Album Review: Westerman – Your Hero Is Not Dead

[Play It Again Sam; 2020]

Possessing a charming art-pop catalog of intoxicating singles and EPs – years in the making – the hyper-poetic (Will) Westerman has always been a tease of compelling talent. With a style that harkens to kindred predecessors, Westerman orchestrates music that feels heaven-sent. Given the gorgeous appeal of his past work, released in small portions, the possibility of a full-length offering once posed itself as a sure-fire candidate to deliver the most divine listening experience. Unfortunately, instead of fanciful art-pop full of depth, the resulting debut album Your Hero Is Not Dead is a flimsy, half-baked collection, that only seems to offer more promise for the future.

Though overflowing with his usual dream-inducing elegance, it falls short of expectations. With half of the album released as six good-to-great pre-album singles, the bar was set high for what remained. Regrettably, the remainder proves to be considerably underwhelming. In discussing the single “Waiting On Design” a couple of months back, I drew a parallel between Westerman and the late, great Arthur Russell. That turned out to be a premature evaluation on my part; though much of record hints at the aforementioned in soft hues, Westerman’s debut ultimately lacks the relatable emotional core that Russell’s music brimmed with.   

The west London–based singer-songwriter has stated in interviews that he makes music for himself, as do many artists, but we live in a time where music listeners crave connectivity. Your Hero Is Not Dead, though warm and whispy at heart, does not offer this communal space. Having spent time studying ethics, philosophy, and Greek in university, Westerman appears to be riding a concept centered around heroism and idolatry, made most evident by the album’s title and the sweeping title track. 

Unfortunately, his high-level musings never transcend into the songs themselves. By pairing excessively poetic lyrics and ambiguous introspection with a soft-spoken and slow-moving energy, Westerman’s ambient folk formula remains unremarkable, and fails to bridge the gap between him and his audience. The feathery ambiance of Your Hero Is Not Dead extends an inviting hand to listeners, but his odd topical ethereality that doesn’t necessarily sell whatever the heck he’s singing about. 

There are few moments that do provide some semblance of clarity, however. “The Line” sees Westerman ponder the rigidity of moral norms, singing over cascading synths and delicate flicks of guitar: “Am I looking too closely / Am I taking it too far / I want to know about where the line is.” From introspective musings to examinations of societal constructs, Westerman stays soul-searching; treading and dreading the world-at-large. On the jaunty little tune “Think I’ll Stay”, Westerman aims to find happiness or, at the very least, comfort, amidst the disorder of society, singing in a bright falsetto “’I will die at work / Until then keep me entertained / Now I don’t know how I got here / But now that I am I think I’ll stay.” While the record is birthed from a place of confusion, the aforementioned moments are as clear the record gets, topically.  

Many moments on Your Hero Is Not Dead, from the delicate piano opener of “Drawbridge” to the groove-driven “Confirmation (SSBD)”, cultivate a warm environment, but too many times do songs fall flat as soon they begin to take off. Though just an interlude, “Dream Appropriate” is a perfect example, as it hits listeners halfway through the record with a glistening mirage of reverb-drenched guitars, but as it slowly progresses –hinting at something bigger to come – the guitars fade away as the two-minute mark approaches. It’s one of the few cases on the album that’ll cause you to yearn for more. 

Upon the first couple of spins of the record, Your Hero Is Not Dead is as advertised – sweet and soft on the ear – but this mid-tempo record is so delicate and devoid of any real excitement that it buckles under the pressure of any scrutiny. It has no teeth. Sure, the lyrical content may display an earnest heart but it feels as though we never become entirely privy to what it harbors. And, because the record goes nowhere musically, listeners are left with little to sink into. Westerman may not have found his footing with his debut record, but there are enough parts to the whole that should keep listeners looking forward to what he does in the future.