In an age when bands are giving albums away, letting buyers name their own price, selling CDs exclusively at Wal-Mart, selling them for $0.49 on Amazon, driving by your house and throwing them at your dad as he waters the lawn in pale khaki shorts and black socks, and so forth, hats off to The Walkmen. Hats friggin' off to The Walkmen. This New York band gave away all the proceeds from initial sales of its new album, You & Me, to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. It has since come out on vinyl and stuff, and The Walkmen might eventually start to make a little profit. But it's always been clear that The Walkmen aren't in this for the money.
Granted, "We've Been Had," a song from the group's first album, was used in a car ad. But since then, The Walkmen have been honing a noisy, clamorous sound that's anything but commercial. With the exception of sophomore-album single "The Rat" and a couple of other songs, the group has been conducting studies in the marketability (or perhaps unmarketability) of unhooky, ragged, sustained-chord guitar noise, churchlike organs, stretched-to-the-limit solo vocals and great but random cover projects. At their worst, as on 2006's A Hundred Miles Off, they sound inaccessible and overly artsy, like an indie flick from a director with all the right hip pedigree who refuses to be coherent or entertaining.
With a balance of roil and melody, You & Me should reconcile the current Walkmen with fans of the band's earlier material. This comes through strongest on "In the New Year," with singer Hamilton Leithauser crying out in his fillings-loosening tenor, "It's gonna be a good year" over a triumphant organ riff.
There's still plenty of vintage-amp racket all over the album, and the tempos throughout aren't fast enough to disturb a sleeping drunk, but the heart's in it this time—and it's all the better for its aching world-weariness. "Eugene, I've lost the world as we know it... I've lived in a suitcase for too long," Leithauser bellows on the waltzing, broke-ass "Seven Years of Holidays," introducing a dizzy travel motif reflected in song titles like "Donde Esta La Playa?" "Postcards from Tiny Islands," "Canadian Girl," "Four Provinces," "The Blue Route," and "New Country." Faint steel drum and a lonesome melody worthy of Harry Belafonte make the lovely "Long Time Ahead of Us" a rum-drunk tropical lullaby. The Walkmen may be skinny NYC noisemongers, but throughout You & Me, they channel the thoughts and moods of a Graham Greene protagonist sweating, moping and hatching plans over a glass of booze at a remote island cantina.
Covering the likes of Harry Nilsson and Leonard Cohen in the past, Leithauser has proven himself a remarkable song interpreter. With his bandmates and their songwriting back in step with Leithauser's dynamism, The Walkmen may not be ready to conquer the world, but they can certainly keep traveling it, collecting stories, blues and songs.
White people in fancy boots.
Cash's sense of humor is criminally over-looked. Thanks for this.
"Johnny Cash" is the pseudonym for Joaquin Phoenix, right?
Awesome idea. Let Spurgeon DJ your Christmas party, which will start out shitty and get…