Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Walkmen
You & Me
Rating: I had the damndest time writing about this record

I'm an editor by profession, so I appreciate simplicity and elegance, and I understand that one shouldn't allow one's personal preferences to overrule authorial voice. The same notions can (and should) be applied in a recording studio. I don't want to listen to the Flaming Lips and think "Dave Fridmann," or Beck and think "Nigel Godrich." When I listen to You & Me, I only think "The Walkmen." The documentary treatment of their honest, confessional fifth album lends the band a vulnerability, almost daring criticism to gnash its teeth.

And although "The Rat" and "Little House of Savages" (themselves honest and confessional) are held up as The Walkmen's canonical songs, they're really anomalies: Mood and atmosphere, rather than muscle and aggression, have always been the band's ply and trade, and they've never been as moody or as atmospheric as they are on You & Me. The doleful horns of "Red Moon", for instance, cast a dusky, romantic pallor over the song rather than brighten it, while the lyric "you shine like the steel on my knife" turns the romance a little sinister.

There is tiredness and confusion behind Hamilton Leithauser's words as well. His family asks him, "How long will you ramble?" He promises that he's "almost home" even though he knows "home" is a suitcase. He wants to find peace, but somehow he can't (or won't), pulled as he is around the world toward some ineluctable yet elusive destiny. The waltz-like "Seven Years of Holidays (for Stretch)", then, can be viewed as a summation of what it must be like to be in a touring rock band: the struggle between wanderlust and staying put, between killing and bombing, between bars at night and cafes in the morning, and the knowledge that doing what you love keeps you away from who you love. Sometimes "the whole world around us is too small."

Yet these hyper-direct lyrics wouldn't hit as hard without the expressive music behind them. The descending chorus of "Long Time Ahead of Us"--a song so dripping wet that it's necessary to towel off when it's over--cribs from Canon in D and lilts like a lullaby. "Good luck around every turn," Leithauser sings, satisfied, "now that I've got you." "Four Provinces", through all its clatter (courtesy of crack drummer Matt Barrick), reminds us why we like this band in the first place: "It's always a good time."

The Walkmen have always been familiar and poignant, boozy and bleary-eyed, worn but not worn-out. From the misty first salvos of "They're Winning" to the gravity of "Bows and Arrows" to the rollicking, tom-heavy "Brandy Alexander", their songs feel human and real, almost communal--as appropriate around a campfire as they are in a sweaty club. Here's to seven more years of holidays.

--Brian Herrmann


Jen said...

Since when are you an editor by profession?

Brian said...


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