Music Reviews

The Walkmen Heaven

(Fat Possum) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

If one were to infer that maturity could be measured in any way, then the time usually comes in that period in your life after your physical growth has stopped and you are fully developed. For all intents and purposes, it’s relative. When looking at it from the perspective of grown men, he reaches maturity when he appears to be the embodiment of perfection in some very specific criteria. Or at least that’s what the GQ style bible teaches us. Weighing success and failure is paramount to make that assertion – become an educated, respectful gentleman, meet a money-oriented quota that’s needed to lay claim to that success, and be an avid sports enthusiast (but refrain from wearing a jersey in public, because that just makes you look like a man baby). As the saying goes, “look sharp, live smart.”

Now, when a band reaches maturity is a whole different question. The Walkmen started as four elegantly attired New Yorkers who were experiencing a situational maturity. As the promotional video for Wake Up shows, there’s four lads banging a skewed garage tune in a dimly lit shoddy basement, looking prim with their cashmere sweaters instead of fanning themselves persistently, which would’ve made more sense considering the setting. They’ve come a long way from opposing the Julian Casablancas stature of cool, plotting their next career move in the back of an alleyway while The Strokes were being eyed by celebrities and taking cues from hip filmmakers like Roman Coppola. They ultimately made the wrong choice, becoming that of a music critics’ prime cut instead of an impulsive fast food urge.

It’s even rather illogical that the Walkmen are still being touted as a commercial prospect when the band already feel like winners. That workmanlike persistence has paid off in spades, staying true to themselves and increasingly gaining more fans by just making a committed body of work. Heaven places them at a very good place, indeed. Surely, they’ve got nothing else to prove, but it also means they’ve got nothing new to prove. Every scraggly riff and doleful ballad that’s marred their trajectory has lighted that barren pathway to creative eminence, finally reaching a desirable state of contentment. As a finely laced melody veils We Can’t Be Beat, frontman Hamilton Leithauser elevates his vocals before a folksy canticle breaks forth, and he goes on to declare: the world is ours/we can’t be beat.

That feeling of being at ease permeates throughout, as if the sound of a calm water flow were to rinse a tired old soul. Southern Heart murmurs a barely audible acoustic note, in which Leitheuser reflects on an unrequited attraction. It closely follows the similarly patterned Line by Line, a drifting tune set over a cascading, finger-picked guitar part that’s subtly embellished with an airy string arrangement until it reaches its destined place. Both are sequenced as part of a middle section that languishes, even more so than the masterfully evocative You & Me, surprisingly retaining those shades of uncertainty that occasionally manage to slip through even the most trusting. A song like Love is Luck is about living through a compassionate love, in which the flame of passion has been doused and all the mystery has been lost. Looking at it from the standpoint that all the members are presently married, and merrily so, it shows how there’s an added layer of depth albeit the beaming chirpiness it conveys.

Which demonstrates how Heaven may be one of the Walkmen’s more detached efforts thus far. For a band that’s been exercising their rollicking sway with a deft ear, it’s a shame that there’s only space for one real heart tugger, like in No One Ever Sleeps – it has the same striking sophistication of a Pat Boone ballad, with a clean, flapping guitar progression that rolls down a tear with every minor pick. These slow, more solemn moments, while some are regurgitated straight out of Lisbon(surf guitars, calypso and doo wop are all reprised), are improved upon and with a tender, more adept tact. But, this being a Phil Ek produced record, it eats away some of the Walkmen’s best songs with a couple of tepid, midtempo numbers that are polished to the most excessive glare finish.

Heaven may go down in history as the nexus of all the goals The Walkmen have set out to achieve ever since they started. Currently in celebratory mode for withstanding a decade together, there’s no doubt that it was painstakingly processed, inch-by-inch, with a great amount of care and detail. In giving half of the focus of the album to effectuate a propulsive, grandstanding responsiveness, it disregards any thematic core, an attribute they’ve been quietly perfecting with each succeeding release. On the whole, maturity in the music biz means taking the middle of the road, building a cash flow for the long haul. The Walkmen may take that advice to account after all this maturity talk, but there’s enough evidence to conclude that they’ll still think of novel ways to build a whole new record around a reverberated guitar.