From the slums of a broken city, Manuel Joseph Walker finds solace in a quiet bedroom crafting the lush world of Foliage that seems a million miles away from his hometown of San Bernardino. Bright jangly indie pop with more than a hint of synth pop, new wave and dream pop make their way through a brisk 28 minute album appropriately titled “III”. Yet despite its brevity, Walker, who is the only permanent member of Foliage, packs this record with a lot of new ideas.
Foliage became an underground sensation over the last couple years in the world of self-produced bedroom indie pop following the release of Truths (2015) and Silence (2017). For all his DIY ethos, III sheds much of the lo-fi feel of his roots and is a marked step forward in production, not just in tone but by incorporating field recordings. Whether that’s the result of experience or better equipment, the result is similar to a sunny walk in the park where you occasionally catch pieces of a stranger’s conversation before being launched into the next song.
Since he began writing music as a high school sophomore Walker has found his niche and has matured as a songwriter in the three years since his debut. On his early records Foliage might have been content to let the mood build with dense reverb and synths. At under a half hour running time he skips the filler here and Foliage are much more direct in approach. As Walker sings on the fantastic single “Value “can we skip that part of falling in love with each other?”
Within these self-imposed limitations Foliage still find room to experiment with their sound. On “How Have You Been” and “I’ll Miss You” we get quirky electronic rhythms which adds new character to these arrangements. “Let’s Go Home” threatens to turn into dance song before settling back down into familiar indie pop territory. “The Other Day” is the infectiously catchy highlight of the album. Occupying a space somewhere between twee and synth pop with its soothing Stereolab-esque tones. If anyone thought Foliage was a one trick pony this song offers a glimpse of promising new avenues to be explored.
The most surprising reveal is how it easily III functions as concept album after a closer inspection of the lyrics. It’s the story of a shy young man who’s cautious about love since he’s “went through these games before” on the opener “It’s Time“. He finds a new crush who seems cavalier about love, but he’s almost too tentative for his own good. On “Value” he sings “I value you too much as a person to potentially hurt you”. He becomes nervous about taking the next step while also questioning his lover’s sincerity. After a brief fling the girl leaves, deeming herself out of his league before inspiring hope of a reunion on “I’ll Miss You” and “The Other Day“. Finally when it looks like the girl wants him back the young man learns he’s better off going his own way asking “can I live my life for a while?” He’s gone through the game again as many of us do, but maybe this time he’s learned.
You can take III for its standout singles but this album is more rewarding when given time to reveal its secrets and appreciate its finer details. Foliage may have turned in the shortest album of his career so far, but it’s only because all the excesses have been stripped away and renewed focus is placed on what made this band so good in the first place.
Highlights: The Other Day, Value, Come Over
For fans of: Beach Fossils, Craft Spells, Surf Rock is Dead