It’d be fair to say that for most people, 2020 has been a really weird year so far. From the pandemic that has swept through practically every continent on earth at this point, to the pain and anger, all of which is thoroughly well-placed and massively overdue that is currently resonating around the world as a reaction to the killing of George Floyd, seismic shifts in our everyday lives seem to be arising more readily now than they ever have done before.
A lot of feelings linked to these changes revolve around ideas of fear and loneliness, and this has been reflected in some of the music we have been supplied within these most trying of times. Whether they be fears for the future of our planet as expressed on the opening track of The 1975’s latest record or fears that the best years of your life are firmly behind you as expressed by Kevin Parker’s latest outing with Tame Impala, fear, caution, and a resounding feeling that you may be on your own after all seems to be bleeding through the pop culture of today, and resonating with the audiences that it finds.
On 'Your Hero Is Not Dead', Will Westerman finds hope among the debris of despair. Here, he recognises the state that we as a people are currently in, allows us to face it, but offers lights at the same time. On the album’s lead single, the exquisite 'Blue Comanche', Westerman strikes a daunting tone, addressing a cyborg and willingly following in their path. “Could not relate / wasn’t to know,” he continues, commenting on the social bubbles both online and off that we so readily build for ourselves nowadays that don’t allow for a fully-realised world view to come in.
Backing these somewhat daunting lyrics and themes is a typically dreamy and cyclical instrumentation. Here, as with most of the record’s best moments - of which there are plenty - Westerman builds layers into these musical compositions that aren’t always apparent on your first or second listen, especially if you don’t have a decent set of headphones through which to experience them.
This tale is also true for the 1-2-3-punch of 'Big Nothing Glow', 'Waiting On Design', and 'Think I’ll Stay', the last of which exudes a retro, 8-bit feel to its soundscape, as though you are trapped in one of the earliest video games to emerge in the 1980s. It isn’t glitchy, it actually flows pretty well, helped in no small part by the ever-changing vocal melody that Westerman so expertly delivery.
But there is certainly more than just a veneer of the atmospheres of yesteryear on this song. This feeling is not singularly presented here. Right from the start of the record, on its opening exchange 'Drawbridge', the record sounds like a games console as it fires up, ready to offer escapism to its owner by hiding their reality deep within the layers of the game itself.
The album’s best song, or at least its most instantly engaging, comes in the form of 'Confirmation', where choppily-strummed guitars are backed by bulbous drum beats and a constantly fluctuating vocal melody - something that Westerman is very quickly making his signature. It sticks with a listener to an extent that nothing else quite manages here, even after having listened to the full record on four or five occasions.
It’s a shame that the albums last three tracks offer little to nothing to get that excited about. Your Hero Is Not Dead is, nevertheless, a largely impressive and competent debut album full of dynamic, interesting, introspective compositions that speak to timely concerns surrounding loneliness and the idea of celebrities as false idols. For fans of Nilüfer Yanya’s staggering debut album 'Miss Universe', or those more recent Arthur Russell re-issues, it offers a smorgasbord of new music to enjoy. Whilst in places it is less than enthralling, there is more than enough beautiful music here to combat that.
A record that fulfils the promise of Westerman’s output over the last couple of years and one from which he will doubtless springboard to greater things in the future, 'Your Hero Is Not Dead' is essential listening for anyone at odds with themselves or the current state of society, which really should be just about everyone at this point.
Words: Mike Watkins
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