwater looping bassline courtesy of Elizabeth Skadden and guitars that stop twitching and instead gallantly go with the flow like Television. It’s twice as long as anything else on the record and melancholic, like the eulogy that it kind of is. Wall is dead. Long live Wall.