Review: Walls’ Sam Willis’s debut solo LP ‘Winterval’ (full stream)

Score: 5/5

Walls is one of those groups that appeal to the not-so-casual electronic music fan. They inspire devotion in obsessives. And now Walls member Sam Willis has released his very own debut solo LP of beautifully sublime electronica, “Winterval.”

Willis wraps the listener up in neo-Vangelis warmth (circa Blade Runner), as though we are being dropped into the realm of Morpheus, the bringer of dreams. It’s a master class in elastic ambient techno, startling in all its beautiful melancholy. Once drawn in Willis drops the beat and galloping acid bassline on “Weird Science.” Do not fear, for the sonic field is still sketched with Willis electronic wall of sound, but infused with not a little Kraftwerkian motorik.

Minimal, Berlin rhythms, devoid of color, dominate “Foxglissandro,” until Willis expertly inserts a gliding, crystalline arpeggio of synthesized notes. The synthetic color follows in short order into one of the most momentous occasions of electronica in recent memory. Like Rone, Willis is in full command of melody and arrangements here. Every note is as it should be. Nothing missing, nothing superfluous. In a word, perfection. Just past the midpoint of the song, Willis drops a delicate, glass-like arpeggio that skitters and illuminates its surroundings. One marvels at Willis’ command of electronic music equipment.

Fans of ’90s electronic music (Orbital, Underworld, Aphex Twin), such as this writer, will be more than pleased with the proceedings of the track “Frozen/Circus.” If by this point Willis hasn’t drawn the listener into his magnetic electronic underworld, then there is no hope. Leave this dominant apogee of electronica to us—we will savor it for decades. But we beseech you to enter this illuminated domain.

“140 Miles Away” is a transition from Side A to B, a virtually silent sonic poem of that approximates room tone, leading the way into “Seven Down Six Across,” a track of warm bass synths upon which various leads criss-cross, diving in and out of the void. Here, Willis sounds as if he’s conjured on some alchemical level the very essence of creation—tapped into it on an elemental level to share it with all. Deny its genius at your own peril.

A thick disco beat dominates the title track, “Winterval,” a throwback to classic techno. Tonally, it’s slightly different than the rest of the LP, reducing the melodic color to pursue a more hypnotic and direct aesthetic; but Willis no doubt knows what he’s doing. As album closer “Twirled With Your Slight Fingers” rolls around, the penultimate track’s rather colorless approach seems strategic, for this song is built of darkness. Again, Willis is back at the doormat of Vangelis, but here he’s digging deeper into an atmospheric abyss; penetrating hidden layers of the psyche with music.

All of which is to say that Sam Willis has crafted not only one of the finest records of the year, but one of the most aesthetically complete electronic albums in a very long time.

“Winterval” is out now via Kompakt. Stream the LP below.