It’s been four years since Felix Walworth aka Told Slant released an album, and they have certainly had to do a lot of growing up in that time. Although, a cursory look at the details of their new album may lead you to believe that they’ve regressed back into adolescence: Point The Flashlight and Walk sounds like a boy scout motto; track titles like “Bullfrog Choirs”, “No Backpack” and “Run Around The School” suggest the work of a daydreaming teenager; and the album cover looks more like the front a children’s bed-time story. Well, that’s all not too far off the truth, since Point The Flashlight and Walk is like a fairytale – it seems whimsical and bright on the surface, but it’s all allegory for a much darker truth lurking underneath.
That thing peeking through the cracks is Walworth’s big bruised heart, which is in constant battle with their anxiety. It’s a war that rages across Flashlight, although you might not always realise it as it’s placed amidst gorgeous indie-folk, with pinging banjos and buzzing organ adding a rustic warmth to their homespun sound. Rather than break the instrumental spell by laying out all their woes in blunt language, Walworth often opts to uses images of fantastical animals and plants to express themselves – before clanging back to Earth with a hard-earned, real-world truth. This approach works perfectly with their voice, which has plenty of texture and diversity, and acts as a barometer for their feelings, ascending through moments of joy and crumbling to guttural mumbles when they want the world to collapse in on them – which often happens within the same song.
“You have to want to go / past the access roads / with your flashlight drawn / run the darkness through,” Walworth begins on “Bullfrog Choirs”, a beautiful metaphor for how they’ve pushed themselves to write the most personal and painful songs of their career. Most of them deal with devotion to another, exploring the unhealthy emotional patterns that can come from that, and the clarity with which Walworth paints these images can only have come from personal experience. What makes them hit all the harder is that they’re written from a point where they’re still heavily in love, not even realising how unhealthy it is – or just choosing to ignore it.
“From The Roof Beams” is a heartbreaking beauty, where Walworth re-affirms their commitment to another (“I’ll stay with you… even when it’s scary to”), but in reality they’d rather just become a spirit watch the world continue without them in it – “like Tom and Huck up in the roof beams.” On the twinkling “Run Around The School”, Walworth’s adoration is so overwhelming that it makes them feel as though they’re a teenager again, but there’s a sting as they admit “Caring for you, so I don’t have to care for myself / Living is hard when you don’t want me to.” However, “Run Around The School” is just so beautiful that it’s likely to be co-opted by loved-up couples everywhere who don’t read between the lines (and Told Slant is probably fine with that, they did choose to make it sound just so damn joyous, after all).
On the other end of the scale are the instances where Walworth fully inhabits their slovenly depression. “Whirlpool” is a surreptitiously heavy piece, where acoustic guitar ripples and glistens as they admit “I just want to know you,” before adding “But that’s hard / because I used to.” On the leaden “Anchor”, Walworth drawls “I will wait for you forever / Like a sunken boat-less anchor,” their commitment to this other person literally rooting them eternally in place.
Walworth does drop a couple of clues that they’ve learned from their mistakes though. “Flashlight On” is the prime example, where they admit “I was hiding from me by putting you in the way,” and as the sprightly and continually blossoming track reaches its conclusion they resolve: “I’ve spent so much of my life with no passion at all / Just want to get lost, point the flashlight and walk.”
All this focus on Walworth’s lyricism shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Point The Flashlight and Walk is a sonic pearl as much as a poetic one. The album was arranged and performed all by Walworth themselves in their bedroom, which explains the warmth and intimacy of it – but it’s also expansive and dynamic in a way that is reminiscent of 2000s indie favourites like Sung Tongs or The Glow pt. 2. Acoustic guitar, banjo, simple drums and wurlitzer are their main arsenal, and are recorded and arranged expertly to act like a generous hand reaching out to guide us through the fantastic forest of tangled turmoil.
It can’t have been easy for Walworth to have dredged up all these personal insecurities and presented them in such an honest fashion, but that’s where the mission statement “point the flashlight and walk” comes in – they were determined to go where things get dark and scary, and the purity of the results speak for themselves. The record ends with “Walking With The Moon”, Walworth strolling under the biggest and most inescapable flashlight of all, boiling all of what’s come before down to one simple question: “shouldn’t I love you?” It’s a question that nobody but Walworth themselves can answer, but just by putting this and all their other conflicts out into the world, they’ve helped countless people feel understood, and pushed them closer to finding their own answers.