Arts & Entertainment

Walkmen try new sound, but remain forgettable

New York garage rock quintet The Walkmen have changed things up again with their latest offering, Lisbon.

Cover of The Walkmen's latest album 'Lisbon.'

The Walkmen made their debut in 2002 with Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, which brought the band showers of critical acclaim with one notable exception—Village Voice music editor and critic, Robert Christgau.

I have to admit, I tend to agree with Christgau. Everyone was, like the bulk of New York indie at the time, a conjuring of the ghosts of Big Apple past (especially The Velvet Underground).

That being said, some things have changed.

There are the familiar elements: vintage instruments, Hamilton Leithauser’s hoarse croon and that bare-bones rock ‘n roll sound. But Lisbon breaks some new ground, incorporating surf influences as well as touches of country; the Walkmen put their sound into a new context with quality results.

“Stranded” features the return of the horn work that peppered 2006’s A Hundred Miles Off but on a much grander scale. It also showcases some of the standard-like balladry 2008’s Orbison-influenced You & Me.

“Blue as Your Blood” is epic country with an absolutely gorgeous string section.”Juveniles” is a sunny seaside gem. The lyrics are typical sad-boy poetry (albeit, fairly well-written sad-boy poetry). Rather than sounding miserable though, the boys opt for upbeat melodies—a spoonful of sugar to help the whining go down.

Formed from the ashes of Jonathan Fire*Eater, the Walkmen have been honing their craft for nearly ten years now, evolving from noisy minimalism to a more tuneful (retro?) minimalism. They insist on keeping it simple. But don’t confuse simple with boring. Leithauser and company have made some notable improvements, steadily alienating the critics that once lionized them.

The Walkmen can play nearly any style they want and have the musical talent to sound like more than a cover band. However, they always seem to settle for less than fresh ideas. Lisbon is further proof of their prowess, and sadly, of their irrelevance—fun, but forgettable.

Nick Skiles is copy editor and contributing writer for The Aviso

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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