The Walkmen – Heaven (Fat Possum Records)


Heaven

(This mini-review originally appeared at www.spectrumcluture.com)

Whether or not it was intended that way, Heaven feels like the culmination of the Walkmen‘s first decade as a band. The NYC quintet have evolved over that time, but it’s been more of a “slow and steady wins the race” kind of evolution, which tells me they’re in it for the long haul and not simply bandwagoning for cash. On Heaven, they continue to explore the songwriting maturation that began with 2010’s Lisbon – a maturity that can only come from experience and confidence in your abilities. Singer Hamilton Leithauser’s vocal skills have increased with each successive release, and his performances on Heaven (on the back-to-back duo of “Southern Heart” and “Line By Line,” in particular) are as affecting as anything else out there right now. If you miss the wild mercury sound of the band’s younger days as heard on “We’ve Been Had” and “The Rat”, well, those days are probably gone for good. However, “Heartbreaker” and the tremolo-laden title track are equally suitable for modern rock radio, but with a tasteful restraint that makes them more powerful, if less immediate. Where The Walkmen go from here is anyone’s guess, but if they can continue the upward trajectory of the past 10 years, we’re in for a real treat.

Tracklisting:

  • We Can’t Be Beat – 4:43
  • Love Is Luck – 3:26
  • Heartbreaker – 3:15
  • The Witch – 3:33
  • Southern Heart – 3:01
  • Line by Line – 5:05
  • Song for Leigh – 3:38
  • Nightingales – 4:03
  • Jerry Jr.’s Tune – 1:33
  • The Love You Love – 3:07
  • Heaven – 4:26
  • No One Ever Sleeps – 2:42
  • Dreamboat – 4:35
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The Walkmen – You & Me (Gigantic Music)


You & Me discards The Walkmen’s poppier tendencies that got songs like “The Rat” onto alternative rock radio stations. The band’s fifth album mines a moody low-key vibe that still sounds like the Walkmen, but aligns better with literary types like Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave than their early-2000’s New York peers. They’ve always had slower songs sprinkled throughout their albums, but they’ve gone from side dishes to the main course. The songwriting maturation suits the band well, with Hamilton Leithauser’s twisted croon riding smoothly over the backing music to create a musical landscape that suggests the feeling of drinking in an almost empty bar on a Tuesday night. You may miss the upbeat rock of “We’ve Been Had” and “Little House Of Savages” – truth be told, You & Me would benefit from a few jolting moments like these, especially in the dreary final third – but there’s enough quality songs like “On The Water” and the achingly beautiful ballad “Red Moon”. The Walkmen may not get as much press as the bands they’re commonly associated with, and while it’s doubtful that You & Me will do much to change that, it’s another solid album from a band that’s quietly putting together an impressive body of work.