“I don’t want to make my bed for anyone / I don’t want to spread my legs for anyone,” Felix Walworth sings on the second track of Told Slant’s second full-length, voice resolute and open. This rejection of intimacy might seem so close to an admission of defeat, if not for the fact that it’s not distant, or cold, or mean—if anything, it’s intimate in itself. Since the release of a bedroomy, folk-tinged first LP Still Water in 2012, Walworth’s songwriting has tackled the nuances of intimate interpersonal relationships, and Going By expands on that project. But more than ever, this album asks us gently to step into ourselves for a second, to find closeness in that relationship as much as in our relations with others.
This time around culling support from friends Emily Sprague of Florist, Oliver Kalb of Bellows, Gabrielle Smith of Eskimeaux, and Girlpool‘s Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, Told Slant brings to light the softer feelings that tend to get buried and forgotten amid the hardening of everyday living. The record maintains a consistent delicateness, tied tightly to a folk tradition begun decades ago. Yet there’s no disconnect with the modern world or the difficulties of living in it, which makes the record’s softness all the more powerful. Walworth doesn’t shy (like many still do) from the mention of texting or of seeing an old lover’s picture on the internet, and they reaffirm (if it still needs affirming) that these venues aren’t always empty or meaningless. Walworth deals in directness, and their voice is cutting in the lines, “You can kiss me just so you can read my texts every five minutes / and reread all the ones you sent to make sure you meant them.” Meanwhile the instrumentation—from the rousing banjo part on “Tall Cans Hold Hands” to the ache of “Tsunami” to the dense and lilting spoken-word minute of “Eggs in a Basket”—is mostly sparing. There are wordless breaths tied into soft instrumental interludes for the times when such direct speech would be too heavy.
Going By alternates between moments of firm self-assurance and moments of admitted weakness. First there’s the glowing repetition on “High Dirge” of the anthemic line “Felix, you can battering ram this life,” but later on the record Walworth concedes, “I want to battering ram this life / but I go by / What do I go by / when you go by(e)?” Solitude can be a source of resolution, and it can also be a source of total loss. Still in both kinds of moments the music is consistently delicate, consistently high-stakes; Walworth flattens weakness onto strength, so that neither is better or worse, both worth attending to. One of the loudest moments in all 11 songs comes in a statement of fragility, when Walworth sings “I’m so delicate when you’re around” over the wail of an electric guitar and the steady beat of a drum.
Never one to stagnate, Told Slant wields refrain powerfully, as a source of change rather than monotony. The hopeful reminder on “Tsunami” of “Isn’t this silly and aren’t you beautiful” returns at the close of the record, but this time with an added question that’s sad and piercing. It’s a wrenching inward glance, and a crucial one.