Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Walkmen Take You To Heaven

The Walkmen aren’t indie darlings any longer. Over the last decade they’ve grown up, started families, and have matured as artists.

Their seventh studio album, Heaven, casts aside their previous outings bursting with dejection and despair, replacing them with glimmers of hope and confidence that nicely showcase the more mature band. You might even say that Heaven is cautiously optimistic.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done. We’ve stayed friends and those friendships have grown,” says multi-instrumentalist Peter Bauer. “We have survival experience and real love that children generate in your life. The detachment you can feel throughout our younger records is gone. We felt like it was time to make a bigger, more generous statement.”

This newfound maturity seems logical given that The Walkmen have known each other since their school days in Washington DC. In addition to Bauer, the lineup includes Paul Maroon, guitar; Water Martin, bass; Matt Barrick, drums; and frontman Hamilton Leithauser, vocals.

“When you’re starting out, you’re sitting there trying to come up with a big idea, but after a while, you learn about the process of writing,” said Maroon. “You learn about your friends in the band and how they work best.”

Heaven finds a band comfortable with one another and with their maturity as musicians, writers and people. They’ve evolved since their debut, Everybody Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, put the band on the indie music radar a decade ago.

This time, noted Fleet Foxes producer Phil Ek approached the band and asked if they’d like to make a record with him. They said yes, of course. So they traveled to the Northwest to a studio outside Seattle that Ek likes to use. His involvement in the project is evident with a warmer, fuller sound that brings out the best of the more evolved band without sacrificing any of the fire that fans have grown to love.

As an album trailer, the video just works. So do the album’s 13 tracks. While any of them can stand alone, the album works better as a whole.

The moody and atmospheric The Love You Love is the closest in sound to The Walkmen we’re used to hearing. There is an impressive and eerie video of the song, directed by Seattle-based artist Sean Pecknold, which is said to have been filmed at a haunted house in Pennsylvania. The boy in the video, by the way, is Bauer’s son Otis.

The jangly, surf-rock Heartbreaker puts things into overdrive with Maroon’s slashing guitar and Leithauser’s searching vocals. Robin Pecknold, singer/guitarist/songwriter with Fleet Foxes (and younger brother of Sean) adds low harmony vocals here and there to knockout tracks like the bittersweet We Can’t Be Beat. His voice beautifully complements Leithauser’s croon.

The sweet Song For Leigh is folk rock/alt country with Maroon’s ringing guitar and Leithauser singing “I sing myself sick about you” for his daughter. Love Is Luck has a bigger, louder sound propelled along by Barrick’s nimble drum work.

Throughout, Leithauser alternates between crooning and howling, but the vocals on this album have far more prominence than on previous outings. He sounds great. The band’s ace rhythm section of Martin and Barrick is also in perfect form, Maroon is in the sweet spot, and Bauer continues to be the band’s ace in the hole, slipping from instrument to instrument with complete competence and ease.

Heaven By The Walkmen Swoons With 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Heaven is arguably the band’s finest album to date. It’s much more adult, more dramatic yet subtle in all the right places. And as for Leithauser, he finally sounds just right. Ek was smart to give the vocals more prominence on this album.

You can listen to samplers of every track from Heaven by The Walkmen on iTunes. Barnes & Noble has the album on vinyl. You can also find Heaven on Amazon. You can catch the band live ad they tour the United States this year, with stops in Canada through October. A full schedule can be found on Facebook.
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