If the current vintage rock movement of the indie rock scene needed a poster band to represent it, The Walkmen would certainly be in line for the position. Hell, in my opinion, Hamilton Leithauser‘s, the group’s guitar wielding front man, musical abilities teeter just about as close to mirroring Jim Morrison as a person can without gaining the need to move to Paris, grow a beard and die alone in a bathtub.
Take “Dónde está la Playa,” the opening track to the Walkmen’s newest album You & Me, for example: Leithauser’s dramatic vocals, placed over a drum and bass sound that seems somewhat dated in the mid-sixties, approach a moody mixture of aggression and angst, regardless of the actual lyrical content. Every word out of Leithauser’s mouth is approached as though it were written with exclamation points at the end. They fly at you quickly, hitting your ears in a manner very similar to someone poking you in the chest to emphasize every word.
“Flamingos (for Colbert),” the albums second cut, serves as nothing more than a beautiful instrumental introduction into track three, “On the Water.” Beginning slightly calmer than “Dónde está la Playa,” with a bit of an alt-country meets The Shins if they were fronted by Bob Dylan, “On the Water” works itself up, becoming more and more in your face as the song progresses through it’s predetermined course. The sleigh bells, followed by whistling in the outro at around the two and one half minute mark, completes the upswing of aggression, completing the number on a fairly creative note.
This ideally serves as the perfect way to ease into the wonderfully written “In the New Year,” which might be the best track on the album. Comparable to a calmer version of “The Rat,” from their 2004 critically acclaimed album Bows + Arrows, the track is true to the sound that pushed The Walkmen into the limelight in the first place. With unsettled vocal patterns that flow progressively over a rather charming organ riff, “In the New Year” has a handful of hooks that will lodge this song in your mind for days like an iPod jammed on repeat. There is no denying the genius of this piece.
Slowing things down a bit, the band counters the previous upbeat feel of the album with “Seven Years of Holidays (for Stretch),” a mock drunken-lullaby I picture being belted out in unison by a collection of talking heads drinking Knob Creek in the local dive bar blocks from home. The drum roll introduction leads into a borderline alt-country, borderline John Philip Sousa drum progression, played over guitars intended to not distract from the lyrical storyline. The vocals are charming, the percussion is precise, and the song is yet another piece of a pattern that placed together, is intended to create a near flawless album.
“Postcards from Tiny Islands,” the album’s next song is more of a sprint than a marathon. From the song’s first second, the riffs take off, progressively gaining speed, before reaching a full gallop in the chorus. The energy of this song is undeniable and in your face. The guitars in the chorus bitch and moan, seemingly pissed by their current situation. At several points, the patterns slow just enough to allow the instruments to catch their breath, before catching their second wind and barreling off again. From beginning to end, this song pushes forward, ending just as frantically as it starts, almost leaving the listener tired from its path. Yet, because of its infectious nature, you just can’t help but want to listen to it again.
Following the frantic activity of “Postcards from Tiny Islands,” The Walkmen have placed the calming “Red Moon.” Featuring comfortable patterns composed with piano, emphasized by the horn section subtly slipped in, and a crooning vocal pattern that would make Old Blue Eyes himself proud, this selection is songwriting at its best. Flowing nicely into the album’s next song, “Canadian Girl,” this duo stands out strongly while slightly changing the general feel of the album before finding its way back to the norm of what The Walkmen have come to be known as on “Four Provinces.” However, they remain in the signature sound for only that one track, before swapping back to an almost folk combo in “New Country” and “I Lost You,” before finishing up the album strong with “If Only It Were You,” a song I could easily see on a M. Ward album. Not a bad way to end an album, if I do say so myself.
In other news, You & Me is currently available for five dollars here. For every record sold five dollars will be donated to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Otherwise, this album will be made available to the public on August 19th on Gigantic Records. You would be well advised to check it out.