Published May 07, 2017The membership of Big Walnuts Yonder is an experimental punk-pop math-funk lover's wet dream: Greg Saunier of Deerhoof manning the rhythm skins; Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos lending freak-wizard guitar and the lion's share of the vocals; Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose) laying down elegant, demented bass grooves and handling the rest of the voice work; and finally, Nels Cline (Wilco) weaving wonders through the songs with his masterfully warped guitar hooks.
History teaches that supergroups don't always work as well in practice as they do in theory, but that's very much not the case with these nuts. Big Walnuts Yonder as a whole has some potentially alienating sequencing, and doesn't gel quite as well in some spots as it does in others, but the music is always fresh, exciting and nuanced.
Opening instrumental funk warm-up "All Against All" is plenty of fun but doesn't hint at the depths of brilliance in the album to come. Beautifully textured mid-tempo groove rocker "Sponge Bath" follows, and while it's a great track, it feels more like something befitting the back end of an album. But it's the placement of the nearly nine-minute instrumental psychedelic jam "Flare Star Phantom" as the third track that truly risks the mood for most listeners. The album's most objectively indulgent track (an awesome listen if you're a total music geek, but the thinnest slice of niche on the album) is the sort of thing you hand out near the end, an "if you're still with us," if you will. Sure, it's punk as fuck to upend expectations, but it could act as a bit of a barrier for a lot of listeners not already fully invested in hearing the album through.
Which would be a shame, because the majority of Big Walnuts Yonder is fantastic. Watt's two lead tracks are on the scrappier, thrashier side, but while they're great in their own way, it's the second half of the album where Reinhart takes over the vocals to sing a string delightfully warped groove pop songs with math punk flourishes that the band feel the most cohesive. The songs are great but it's worth the price of admission just to hear Cline and Reinhart lock into an epic dual of guitar hook innovation. Supported by just about the most creative and capable rhythm section conceivable, the band are almost too awesome when the sparks are really flying.
If you're on the fence at all, make sure to listen to "Rapid Driver Moon Inhaler" to at least the 0:26 mark. That verse riff is so gleefully quirk-a-licious it alone almost justifies the existence of our species. (Sargent House)