“Whim” – Aly Tadros and Ben Balmer
An easy-going singer/songwriter duet, “Whim” has all the makings of the kind of thing they will play too often on your local adult-alternative station (if you happen to have a local adult-alternative station), and therefore, alas, all the makings of a song I will not like very much: the acoustic guitars, the male-female vocals, the folk-based melody. Not that I have anything against any of those things per se, at all; I’ve just been negatively trained in recent years to expect only the most tiresome and ersatz material of this ilk based on what tends to get pushed for concentrated radio play. And yet “Whim” turns out to be as sturdy, genuine, and endearing a song as can be. Go figure.
The voices are good, to begin with. Not showy, but with impressive character. Balmer, an Austin-based musician, opens the piece, and right away I am charmed by his plainspoken tone. I often enjoy singers who sing with such clarity and ease that it sounds almost as if they are still talking; it’s a characteristic I find more often with women singers than men so here it’s especially engaging. Tadros, on the other hand, sings with unaffected richness; her first solo words here are “I was singing my song/When a man came along/Said he liked the sound of my voice,” and because as a listener I was coming to that same conclusion just as she sang it, the effect is powerful. I am won over. The stories each singer sings—simplified, but with well-chosen words—are parallel but dissimilar tales of asymmetrical relationships: in his case, the woman was in for a brief kick, then left; in her case, the man keeps her as a trophy, with no heart connection. Both of them take turns singing the same chorus: “I’m a whim, I’m a whim/Just a passing thought/In the mind of the girl (man) I love.” Note when Tadros takes the lead, the chorus’s melody slips into the space between their harmonies, a move perhaps too subtle for heavy-rotation radio play. The chorus ends with a lyric both unassuming and brilliant: “I ain’t much/When push comes to shove”—spot-on both as character self-commentary and as lyrics that scan with impeccable grace.
Tadros is an American singer/songwriter with an unusual interest in international music, prompted in part by her father’s Egyptian heritage. She was born in Laredo, got started as a musician in Austin, and now lives in Brooklyn. She released her second album, The Fits, in January. Balmer was born in Michigan and lives in Austin; his debut album, Dug In, came out in October 2012. They wrote the song together in a couple of sessions while at music festivals they were each playing.