Believe it or not, The Walkmen celebrated its ten-year anniversary last spring. Over the past decade, the New York-based band has released six full-length records and garnered a devoted fan base, all while developing and perfecting the art of indie rock.
Since the quintet released its debut full-length, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, back in 2002, it began to generate buzz. Hamilton Leithauser’s unique vocal style reeled in its listener, and the jangling piano accompanying full, warbling guitars and steady percussion is what made that listener a fan. The blogosphere’s largest concern with this bright new band was its amount of mainstream coverage, fearing that though it had an “indie” sound now, it may very well turn to the dark side of commercialism (especially with Leithauser’s amount of confidence as a frontman).
But as time went on, the indie rockers continued to progress as a band while staying true to their initial sound, with every release seeming to outdo the last. This continued until their fifth release, 2010’s Lisbon. This album made my “Top 5” of that year, and I thought there was no way they could top this one. The record’s instrumentation was both inventive and retro, calling to old surf rock and rockabilly, and Leithauser’s voice was as smooth as ever. They had peaked. Or so I thought.
And then I listened to Heaven. In The Walkmen’s sixth studio album, the members finally let their listener in. Leithauser is known for his wailing, “woe-is-me” lyrics and seeming detachment. But this record is about love and maturation. It’s a record created by five talented musicians who have been playing music together for ten years. And from the first track, “We Can’t Be Beat,” this confidence radiates from the grooves as the needle spins. The song, featuring Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, crescendos from glimmering, acoustic guitar to a staccato, full-band march in its four minutes and forty-three seconds of playtime and pushes the album forward with its militant beat.In its 47 minutes, Heaven does not loosen its grasp. Each of the album’s 13 tracks compels its listener in a different ways, whether it’s the self-awareness of “Heartbreaker,” or the saccharine sweetness of Leithauser’s song to his daughter, “Song For Leigh.” And though the album sounds minimalistic on first listen, there are moments of pre-rock ‘n’ roll influences in its songs. From the doo-wop influenced “Jerry Jr’s Tune,” to the vivacious Calypso of “Love Is Luck,” subtle hints prove that The Walkmen are still as innovative as ever.