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Field Manual

Chris Walla

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Album Review

After years of yielding the spotlight to fellow Death Cabber Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla finally moves to center stage with Field Manual. Fans of Death Cab's Transatlanticism (particularly the album's second half, with its emphasis on ballads and slow-motion moodiness) will be pleased with this solo effort, since Field Manual delivers the same brand of reflective, mid-tempo indie pop. Even the faster songs seem to rarely break a sweat (with the exception of standout track "The Score"), and their quickened pace takes a backseat role to Walla's gauzy vocals and politically minded lyrics. There's nothing like "I'll Follow You into the Dark" here, no song so adorably sweet and saccharine that teenagers will clamor to slow-dance to it at their high school proms. Instead, Walla targets the head — not the heart — while delivering songs about crooked senators, sustainability, and American soldiers. "All hail an imminent collapse," he sings on the first track, opening the album with several seconds of layered a cappella. "You can fumble for your maps, but we're exhausted by the facts." The political commentary is sharp, and Walla smartly refuses to channel the "Rise up!" spirit of someone like Bruce Springsteen, since an indie pop release simply couldn't bear that kind of weight. But given the album's release date — at the tail-end of January 2008, as senators and governors vie for presidential candidacy — Field Manual still comes across as surprisingly intelligent, its political themes bolstered by the multi-instrumental skills that Walla honed with Death Cab. He tackles most of the instruments himself, adding occasional bits of electronic percussion to a mix of electric guitars, piano, organ, and standard rhythm. If there's one weak point in this performance, it's the fact that Walla's voice rarely breaks out of the background-vocals mould. He can certainly sing, but years of providing seamless harmonies for Gibbard have given his pipes a clear, breathy quality that threatens to lull the listener into a trance during the album's final stretch. Still, Field Manual is a very nice public bow from someone who, prior to 2008, spent much of his time in the production booth and/or on the sidelines.

Biography

Born: November 2, 1975 in Bothell, WA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

An accomplished producer, multi-instrumentalist, and former DJ, Christopher Walla is perhaps best known as Ben Gibbard's right-hand man in Death Cab for Cutie. Walla was born in 1975 and grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, a town whose rich music scene inspired him to pursue work as a producer. While attending a local concert, he met future bandmate Gibbard — who, at the same time, was playing guitar with the power pop outfit Pinwheel — and bonded with him over a shared love of Teenage...
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Field Manual, Chris Walla
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