In 2008, when twin brothers Max and Spencer Ernst were just 16 years old, they became the youngest songwriters signed by Cherry Lane Music Publishing (now BMG). Cherry Lane’s roster includes such heavyweights as Black Eyed Peas and John Legend.
In 2009, singer/songwriter Chelsea Lee was signed to Atlantic Records. In 2011, she released her debut album, 18 and Alive. That year she also met Max and Spencer, who’d by then released their debut as The Walking Sticks, a deep roots, acoustic album called World So Bright, which they’d recently toured to support. Around this time, Max and Spencer were thinking about changing direction and buying all of the old synthesizers they could find at local garage sales. They’d already began collaborating with Chelsea and they were apparently quite impressed by her because they asked her to join the band. The trio are now gearing up to release their new EP, Send The Night, on December 10th, 2013. And, I must say, it’s easily one of the very best things I’ve heard all year.
While all three members of the trio can play keyboards and do so on the EP, Chelsea provides lead vocals and percussion while Spencer plays guitar and Max plays bass with both brothers contributing backing (and some lead) vocals as well.
The EP begins with the title track, “Send The Night.” It starts off with dark synth along with the sound of a high-pitched wind instrument and what could either be the sound of a second wind instrument or a wolf howling. Or, perhaps, it’s both. In any case, you immediately pick up on the nighttime vibe they’re going for and the downtempo track proves to be an enchanting tune that would be perfect for dancing in the moonlight. It’s like a cross between early Fleetwood Mac, CHVRCHES and HAIM. I say Fleetwood Mac because of their classic rock-style guitar sound and the light melody during the verses. I say CHVRCHES because of the gorgeous layers of synth and the song’s overall pop vibe. Also, Chelsea’s vocals are like a more soulful, slightly raspy version of CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry. And, like HAIM, they have also taken beats that could just as easily have been used for an R&B number and put them in a pop song. I also have to mention the very impressive falsetto the guys do during the chorus. (If they don’t hit paydirt with this, they could easily succeed as a Bee Gees cover band.) Oh, and the track has a cameo: Steuart Smith of The Eagles provides some moody slide guitar.
The especially trippy and infectious beats during the verses of “Real Thing” call to mind the delightful chillwave music of Washed Out. The song gets a kick in the pants and goes up-tempo during the lively chorus, though. Listening to this one, it’s obvious that this trio more than knows what they’re doing with all of their synthesizers. At times, you can’t really tell where one synth track ends and another begins, everything meshing together so perfectly. You’d be hard pressed to find another band using synthesizers this well of late. Mind you, I know there are dozens of artists doing impressive things with synthesizers right now. But The Walking Sticks truly rank right up there with the best of them.
Spencer provides wonderful lead vocals during the up-tempo and energetic “Kissing You,” during which the band’s Fleetwood Mac influences shines through even more, particularly during the ’70’s AM glow of the bridge. One hears other ’70’s bands in this tune as well, particularly America, The Eagles and Ambrosia.
The EP concludes with “Day To Be Crazy,” an extra swirly and intoxicating tune. “And I told you / We deserve the day to be crazy,” Chelsea sings, her voice rather sensual. Some of the synthesizers during this one sound like funeral music, which is ironic, since it would seem to be a song about cutting loose and living life, but somehow that works perfectly. And that’s the thing about The Walking Sticks: they can take things that might seem like they shouldn’t fit together and fuse them into something spectacular. And while it’s not difficult to spot some of their influences, they’ve weaved them together into a sound that is wholly their own.
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