Release Date: Sep 14, 2010
Record label: Fat Possum
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Garage Rock Revival
It’s claimed that, in the average city, you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. That distance must feel like an ocean to [a]The Walkmen[/a] who, since 2004, have been haunted by their own musical millstone, ‘[b]The Rat[/b]’. As venomous break-up songs go it’s hard to beat, but for all the song’s brilliance it is, despite claims to the contrary, overshadowed by the New York-based band’s subsequent evolution.Take 2008’s ‘[b]You & Me[/b]’, a sublime shift for the band, who, having specialised in the pains of the heart, embraced a warmer pathos and wider, brass-infused horizons.
Review Summary: The Walkmen age gracefully.Unlike many of their contemporaries who decided to burn out in a temporary burst of creativity or fade away in repetitive ignominy, the Walkmen have only continued to get better. It’s a bit of a surprise when you consider the band predicated their success on a piss-and-vinegar brand of youthful fire and youthful anger, that New York City vigor and rage exemplified in “The Rat,” the band’s best known song off their 2004 breakthrough Bows + Arrows. It’s the kind of spirit that’s all too easy to dissipate as the years pass, and the Walkmen, truth be told, have been no exception.
If I’d had a conversation with you about the best albums released post-2008, chances are - after incessantly hitting you upside the head with a copy of the Let’s Wrestle debut until you swore on your mother’s eternal soul that they were better than the Beatles, whatever your favourite food is, the reassuring embrace of your one true love and finding soiled scraps of pornography in foliage as a ten-year-old boy dawdling through a pre-internet age - I would’ve mentioned The Walkmen’s You & Me. Equally, there’s a good chance I would’ve blurted on about how obscenely underrated it was and deserving of the sort of across-the-board, superlative-suffocated praise usually reserved for newborns and… I dunno… crisps or summat. But then, You & Me seemed to have received a unanimous vote of confidence, including a juicy five over five from The Guardian and a glowing review from Pitchfork that signed-off with this loving line: ‘this is the sound they've reached for since the very beginning, and they've never played it as gracefully or confidently as they do here’.
The Walkmen are kings of dejection. For about a decade now, they've turned their albums into symphonies of disappointment and resentment and regret. Their proudest moments, then, are also their most down-and-out. Their best song, "The Rat", is a world-weary, old-before-its-time rager, a song from a young guy seeing that he's already falling out of step with the universe and feeling pissed about it.
Retaining their signature vintage sound, The Walkmen are back with another full-length album, Lisbon. As the band continues to refine its style, a lot of this record seems familiar with repetitive rhythms and slow-burn vocals—but yet again, it works. “Angela Surf City” features Matt Barrick’s drumming that is first steady then, as if charmed by Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals, rises and falls in episodic explosions.
I can still remember the first time I heard the Walkmen. It was 2002, a cold December’s day as I recall, and the New York quintet were the main support act on Idlewild’s UK tour. My good friend Peter Mattinson had travelled over to Sheffield to help me interview the headliners and cocky newcomers The Star Spangles, who were the opening act on the bill.
Back in 2002, Startime International had an arsenal of young rock bands including French Kicks, the Natural History, the Joggers, and the Walkmen. They were all unfairly compared to the Strokes, and they all shared some aesthetic similarities -- razor sharp guitars, swinging percussion, crooning vocals. But based on their understated debut from that year, Everyone Who Used to Like Me Is Gone, it would have been hard to predict the Walkmen as the break-out stars of that group.
Already bethrothed to two cities, with members split between New York and Philadelphia, the Walkmen now pin their colours to another civic mast after a couple of inspiring trips to the Portuguese capital. It's hard to say that any specifically Iberian influence is audible here – this album's sound was more or less in place on 2008's much-admired You & Me – but it's nonetheless another lovely record. Opener Juveniles sets the mood to come: relatively downtempo, but full of airy echo and sultry low-end reverberations, and as melodically adept as ever.
“Don’t get heavy, let’s be light,” Hamilton Leithauser sings on “Woe Is Me,” and that seems to be the Walkmen's creed on Lisbon. The Walkmen were more than heavy on their previous album, the gorgeously moody You & Me, and it’s hard not to read the more upbeat attitude they have here as a response. This time, they dance on their troubles instead of drowning their sorrows -- although the organ on album opener “Juveniles” warms like the first sip of wine.
The career of the Walkmen has, despite the description du jour of the band—drunken, lonely, dark, lost—remained remarkably steady. Since the band’s debut, 2002’s Everybody Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, Hamilton Leithauser and his shambolic crew of castaways (Paul Maroon, Walter Martin, and Matt Barick from Jonathan Fire*Eater; Leithauser and Peter Bauer from the Recoys) have been accountable for at least two of three things every two years: an album release, a progression in sound, and at least one incredibly affecting song. Whether it’s the advertising jingle “We’ve Been Had”, the raging punk blast of “Bows + Arrows”, the hopeless loss embodied by “Another One Goes By” or “In the New Year”, the group can always be counted on to deliver a track among the best of a given year.
There comes a time in every reviewer’s life when he/she has to admit that she/he is letting his/her feelings get in the way of an objective review. This, however, is not one of those times. Despite Lisbon’s dullard-isms, which I will fully detail via the conclusion to this review and the shoddy “3” grade attached, The Walkmen have taken another step toward becoming the band we all knew they COULD/SHOULD/WOULD become.
A collation and culmination of their finest work in years. Reef Younis 2010. Let’s play a little word association. "The Walkmen"… "The Rat". It’s an immediate response. A reflex. A justifiably clichéd answer eternally associated with the band despite the fact they’re now six albums and a ….
No one captures a drunken stupor better than the Walkmen. Reportedly inspired by two rainy trips to the Portugese capital, Lisbon nevertheless sounds like a continuation of the NYC outfit's 2008 turning point, You & Me, a dramatic din of last-call waltzes and dimly lit remembrances. That's especially true of opener "Juveniles," in which Hamilton Leithauser concludes, "You're one of us or one of them," and "Blue as Your Blood," whose wall of sound offsets the singer's raspy ache.
For much of their career, The Walkmen have always been mired by what many consider to be the band’s best assets. Subtle touches and minimal compositions are at the core and around that is always some kind of guitar melody and Hamilton Leithauser’s uniquely essential vocals. On “While I Shovel the Snow,” he’s singing about the weather and remarkably, the tones and chords decorate the image of somber winter.