The Walkmen

Lisbon

Fat Possum

Sep 19, 2010 Issue #32 - Summer 2010 - Wasted on the Youth Bookmark and Share


It’s hard to forget the frenetic, desperate energy of The Walkmen’s breakout album, 2004’s Bows + Arrows, when listening to just about everything else they’ve recorded. Once one lets go of that expectation, however, the realization is that the mid-tempo numbers that dominate Lisbon have never sounded quite so good. One of the great appeals of The Walkmen has been their boozy, pseudo-sloppiness, but Lisbon has a clear-eyed focus to it that finally reveals how good the band truly is; it’s like a drunken friend who has cleaned up and turns out to be fascinating and intelligent and even more fun. Everybody wins.

The fine “Woe Is Me” has a surprisingly light touch, and sounds a bit like Vampire Weekend or Real Estate, bands that each owe a tip of the cap to The Walkmen. Its beach rock touches are echoed in “Angela Surf City,” one of the only songs where they untether their amazing drummer Matt Barrick (a shame: when Barrick gets going it’s like Animal from The Muppets if Animal was one of the best drummers in existence). “Torch Song”—which is just that—shows that Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals have come a long way from the frenzied yelps of Bows + Arrows or Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone. It remains, however, one of the finer instruments in rock, a tender, nervous thing that can expand into a dramatic engine for the music, as during the understated “While I Shovel the Snow,” where he’s backed by tonal guitars and muted horns that sound as though they could be coming from the next room. The result is a sweet loneliness. The standout could be the elegant “Blue as your Blood.” It builds an insistent rhythm out of the tick-tock of picked guitars and Barrick’s percussion that then gets undermined by Leithauser’s supple vocals.

Those who wait for The Walkmen to drink some espresso or do some Ritalin and let loose as they did back in the day are missing out on one of the finer bands making music right now. Lisbon is an excellent, cohesive album full of surprise and emotion, not a simple show of force. (www.marcata.net/walkmen

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