The Quitugs

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The Walkmen’s Heaven out on May 29th

I am a lazy bastard but now that school is out yadda yadda. Check this review out on the Dropp. I compared the Walkmen to the San Antonio Spurs because I must have been watching game 2 highlights while listening or something. Go Spurs! Now cop the new Walkmen album legally!*

It’s been 10 years since the Walkmen released Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and in the decade since, the band have seemingly outgrown the urgent and biting sound typified by their early records. They’ve forged a path that has taken on drunken heartbreak and bitter loneliness and with vintage horn sections and moonlight crooning, successive works revealed the band as disciples of Roy Orbison and other classic downtrodden romantics. And while 2008’s You & Me was the sonic apex of cinematic drama in the band’s repertoire, the last few years have shown the band’s increasingly relaxed, even low-key sound to be just as engaging. It’s actually this brighter trajectory that has given the band a sense of balance. Sorrow and longing stray from sulking against the backdrop of beautiful instrumentation. Singer Hamilton Leithauser has called the band’s new approach more sincere. In the case of their latest release, Heaven, the band exude a confidence in their sincerity that shines in a polished sound laced with beautiful, old-timey harmonies and the tipping of their hats to an old friend.

Enlisting producer Phil Ek (Built to Spill, the Shins, Fleet Foxes) has allowed the band to capture a ballad sound that’s both minimal and full. Their simplified approach to guitar and percussion has put a remarkable spotlight on the singing. More often in this record we hear more adventurous, melismatic melodies and pitter-patter harmonies that rise with the mood of the tunes. This very much signifies the evolution of Leithauser’s voice over the years.  What was once coarse and straining is now more velvety and sweeping.

“We Can’t Be Beat” best exemplifies the band’s less is more approach. Here a simple, plucked acoustic guitar underscores a lyrical verse that starts off down and out but quickly picks up with a declarative new ethos. “Loneliness, loneliness will run you through/All the kids are laughing/ I’m laughing too.” It’s as if the band has reached a sort of wisdom by abandoning the frustration and anger of their earlier records. Their new sense of confidence is driven home with the resonant lines, “we’ll never leave, we can’t be beat.”And it’s here where the harmonies, which include the voice of one Robin Pecknold, fit the upbeat mood of the tune.

Perhaps the most beautiful moment on Heaven is the fifth track, “Southern Heart.” This song is both haunting and lovely. The acoustic guitar is bare and the vocals are heavily reverberated, giving a hazy and dreamy feel to lyrics about pursuing someone the protagonist hardly knows. “I fill my endings with images of hazy hereafter/ I don’t nearly know your name/It’s your southern heart I’m after.” The heavy hearted longing is instantly tangible with the picture of a lone hotel room and a flickering TV. Words become mesmerizing as Leithauser repeats the line “tell me again how you loved all the men you were after.”

Still, this new approach is really just a clean cut, less frantic take on what’s always been a staple in a Walkmen record: a fascination with the old-school. From album to album the band has put out tunes that play like a blend of old surf rock and ballad records with the dust wiped off. Manic drums and towering horns reign supreme on Walkmen albums in these last couple of years. And this affinity for the vintage has continued on in different capacities with the doo wop instrumental “Jerry Jr.’s Tune” and the World War II-era slow dance of “No One Ever Sleeps.”  They’ve also turned out trademark rockers such as “The Love You Love” and the titular track, “Heaven.”

There’s much about Heaven that points to a band having arrived to complete maturity. There’s certainly no one being buried in the lyrics. There’s a singer who has fulfilled a vocal evolution the listener can still feel in the chest. And while frantic guitar and drums combined with the once rough voice of Leithauser fit the old formula, the members of the band have made yet another hit by toning down the energy. Matt Barrick’s drumming is more conservative than it is explosive this time around. Paul Maroon’s guitar playing is much more simplified. In the calm, Heavenhas achieved something as evocative as ever. The Walkmen are like a current veteran NBA squad who knows a thing or four about poise.  Poise and confidence delivers and Heaven certainly delivers.

* lol

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