Though Lonnie Walker frontman Brian Corum initially used the name for solo performances, this isn’t a one-man band. Rather, Lonnie Walker grew into a quintet after several of Corum’s art school buddies at East Carolina University jumped aboard before the band relocated to Raleigh to ultimately record its promising debut, These Times Old Times, together. Still, it’s hard to arguefor now, at leastthat this isn’t Corum’s band or that he’s not largely responsible for what pulls Lonnie Walker above the ramshackle roots-mining indie rock clutter.
The curly-headed frontman speak-sings in clipped streams of consciousness, matching the songs’ often sputtering rhythms to starts and stops. He recalls the unbridled energy of Langhorne Slim’s Americana punk hybrid, if he had the indie pop adventurousness to fly In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Mid-album standout “Summertime,” for instance, finds Corum’s madcap thoughtsto wit, he discusses the proper maintenance of pubic hair, cleaning cars in ’80s apparel, and his brain wearing sunglasses and sunscreenwarped into verses of twitchy acoustic guitar and fuzzy synthesizer, urged on by a quick click-clack. That wobbly structure collapses at the bridge, giving way to a breakdown of monosyllabic screams and crashing cymbals. The song emerges, returning to its stuttering beat, driven now by hi-hat, handclaps and snare. “I hope I’ve helped out you as much as you have helped out me,” Corum sings during those final three verses, a moment of clarity revealing an earnest core amid the playful rumble.
Indeed, Corum’s poetic nature puts him a cut above peers like Langhorne Slim. These songs are just vague enough to beg for interpretation, to keep the listener guessing. Corum’s clever, dropping quips like, “Little miss name that’s not unique,” while spinning his way through webs of alliteration on “Compass Comforts”: “I gotta suitcase full and a sack of stuff/ slithering through this city gruff,” he twists, “sparrows sigh when they see me stride/ through skies shot marked through my pellet eye.” During “Back Home Inside with You,” he inverts and multiplies the words even, ever, really and care until you think he’s run out of permutations. Impossibly acrobatic, the song requires about two dozen listens before its message can be properly decoded.”Back Home” is a musical highlight, too. A classic pop ballad replete with woozy Beach Boys harmonies and electric guitar that shimmers while another one aches, it ultimately climaxes into a solo that grinds through pounded keyboard lines and howled vocals.
Lonnie Walker breaks its own patterns quite often, but These Days maintains a remarkably unified feel. That’s abetted by smart, brief interludes that let the album seamlessly shift from track to track; “Horse Boots” sets up the haunting “St. Sleeper” with an atmospheric introduction built by wheezing accordion and distant horns, for instance. A muffled childhood recording of Corum’s sister, Lisa, pokes through the clouds. Such cohesion can work against some tracks, though, especially those, like “Pendulum’s Chest,” that don’t boast the strongest hook. Anchored by the rest of the album, some of the tunes have a hard time breaking from the pack and standing memorably on their own. Still, that’s a minor quibble if you’re looking for singles. If you’re simply listening, you’ll pay more attention to the flashes of brilliance from a band that seems hidebound to break traditional song structures and genre expectations.
Lonnie Walker plays The Pinhook Friday, July 31, with Schooner and DJ Charlie Burnett at 10 p.m. The suggested donation is $5. The band then plays Local 506 Tuesday, Aug. 11, with Motor Skills and Future Islands. Tickets for the 10 p.m. show are $5.