Release Date: Jun 24, 2014
Record label: Mexican Summer
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Much like the rugged, yet refined quality he brought to The Walkmen, Peter Matthew Bauer’s debut solo album has that sort of grit you want to plunge your hands into. Brushed drums and colorful spreads of reverb paint Liberation!, modestly complimenting trills of Petty-esque vocals. The lyricism, according to Bauer, aims to confront that paradox of finding light within seemingly endless darkness.
It’s a strange thing when the low-key member of the band turns out to have been harboring a formidable voice and vision all along. Few in 1966 predicted the first great Beatles solo record, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, would come from the “quiet Beatle” four years later. Fewer still imagined in 1991 that Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl would wind up the frontman of another multi-platinum band.
Peter Matthew Bauer's Liberation! marks his first time singing, writing lyrics, and leading a band; it’s also the first project he’s worked on since his tenure as bassist and organist in the Walkmen, who, in Bauer’s own words, are on a “pretty extreme hiatus. ” Taking those milestones into account, Liberation! is a bold stroke on a blank canvas, with songs that celebrate freedom and fear in the same breath, two emotions that definitely crop up when someone’s moving on in life. Bauer’s musical palette is broad and unique, expanding past the sounds of his previous band: he implements polyrhythmic island music on the the title track, the sounds of slow 1960s beat bands on “Shiva the Destroyer”, and true American heartland rock on “Irish Wake In Varanasi (For Big Pete Devlin)”.
As a founding member of fever-pitched indie act the Walkmen, Peter Matthew Bauer handled bass and organ duties for well over a decade before the band went on indefinite hiatus in late 2013. Bauer debuts as a solo artist with Liberation!, calling on the guidance and spirit of some of the best names in the American singer/songwriter tradition. It's unlikely that the album title is referring to Bauer's liberation from his tenure in the Walkmen, especially as Walkmen drummer Matthew Barrick lends his percussion talents to many of the tracks, and the heavier compositions lean on some of the same wry, swaying, melodic tendencies that characterized much of the Walkmen catalog.
Like his former bandmates in The Walkmen, Walter Martin and Hamilton Leithauser, bassist Peter Matthew Bauer is releasing a solo album. You might think the album’s title, with emphatic exclamation mark, is a statement of newfound freedom now the Washington band are “on extreme hiatus” (read “broken up”), and Bauer certainly sounds limber and unshackled, especially on the Bright Eyes-ey ‘Philadelphia Raga’. The opening song is a bit of a giveaway, however.
If the individual members of The Walkmen have been feeling any sense of sentimentality about the band’s apparent demise late last year, they certainly aren’t betraying it. With the New York outfit’s collective corpse yet to go cold - albeit, one for which reanimation has yet to be unequivocally ruled out - we already have slew of solo offerings to kick off their “pretty extreme hiatus”; after Walter Martin’s We’re All Young Together landed in May, frontman Hamilton Leithauser dropped the superb Black Hours earlier this month. Peter Matthew Bauer, a comrade of Leithauser’s as far back as their days in The Recoys, is hot on his heels with Liberation! It’d be naive not to assume some kind of significance as far as the title’s concerned; not only in terms of Bauer’s new-found freedom from the band dynamic he was used to, but also with regard to the fact that unlike Martin and Leithauser’s broadly collaborative efforts, both of which featured contributions from former Walkmen, this record feels like a more genuine solo affair.
Comparing The Walkmen’s 2013 breakup to that of The Beatles is a bit of a stretch, except in one important respect: 13 years of dedication to the New York group’s expansive post-punk-pop sound led several of its members to build a stockpile of material reflecting his individual artistic growth, without leaving him time to fully develop and promote a side project. Now, the floodgates are open: Peter Matthew Bauer‘s Liberation! is the third solo project from a former Walkman this year, following Hamilton Leithauser’s lush Black Hours and Walker Martin’s kid-friendly We’re All Young Together. Liberation! is a loose collection of vignettes outlining Bauer’s coming of age, beginning long before he joined The Walkmen.
News of the Walkmen's "extreme hiatus" may have incited sadness in fans, but its members are far from done with their mission to spread dishevelled alt-rock to the masses. The group's third solo venture comes from former bassist Peter Bauer, inspired by his childhood living in ashrams, and musings on myths and religion. Liberation!'s temperament is more delicate and ambiguous than its sparky punctuation suggests: Bauer mimics Arcade Fire circa Suburbs on Shaved Heads & Pony Tails, Deerhunter's Lockett Pundt on Philadelphia Raga, the War on Drugs throughout, and hauntings of his former group on Irish Wake in Varanasi (For Big Pete Devlin).
I used to be a big fan of The Walkmen, in particular their song 'The Rat' from Bows & Arrows with its pained refrain "you've got a nerve to be asking a favour". Their plaintive yelps and needling guitar lines felt like they should be a secret, listened to with the lights down low. It didn't do them any harm, but it didn't change them – remaining cult they continued their straining melancholy and affecting lyrics on a couple of great albums, A Hundred Miles Off and Lisbon.
With his main group, the Walkmen, on “extreme hiatus” since last year, bassist and organ player Peter Matthew Bauer has been working on this first solo LP, a solid indie album with a multi-cultural motif and a distinctly NYC vibe. Liberation! telegraphs sheer, electric confidence from the first track, I Was Born In An Ashram, which starts out with the sound of children shouting before transitioning into a cool, echoey, guitar-driven ode to the small town life and the wide open future. Happily, this initial confidence continues throughout for an album that, despite thematic pitfalls, carries a consistently engaging, enthused and affable tone.