Album Review: “Heaven” (The Walkmen)


Release:
5/2012
Label: Fat Possum

Comments: I love A Hundred Miles Off. There, I said it! The band hates it. The critics looked at it unfavorably. Fans don’t really mention it among their Walkmen favorites. What does that have to do with Heaven? Well, A Hundred for me is a fun variety of spirited tunes — the garage/punk influenced “Lost In Boston” and “Tenley Town,” the Everyone Who era “All Hands and the Cook,” the unforgettable horns in “Louisiana”. So on and so forth. 2008’s You and Me was outstanding as well, but it sure did mark a shift in the band’s sound. A lasting shift. Heaven emotionally feels like a continuation of the vibes of Lisbon. You can tell who was behind the boards for Heaven – that would be Phil Ek, who has gotten involved with some higher profile ‘indie’ bands like Fleet Foxes and Modest Mouse. The rampant “oh-oh-woah-oh-oh” on Heaven sound less like something Hamilton would think of on his own and more of an Ek thing. I hate those. BUT one of the benefits of “oh-oh-woah-oh-oh” is the fact that (most of) the songs that don’t have a part like that stand out. I will say that I’ll forgive it on “The Witch,” which additionally has a remarkable bass line and some eery clanging. Songs like “Heartbreaker” (great guitar playing and tempo), “Heaven” (minus the extensive oh-oh-woah-oh-oh) and “The Love You Love” feel the most complete to a dude like me who prefers faster stuff. I’d say these three songs in particular might be better than anything from Lisbon. That’s a good record, but not something I could consistently find myself getting into. I think some other people might feel this way. It seems sort of useless to shit on the real slow songs because they do in fact have some worth. The guitar picking in “Line By Line” really draws me in and makes me wonder how the song will turn out. The instrumental minimalism is outstanding. And yes, I can see where people prefer similar minimalist-esque numbers like “We Can’t Be Beat” and “Southern Heart,” but at this stage it’s hard to keep going back to those. The mid-tempo stuff is more pleasing. There are little critiques here and there. “Song For Leigh” has a cool chorus, but I feel like they could have it taken it a few steps further instead of diving right back into the verses. I think these guys had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to include on this record — a few big rockers, some mid-tempo jaunts, and a handful of slow songs. Perhaps the production role that Ek played wasn’t as important as I’ve made it seem, but it seems like in the recent past they’ve left more of an impression without the aid of a larger name helping out. Take You & Me. Practically every song on that record is memorable and inviting from the get-go. With Heaven, I think there is some potential for it to have a lasting impact, but as a young, long-time Walkmen fan it’s rather difficult to embrace the band’s current direction with respect to previous releases. They’re older, they have kids and frankly maybe the thought of another You & Me ‘grandiose’ album or another hard-hitting Bows + Arrows type of work just is not something they want to embrace at this stage. To each his own. I’ll always have a soft spot for The Walkmen being one of my favorite bands from a time when I really started to get into music. I’m not one to shit on a favorite after a lack-luster release or two and certainly Heaven isn’t one of those in the traditional sense. Here’s to hoping it grows on me some more and even if it doesn’t I’ll always keep a focused eye on what these guys are up to next. They’re just one of those bands.

Song Reviews: The Walkmen (Heaven)

It’s been an interesting five years since I first became a Walkmen fan. Of course it all started with “The Rat” from the highly influential (for me) MLB 2k7 soundtrack. At that time I instantly dug deeper into the band’s catalog and realized that I practically loved everything the band had done to that point. Fast forward to March 2008, I e-mail the band asking if they will be playing any all-ages shows in Boston. I receive a response back from their fake band manager, Doug, saying maybe in August. September 2008. They play at the Middle East Downstairs. 18+ — no go. Bummer. Fast forward one more year. I see the band live for the first time. Actually two nights in a row at the Mid East Down. Great times. You and Me was excellent. Lisbon rolled around in 2010 and I honestly wasn’t too impressed. It’s a good record don’t get me wrong, but it is a bit too mellow (on a whole) for my ever evolving, higher energy taste in rock and roll. The band is getting up there in age (mid-late 30s, all are married) so surely they are in a different place than they were in 2004 when Bows + Arrows came out. That record is better suited (lyrically/musically/etc) for a 20-something year old man than a 16 year old or a 40 year old. Here we now are with Heaven, the band’s sixth original studio album. A few tracks have been released and here are my thoughts:

“Heaven” – I enjoy the pace and energy here! It’s fuller than the heaviest on Lisbon (thanks to producer Phil Ek?), but unfortunately things take a cheesy turn with the “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” at the end. I don’t really see a need for those.

Heartbreaker” -Now we’re talking. In place of the classic organ is a second guitar. I really like this. The drum crashes, the eternally winding surf guitar on the bridge. Good work, Walkmen! [KLYAM Recommended]

“We Can’t Be Beat” – Ouch. Not truly a disaster, in fact I see a lot of people really love this, but just not my thing at all. At one point in my life I got a little something out of listening to Fleet Foxes. Those days are pretty much gone (with all due respect) so to hear something like this that’s essentially the same thing as a Fleet Foxes song is a little disheartening. The Walkmen can do better. See “Heartbreaker”.