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  • J. Dylan White

Album Review: Dave Matthews Band - 'Walk Around the Moon'

After forming more than three decades ago, Dave Matthews Band is beginning to reflect on philosophical questions of existence and legacy with a maturity that only comes with age in their new release “Walk Around the Moon.”

The new record, which is the band's first since 2018, packs a dozen tracks in just over 42 minutes, making it a concise package that knows when to linger to savor a musical moment or when to cut unnecessary potential self-indulgence short.

In “Walk,” Dave Matthews Band manages to still maintain its trademark sound of soft rock sprinkled with elements of funk, rhythm and blues, jazz and pop-rock, while capturing a freshness that on the surface seems antithetical to a style of musical composition cognizant of the 1900s but comes together in a surprisingly modern package.

The title track opens the album and is a psychedelic journey through the woods with unusual discoveries. The shuffle hypnotically swings from lows to highs with the refrain “It was blue and it was red / Found a new door inside of my head / How could I go to bed? / Think I’ll walk around the moon instead.”

“Madman’s Eyes” follows and is the lead single of the record, as well as the first point in a thematic throughline. Dark and brooding, Jeff Coffin, who joined the band in 2008, offers a mystical element with the tárogató, a woodwind instrument commonly used in Romanian and Hungarian music.

The song's message centers on gun violence and specifically school shootings, pleading “Don’t sacrifice another child / It’s not black or white / Unless you’re looking through a madman’s eyes.”

“Looking for a Vein” shifts gears from outward turmoil to an inner conflict of a monotonous, dead-end existence, digging and searching for an unknown greater find. The irony presented is an ignorance of if there is actually something to be found, depicted like a miner in a vein of rock, hoping that its discovery will set them free from their toilsome digging. The synthetic drum hits, at times, could mimic the rhythm of swinging a pickaxe at a vein of ore, lending further to the imagery.

The pairing of “Vein” and “Madman’s Eyes” paints an image of pessimism and frustration that perhaps a younger or less mature band may not be able to pull off successfully. However, Dave Matthews Band’s experiences lend credibility to their ability to speak with a sense of authority beyond other groups. “The Ocean and the Butterfly” falls in a similar category of a semi-ethereal experience as the title track that ultimately is pleasant but its addition or subtraction to the album would not have made any significant difference.

“It Could Happen” is a pseudo-waltz that marvels at human experience and how everything in a person’s life leads to the present moment. Matthews sings, “How it happened, everything fit / Looking back, it’s hard to believe it,” and he proclaims his wonder at the number of combinations of events that were possible, but that ones that happened are what has brought humanity to the present.

This question appropriately leads into “Something to Tell My Baby,” a lullaby-like pondering on legacy and what the present generation will leave the next. Matthews fights a sense of hopelessness, instead clinging to optimism and the idea that the future can be better than the present.

A sharp shift in the pacing of the record occurs with “After Everything,” which is an upbeat, jazzy, wistful reflection on a romantic relationship gone sour that passes in under three minutes.

“All You Ever Wanted Was Tomorrow” acts as an immediate foil, turning the fire and brimstone of the preceding track to soulful reminiscence. Matthews croons, “But all you wanted was tomorrow / And box your yesterdays away / You forgot your time was borrowed / And it’s just another day.” A lengthy trumpet solo and a swinging brass ensemble concludes the song with upbeat energy to springboard into “The Only Thing.”

Internal mental conflict and dysphoria take center stage in “The Only Thing,” which takes a few subtle cues in the guitar and rhythm work to sound like a distant relative to a Pearl Jam B-side in certain sections. This track features Matthews' best work on the record and contains a vocal release that feels gratifying and earned this deep in the record, making it a standout.

“Break Free” returns to the romantic themes sprinkled throughout the earlier portions of the record with a solid, attractive groove and catchy chorus that focuses more on likeability than an overall message, bringing levity to a heavy section of “Walk.”

“Monsters” is the second single released from the album and the highlight of the entire project. Building upon what “The Only Thing” brought to the table, the refrain “Nothing in the closet / Nothing underneath the bed / Just the monsters in your head” is haunting and presents an unflinching picture of wrestling with mental illness, offering love as the resolution and saving grace from a dire situation.

“Singing From the Windows” closes the record and looks longingly ahead to better days after hardship ends. Written during quarantine in the COVID-19 pandemic, the song has a range of applicability from relationships to real-world conflict with its poetic ambiguity that feels both strikingly specific and vague at the same time.

The largest issue “Walk Around the Moon” suffers from is its pacing. Dave Matthews Band is not known for producing scorching rock anthems and has shown it can be successful without them. However, it is only after the halfway point of “Walk” that there is a tonal shift that accelerates the record forward.

The first half of the release is not of poor quality or unenjoyable, but it feels it is missing the focus and direction the second half of the record possesses. The first six tracks feel a bit meandering and free-flowing, which could be acceptable if not for the back half of “Walk” which seems clearer in its themes and motifs.

Shuffling the order of tracks may have provided a better flow for the record or made some of the musical wanderings more sensical and fitting than in its present arrangement.

“Walk Around the Moon” does a fantastic job of capturing 21st century nihilism in a concise musical form, presenting worries, fears and struggles of the masses in a clear, understandable way. Additionally, it addresses topics of mental health in an interesting and unique way while maintaining the band’s signature identity.

Perhaps the best thing Dave Matthews Band does in “Walk Around the Moon” is synthesize present anxieties with wisdom gained from the past to inform concerns about the trajectory of the future.

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