Music Reviews

The Walkmen

Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone


Out of nowhere, a seriously flawed rock album by five white dudes I’d never heard of before has leapt into my heart. Three of these guys used to be in Jonathan Fire*Eater, a critic’s darling band I never actually listened to, and two of them were in The Recoys, a band so obscure that if you try to go to their Web site you get Mexican porn pop-ups all over your screen. But the unified band called The Walkmen have made an album that is wild and weird and way better than that crap you’re listening to. Seriously, take that shit off – that’s just embarrassing. Listen to The Walkmen.

They have great songs shot through with melancholy and a good sense of humor and enervated spunkiness, but so do a lot of other bands. They have roots in classic rock and ’80s new wave and avant garde ’60s/’70s stuff and soul music and rockabilly, but so do a lot of other bands these days. The Walkmen, however, have three secret weapons that set them apart.

The first: Hamilton Leithauser’s voice. It’s not a pretty voice… hell, it’s not even a reliable voice. But it’s glorious nonetheless; he warbles and swoops and sighs and in general acts like the second coming of Tom Verlaine back when Television was the best band in New York. (Some have compared him to Bono, and I won’t deny that.) Hearing Leithauser search for the right note is thrilling, because he’s so far off it’s scary, and then suddenly, BOOM, he’s hit it and moved on. This is cool when he’s singing nonsense, but when he’s on one of the record’s many truly great lyrics: “See me: age nineteen / With some dumb haircut from 1960 / Movin’ to New York City / Live with my friends there / We’re all takin’ the same steps.” (“We’ve Been Had.” Killer track.) So that’s one.

Weapon two: the apparent pact that they’ve made to keep things weird. I can’t think of a single time that all five musicians are all playing at the same time. We’ll hear a slashing guitar riff, some singing perhaps, and then maybe a spooky carnival piano line or some steamroller drums, and then maybe the bass at like the 2:00 mark; and then, on the next song, it’s all shuffled up. Fave musical moment: thirty-five seconds into the title track, when Walter Martin’s ambient organ drones start to give way to some major new wave speeddrumming from Matt Barrick. It’s like Brian Eno takes on A Flock of Seagulls… but in a good way. Other tracks, like the six-and-a-half minute waltz “It Should Take a While,” are slow and ominous and Velvety. We like that too.

The third secret weapon? This record sounds amazing. It was recorded at Marcata Studios in Harlem, which their big fat JF*E major-label money bought for them, and it’s clear that they knew what they were doing. This is a four a.m. record–it’s disorienting and cool as hell, echoey when you don’t expect it to be and then right in your ear at the wrong/right moment. Damn.

Stop whatever it is you’re doing. Look for this album. Listen to it. Repeat as necessary for the next fifty years.

The Walkmen:

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