The Walkmen occupy a special place in my heart because the first time I ever heard them I was visiting New York for only the second time, and I still lived in LA. I was toying with the idea of moving here and I was in a coffee shop in Brooklyn called Cafe Pedlar near where I now live. Ironically, I often go there now to write album reviews, especially if I have bad writer’s block, for some reason it always clears up if I go there. Anyway, Lisbon had just been released and the barista was playing the record. When I asked him who was playing he began to excitedly tell me about this band The Walkmen and how good their new record was. It might be hyperbole, but I think that was the exact moment I decided to move to Brooklyn. When I got back to LA, I immediately downloaded “Lisbon” and was helplessly drawn into the mirroring circuitous rock these men make with no hope of returning. So the gossamer strands of their recent release Heaven have fallen upon open ears.
Listening to this band is like encountering a package that needs to be carefully unwrapped, that includes lots of little pieces which must be carefully assembled. It’s time consuming, but when the endeavor is finished, it feels more valuable because of the energy and attention you had to put in. That’s always how it is for me with their records, they grow and grow in magnitude upon each listen until I finally feel as if I have some cursory understanding of the heart of the record.
What is the heart of Heaven? It’s the marriage of the pony express and gas stations, the wild wild west and the freeway, the magnificence of a palatial ballroom and the unending track of a dirt trail. The queen who fell in love with a peasant – an unending combination of elegance and meagerness – and an upending of their stratified separation. This is the essence of why they’re such a renowned rock band – their tinge of of folk, just the slightest hint, like honey in your tea.
This album is called “Heaven” and with good reason. It’s clouds and sunshine and all the loved ones you lost and maybe God himself on some of the songs, like on that final crescendo of the opening track ‘We Can’t Be Beat’, he appears in marvel and glory, then goes back to his magisterial business so we can focus on the real joy, the music.
Take the initial easy jaunt of ‘Heartbreaker’ which is suddenly buoyed by guitar parts so stringent they sound like horns and lead to the climax of the song with so much tension that it captures the feeling of unrequited love itself. Then there’s the apocalyptic tunnel of sound punctuated with wailing ahs and organ on ‘The Witch’. Give me plucked out, subdued and naked honesty of ‘Southern Heart’ and then take me over to the rawness and ache of ‘The Love You Love’. These men are walking circles around other contemporary “rock” bands. Their sound is simply more adult, there’s more flesh on the bones and the bones themselves are assembled in more complex skeletons.
Hazily royal, this record feels like a peek into the sumptuous lives of Victorian aristocrats, that is, if aristocrats could shred guitars and sing in indolent harmonies. Buy this record.