“My generation’s full of strangers, who wanna stay inside and play,” TW Walsh sings blankly in “My Generation,” a withering critique of dwindling attention spans that have become the norm.
Even a surface listen shows Walsh, a multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and songwriter, formerly of indie rock bands Pedro the Lion and The Soft Drugs, is deeply troubled by the world’s plug-in-turn-on mentality. Terrible Freedom seems to be his guide for living in this apocalypse, sage advice when there’s nothing left but androids and electricity.
“Whatever comes, just let it arrive,” he assures us on the title track, which rides atop a jumpy keyboard, electronic handclaps and vocal loops. The song is a bleak landscape of keyboard dots and echoes that bounce like steel springs around a narrative of lost childhood and dwindling hope, and, like the rest of the album, it’s a joy to hear.
Walsh says Terrible Freedom is “about fear and liberation, space and time, the self and the mind.” Those are all fairly deep concepts that could tank an album if tackled all at once, but he lets the song elements breathe, allowing the lyrics to settle in and make a sizable impact without being heavy.
The theme of an oppressive digital world returns often on the album, whether he’s reminiscing over classic cars or blandly singing about human nature and its hypocrisy. The quirky, funky “Dead Landmines” paints a desolate picture of tanking markets, global destruction and the evergreen ignorance of youth with a nearly haywire improvised keyboard line. The dream synth hook on “Dropout” echoes the so-called “good old days” before the internet. Walsh suggests we “Go for a drive, like your daddy used to do in 1965,” or at least turn the plastic knob on the car radio instead of “call(ing) your guru on Skype.”
His clean, Americana-style guitar playing on “Dropout” continues into the steady beat and sliding bass of “High Numbers.” On “Fake Disease,” another bumpy ride of synth and guitar pulses, Walsh sounds like a cranky “back in my day” cynic appealing to others caught up in the latest computer system update and “buying garbage that goes in the trash.”
Yet by the end of Terrible Freedom, he’s become part of that social disconnect he railed against at the start. On the stark piano ballad “Is That Wrong,” he says, “I won’t reveal the things dearest to me in song/Is that wrong?” Asking for approval from the generation that turned against him might be the most destructive thing he does.