Keys player Robert Walter has been a master of funky grooves with the Greyboy Allstars, his own bands, and as a guest in various settings. With his new release, Spacesuit, Walter is breaking free from the Earth's gravity and exploring the outer limits of electronic keyboard possibilities.
Due for release on September 21st, Spacesuit marks the debut of the current line-up of Robert Walter's 20th Congress, which he formed in 1999. Where the previous album, 2013's Get Thy Bearings, included many of his friends from the Greyboy Allstars, Walter counts this group as his regular working band in New Orleans.
Chris Alford is featured on guitar with Victor Little playing bass and Simon Lott on drums. Their various experiences working across genres range from jazz singer Cassandra Wilson to blues man Charlie Musselwhite to rapper Kool Keith. That musical flexibility is just what's needed for the Spacesuit album.
Walter says, "I was needing new inspiration, so I started digging into sci-fi films and comic books. It gave me something else to draw from other than just music." Musically, the inspirations are similarly futuristic - early dub reggae and jazz fusion, as well as the motorik synthesizers of krautrock.
(His "mixtape" of sonic influences can be found here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5L07ypFIniVtq8wzavHdlj)
The Kickstarter campaign for the album shared further details of the creative process, including the art of H.R. Giger, Chris Foss and others that Walter showed to his bandmates to inspire them. "Drawing from non-musical sources helped infuse the album with a unique palette of sonic colors," he says.
Robert Walter's devotion to the Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes makes room for various synthesizers on Spacesuit. The first single, "Current Futures", sounds like obscure 70s sci-fi film score material. Similarly, "Modifier", "Emanate", and especially "13th Key" are cool, dramatic soundscapes ripe for appreciation by the growing community of film score fans. If you must be stranded on an alien planet, this is the music you want with you.
On The New Cool this weekend, you'll hear the second single from Spacesuit “Nerva And Dumbo”, named for a pair of experimental NASA rockets. Greyboy Allstars fans will recognize the classic Robert Walter groove and bounce on this one, as well as album closer "Most of All of Us", while "Posthuman" and "Chalk Giant" strut along the highway between the two styles. It's compelling, fresh music from Robert Walter, evidence of an artist exploring new ways to think about and create his art while not sacrificing his own style.
Distorted communications from an astronaut on the launchpad opens the album, appearing again midway through both sides of the record to remind the listener that the weightlessness they may be experiencing is entirely appropriate. The album's post script is a shorty, washy synth piece called "Electric Blanket", not credited on the vinyl, that leaves the listener both blissed out and spaced out.
“I always want to make the record that I wish I found going through the record stacks,” he says. “I love the idea of trying to create an imaginary film or a record from 1972 that you wish you could buy.” Spacesuit does just that, while almost daring you to make that imaginary film. Along with this album, though, your imagination is all you need.
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.