Particle Kid, while for all intents and purposes considered a full band, is largely the solo project of Micah Nelson. If the surname Nelson gets your music royalty sensors tingling – and you’re not put off by the undoubtedly millions of Nelsons in the world – well rest assured they’re functioning as they should. Micah is indeed the offspring of the great Willie, though it seems no small amount of effort has gone into distancing himself musically – if not personally – from his legendary heritage. The music of Particle Kid has tended to champion grit and overdrive over any country twang tendencies, and third outing Window Rock is no different.
It’s still tempting to look for Willie’s ghost in these songs and it does flicker in and out in the way it would through any music steeped in folk-rock Americana. But by and large, Micah Nelson gets his wish and Window Rock really does need to be afforded its own platform and listened to in its own right. More expansive and grittier, even than his own previous efforts, it marks the first time his touring band has joined him in the recording. It’s the sound of a full band projecting outward, dealing with modern pressures and injustices through their instruments; and when they capture this with the purity of the moment, it really works.
‘Radio Flyer’ follows the pulsing and textural rock formula most comfortably and clearly without trying too much out of left field – searing guitar solo and all – and is resultantly one of the best tracks on the record. ‘Stroboscopic Light’ is another good example of utilizing this energy, playing well into the ‘verbed out nostalgic highway rock n roll bands like The War on Drugs have recently build a career on. It’s when Nelson seeks to blend genres, that some seams begin to appear. The punk elements he plays with, notably the tendency to bring the smooth gravel of his voice into a scream on tracks like ‘Backwards’ and ‘Magic Mirror’, tend to take away from what are otherwise strong melodies and sonic backdrops. While slow-burner ‘Variac’, for all its pretty piano parts, meanders a little and similarly falls to grating vocals at odds with where the song could have gone.
In fairness, you can see the angle Nelson goes for. It’s a record that faces up to interesting themes of isolation and tribalism in a toxic digital culture. While lyrics about “pregnant mothers workin’ nine to five” amid “everyone you know is a daughter or a son” tropes in ‘Magic Mirror’ can be a little on the nose, these are largely issues of deep dissonance and societal rupture of which the directed anger is being released through parallel musical elements. That’s admirable, and for the most part, makes Window Rock a hell of a ride, but also makes it not the most cohesive of records.