By Zach Troyanovsky
The first time I heard Felix Walworth’s quivering vocals it was on an early morning drive with my Freshman year roommate. I remember wondering how someone could possibly drive so confidently while listening to music that sounded as uncertain as Told Slant’s. That summer I saw Told Slant play at Trans-Pecos on the same bill as Skidmore alumnus Katie Bennett (Free Cake For Every Creature). I remember turning to my then girlfriend when Felix played “Tsunami,” and seeing tears roll down her cheeks. It was a bare bones down-tempo track that consisted largely of a call and response between Felix and the audience: “Isn’t this silly and aren’t you beautiful?” In the meditative trance induced by this tragic antiphony two things became clear to me: 1) everyone here is alone and 2) everyone wants desperately not to be. I went home that night and listened through Felix’s discography (just two albums at that point). 2016’s Going By, closes with a re-appearance of the chorus from “Tsunami” before the instrumentation cuts out and Felix’s lone voice asks “so why are we treating each other like animals?”
In some ways, I have spent the four years since Told Slant’s last record contemplating this exact question. As we transition into adulthood, our journeys in college and everything are filled with mistakes and regrets. Yet, we are surrounded by a culture that does not promote accountability, either institutionally or interpersonally. It feels wrong to explain our misgivings as mere symptoms of our surroundings or as inherent personal failures, and when the world punishes you for your identity it becomes even harder to draw that line. On Told Slant’s newest record Point The Flashlight and Walk, Felix explores a variety of answers to this dilemma. Having taught themselves harp, this new record is more textured and bold than any previous output from the band. Yet, like the rest of us, Felix doesn’t have the answers. Tracks like “Run Around the School” and “Whirlpool” question the limits of devotion to other people as a way of escaping such existential dilemmas. If you devote your existence to the ones you love, can you escape these greater questions? “But there is the one you love/ there is the love you want/ there is their want you love/ and you can’t hold them all” sings Felix in the last verse of “Run Around the School.”
Meanwhile on the opening track, “Meet You in the City,” Felix sings about body dysmorphia, suicidal ideation, medication,and how personal connections can help us bear the burden of our issues. In 2012, a Told Slant track might have nervously examined these topics with an air of caution surrounding their vulnerability, but today Felix tackles them head-on, picking apart just what it means to share that burden and if those connections are just distractions from the things that plague us as individuals. On “Bullfrog Choirs,” the most energetic track on the record, Felix sets the tone for the rest of the album by singing about knowing every detail of someone’s face for the rest of their life, while also using the chorus to revel in the notion that they are “always alone.”
It is admittedly strange to hear this once crippling realization, made plain to you by the very same person all those years ago, sung proudly over such inspiring instrumentation. However, I’d like to believe that those years spent contemplating those questions gave me a bit of insight into why Felix sounds so god-damn confident in this moment. The realization that we are alone is a human one. Though misguided notions of escapism and avoidance may lead us to make mistakes in the connections that we once expected to numb our existential dilemmas, they too are human errors. These mishaps are just a part of a process. This is not to say that Told Slant’s new record is an emergence from some long metaphorical tunnel. There is no end to the tunnel, that’s all we get. But at some point, you get sick of just talking and decide to Point the Flashlight and Walk.