ALBUM REVIEW: "twin heavy," the latest from willie j. healey
There is no one like Willie J Healey. It’s difficult, in my opinion, to pin down which genre Healey fits into that isn’t just saying ‘well, he’s his own genre.’ But he is. He produces music with a soothing, almost psychedelic, slacker, indie pop sound that is so easy to get lost in. It makes you sway, bop, dance, and feel. The sonic auteur is emerging as his generation’s answer to song writing icons Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and Roddy Frame with a similar flair for matching eloquent literate and sharp-witted lyrics with a melodic streak that touches upon all the great decades in pop history.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to listen to this album before the initial release date and it has taken everything in me not to share Twin Heavy with everyone I know. His acclaim has been exploding since signing to Felix White’s YALA! Records in 2018, gaining high profile fans such as Jamie T and Orlando Weeks. Once you get your ears on this album, you’ll understand the hype.
What’s most interesting to me is that it was recorded straight to tape. Healey and producer, Loren Humphrey, headed to Eastbourne where they recorded Twin Heavy and last year’s Hello Good Morning EP in just nine days. Recording to tape certainly isn’t too common these days but, as the album proves, it added to its loose easy-going vibe and is perfectly fitting for Willie’s esoteric nature.
‘Fashun’ is the best opening track I’ve heard on an album so far this year. It’s fun and bouncy, perfect to bob along to or bust out some serious moves. “The session was so exciting,” recalls Willie. “I was having a really good time in New York. One night a bunch of Loren's friends came down to the studio and we just started playing. It was so fun, we didn’t speak about who would play what which made it really wild and I think we got ‘Fashun’ in two takes. I’ll never forget the look in Loren’s eye while behind the kit. A wild man was driving the train and we all loved the ride.” It melds ragged power-pop slacker indie and rousing soulful backing vocals with nods to Willie’s favourite artists such as Neil Young and George Harrison. It leaves you wanting more, insatiably so, which is lucky because there’s an entire album waiting.
‘True Stereo’ lets us know that we’re in eclectic, yet safe musical hands. It’s so different from ‘Fashun’ but delivers the same life-affirming vibe. No song on this album sounds the same, but somehow, he’s made it cohesive. It’s impressive, being able to craft an album that includes so many different genres but still identifiable as Willie J Healey.
Titular track Twin Heavy is atmospheric and contemplative. The lyrics give us a taste of the darker themes that pop up later in the album, shown through lyrics such as ‘Heartache is a traffic jam to me / It’s the killer in the night that steals your dreams,’ and refrain ‘Do you feel twin heavy?’ It’s in this song that Healey’s song writing ability really shines through.
‘Condo’ opens as if it’s the loading screen music for an 8-bit video game. It builds and builds, adding in more and more instruments and voices as you get to the crux of the song, in which he lays himself bare with such soul that it’s haunting. The sadder, chilled out mood continues in ‘For You,’ but gets slowly funkier as you reach the chorus. ‘Young love / Passes me by / Like a cold dream / In my mind,’ Healey emphasises in short, sharp bursts, like he’s holding himself back from really showing all the emotion he’s feeling.
He then goes on to, what is comparably, an angry song and releases all those held back feelings. You really feel the frustration in the last thirty seconds of ‘Heavy Traffic,’ which also happens to be my favourite part. ‘I heard caffeine induces anxiety / If you don’t like the flavour / Why you drinking it,’ he sings, showing us his staple witty lyricism, but then juxtaposes that with: ‘When you sleep / you die a little,’ leading us into the darker side of Twin Heavy.
‘Why You Gotta Do It’ feeds the person inside me that attaches way too much meaning to any song about mental health. ‘I know that it breaks your heart / Would you quit acting like you’re doomed / From the start,’ he sings so passionately that it’s hard not to feel something. Though he sounds frustrated, it’s a hopeful song about seeing the potential in someone you love, and you’d do anything for them to see it, too.
Healey ends the album with his sombre version of ‘Mambo No.5,’ ‘Caroline Needs.’ It starts with him listing names, until finally settling on letting us know what Caroline needs and the reasons why he loves her. ‘Some reasons why I love you / The stars, the moon, the sun / Without you, things are average.’ It caps off the album in such a beautiful way that is hard to find with any other artist.
Throughout the album, Healey has shared more of himself with us than he ever has before, with each song sounding like it’s come from somewhere deep within. Though he has been steadily increasing his following, and rightly so, I believe this will be the album that really sets things off into the stratosphere for him. So, in the words of ‘Fashun,’ ‘You’re gonna be a big star, honey / A real household name.’