REVIEW: TW Walsh - Fruitless Research

Raquel Dalarossa

Timothy William Walsh has been making music for at least seventeen years—his earliest release, per his Bandcamp page, is a full-length album from 1999. Since then, he’s continued putting out solo projects with some hiatus here and there (his last, 2011’s Songs of Pain and Leisure, came ten years after its predecessor).

The main talking points of TW’s career, though, have been his contributions to bands like Pedro the Lion and Headphones (or, to put it another way, his frequent collaborations with David Bazan), as well as his mastering work for the likes of Foxygen, The Shins, and Sufjan Stevens, among many others. But on Walsh’s newest release, Fruitless Research, the veteran musician switches gears a little, and finally takes the spotlight.

Up until now, much of TW’s solo output hewed to a similar sound mostly centered around his acoustic guitar and soft-spoken singing. Fruitless Research, on the other hand, opens with a track that has him singing through a vocoder, so you can sense from the get-go that the jolt to expectations is very much intentional. The funkier, new wave-y sound of the album on the whole is in some ways reminiscent of James Mercer and Danger Mouse’s Broken Bells project—which makes a little more sense when you account for Yuuki Matthews’ (The Shins, Crystal Skulls) heavy helping hand in crafting this record.

The partnership certainly pays off for Walsh. Fruitless Research is a stark departure from his past releases, but it sounds entirely his own at the same time. Though his vocals are as gentle as ever, the sounds surrounding him are lush, almost viscous, and intriguing to the ear at every turn. Unsurprisingly, with the kind of mastering chops Walsh has accrued, all of the songs sound incredibly balanced. Even as lots of bits and pieces of sound effects are implemented, they always find equal footing—“The Bright Void,” for example, is a particularly groovy tune that matches floaty effects with a steady pitter-patter. And each of the ten tracks is infectious in its own way (again, not surprising, as Walsh’s back catalog easily proves he has a knack for writing catchy tunes), though “Young Rebels” is the clear standout.

Lyrically, Walsh draws on a litany of recent existential and physical upheavals, ranging from a mysterious illness that left him in serious condition for months, to just turning forty years old. But more than anything else, a relatively newfound passion for Buddhism and meditation finds its way into many of the tracks—”Fundamental Ground” and “The Glow” are steeped in a vague spirituality, but he spends just as much time searching as he does trying to teach.

All told, this is an album that manages to upend expectations while at the same time feeling incredibly natural and authentic. It’s a refreshing, exciting addition to Walsh’s solo catalog, and demands recognition for his talents not just as a collaborator, but as an artist and songwriter in his own right.