With the rate at which groups come and go and with the extremely fleeting attention of most fans, it is rare to see an established indie act these days. The Walkmen are one of those groups. Does their newest live up the legacy of their previous work?
Release Date: May 29, 2012
Running Time: 47:00
Label: Fat Possum Records
Genre: Dream Rock
“We Can’t Be Beat”
“Line By Line”
“The Love You Love”
I think we can say it now; The Walkmen are officially elder statesmen of indie rock. The quintet formed in 1999 and consist of Fire Eaters Walter Martin (vocals, organ, etc.), Paul Maroon (guitars), and Matt Barrick (drums) and ex-Recoys Hamilton Leithauser (vocals) and Peter Bauer (bass). From Washington D.C., the guys (some of whom have known each other since grade school) grew up playing in dueling bands around the city, before The Walkmen officially formed. The band claims influence from such diverse bands as the Pogues, Joy Division, Bruce Springsteen, Björk, U2, New Order, the Smiths, and the Cure. Their new music has favorably been compared to Pixies, Brian Eno, and the Velvet Underground with strong hints of U2 and Television. That is a fairly confounding mixture for anyone that hasn’t heard their sound, yet oddly representative of the sound. With their newest LP Heaven (The band’s seventh since 2002), the band is refining their sound which will likely make their pop fans happy, but might also leave the rock fans wanting.
Heaven is an album the finds the band expanding on the sound of the critically successful 2010 release, Lisbon. The Walkmen have stripped a lot of the raw energy out of their music in favor of more streamlined songscapes and cleaner production. This does seems to be the natural procession of careers, but I don’t think it necessarily means the band doesn’t still have a few nice tricks up there sleeve; patience being a key example. The album begins with one of its more subtle and pleasant moments; the ironically titled “We Can’t Be Beat”. Here Leithauser’s vocals sound similar to Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors fame, but the music is far less than deconstructionist and even that vocal similarity fades as the record develops. Perhaps tipping their hat to the guest vocal performances from Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, the arrangements do have larger chamber pop echoes. While this was a band that wasn’t afraid to let songs fall apart chaotically on albums like You & Me, nary a note is misplaced on Heaven. Even many of their more ramshackle influences are missing; the only thing approaching a Velvet Underground sound comes in the form of “Line By Line”. Yet, much like Pecknold’s Fleet Foxes, if you give these songs time to synch in, there is a worthwhile payoff.
Tracks like “Heartbreaker” and “The Witch” offer some brilliant pop vocals from Leithauser, but develop real magic thanks to the stutter-step percussion of Matt Barrick. “Song For Leigh” offers up a groove sophisticated enough to be confused for Spoon. Yet, the real crux of an argument in favor of the album lies with the track “Jerry Jr.’s Tune”. This little instrumental will seem like a perfect example of why Heaven has absolutely no point, outside of rambling nicety. Yet, if you just sit back and give the song a few listens, the joy of having nothing to do can and will grow on you. We’ve heard a few records like this so far this year. Like the Shins’ Port of Morrow and Admiral Fallow’s Tree Bursts In Snow, Heaven is clearly a document about the beauty and craft of subtlety. If you have an ear that appreciates those subtleties, then you mostly likely enjoy this record. Of course, it takes a good amount of patience to get yourself there.
Purchase The Walkmen’s Heaven