In several ways, the scrappy members of Walk Off the Earth are bucking the stereotypes.
Consider that if this band name rings a bell, it’s likely for one of two reasons: 1. You saw that viral video of Walk Off the Earth covering “Somebody That I Used To Know” on a single guitar, or 2. You are a member of Walk Off the Earth. That video’s their claim to popular fame, and yet there’s no accusing them of being a one-trick pony; their YouTube channel is littered with vivacious covers and spirited originals, and the band seems to genuinely enjoy dipping their toes into every genre under the sun.
In the wake of their success, Walk Off the Earth have been compared to fellow viral sensations Karmin, which just seems a little bit unfair to Walk Off the Earth. Still, it’s hard to shake some of the earmarks: viral cover of popular song hits big, leads to television appearances, major-label records; then again, Walk Off the Earth, who’s R.E.V.O. is in stores now, seems to have a little more staying power, forging a very specific sound instead of finding a popular trend and pouring themselves into the mold. Considering the ephemeral nature of trends, it seems like the smarter long-term strategy.
Then again, there’s nothing particularly challenging about Walk Off the Earth’s sound. That’s not to say that it’s unpleasant; on the contrary, R.E.V.O. is often quite catchy, downright sunny on occasion. But a Spotify review of previous releases betrays the band’s roots as a Sublime-esque, reggae-inflected collective, which is a fairly breezy form of music to begin with; R.E.V.O. finds a lot of the edges sanded down, the production cleaner, the melodies poppier. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a surprisingly solid pop album with big hooks and an easy mass appeal.
What’s admirable, though, is Walk Off the Earth’s staunch refusal to box in a single vocalist as the face of the band. It’s a smart decision to broaden appeal — multi-instrumentalists Gianni Luminati and Ryan Marshall capably handle rough-hewn highs and silky lows, respectively, with Sarah Blackwood providing a sweet, feminine counterpoint. Often, the vocals swarm around each other, building only to dovetail in a delicious three-part harmony; when songs like “Red Hands” and “R.E.V.O.” threaten to sound like Lady Antebellum tracks, they’re often saved by a keen sense of vocal interaction, a bit of a playful push-and-pull instead of a rote, workaday male-female harmony. Equality, and economy, of sound are the orders of the day; acoustic guitars and ukeleles are all over this platter, but when a nostalgic harmonica creeps in on the lilting, Colbie Caillat-like “Summer Vibe” or a mournful trumpet weaves through the background of “Speeches”, the dynamics pop.
Which makes R.E.V.O. a very nice album, if not a particularly challenging one. Walk Off the Earth writes nice, unobtrusive pop songs, but it’s hard for their originals not to be upstaged by their star-making cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”, included here because nobody involved in this album is stupid. Replicating the cornerstone musical themes of Gotye’s original on a single acoustic guitar was one of those outside-the-box strokes of genius that makes these things go viral in the first place; and it’s an excellent performance to boot, Luminati’s forceful, ragged tenor nailing that cavernous refrain, Blackwood’s pitch-perfect lilt a warm replacement for Kimbra’s accusatory guest verse, all band members’ voices swirling about one another in a flurry of harmony and counter-rhythms at the end. (And of course, Gotye’s composition is simply one of the best pop songs of recent memory, so they’re working with terrific raw material.) It’s a great touch, although it’s of such high caliber that it seems unfortunate to plop it in the middle of the record like that. It’s almost unfair to the other songs.
But Walk Off the Earth do have more tricks up their collective sleeve; consider “Shake”, perhaps the album’s finest original, a midtempo rocker belted with abandon by Blackwood, or breezy beach-rock closer “No Ulterior Motives”. R.E.V.O. is flawed, but you can’t doubt their approach — or their knack for a hook.