The Walkmen - Lisbon

Album cover
Baroque Pop, Indie Rock, Post-Punk
Fat Possum Records
The Walkmen
Lisbon
The Walkmen - Lisbon Review rating:
4.5
User rating:
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Being The Walkmen must be alright. Consistent touring schedule, good sales, devoted fans (including critics), your own studio, and hell, they even performed a bit part on The O.C. once. Not the worst way to go about your days and being that these guys have been playing music since the school yard in D.C. they’ve certainly put the work in together. Then you have this here, this being my recently purchased copy of the New York based band’s sixth release Lisbon. As I continue to brandish it at my screen foolishly hoping that somehow, someway, you’ll at least feel the fervor with which I press this upon you. “Why?” you may question and the answer offered is simple: Lisbon is not only by and large the finest record this extremely talented group of musicians has put to press yet, but is also easily one of the best 2010 will have to offer.

Their mix of sparse, atmospheric rock with classic chamber pop and an indie rocker’s penchant for distortion has always amounted (generally) to fantastic results. Seemingly culminating to a peak with 2008’s You & Me, the band looked to have reached an unheard threshold with the album's collection of brazen piano rock tunes. But in refusing to age distastefully they end up elaborating on You & Me’s sound; taking the orchestral pop leanings and fully realizing them. Lisbon, unlike many of their previous records, revels in its widescreen production. The band’s tendency to use vintage equipment while recording and performing (i.e. an upright piano instead of keyboard) had always seemed at odds with their natural ability to write songs rooted in the present. Beyond simply just making the music sound old or cool, The Walkmen essentially live inside the aesthetic musically; even with Lisbon they do not sound young. What they do present with the album though, is a brilliant middle ground, where their love for guitar-driven rock can co-exist pleasantly with their desire to resurrect the big band jazz and orchestral pop of the past. But to simply co-exist would be too facile and Lisbon is no easy record.

Amongst all of Lisbon’s musical bombast, lush horns and jangly guitars lies a very reserved and beautiful record. Continuing the preference for accentuation of the driving drums and insatiable hooks with lush horns and flowing string arrangements as opposed to just more reverb. Though much like their early recordings, Lisbon mixes its lazy disposition with its hyperactive undertones fluently, never allowing the morose prose to weigh down the tunes. Hamilton Leithauser once again reprises his role as the slightly disenchanted everyman to great success; his unique vocal styling, that brilliant, raspy gravel pit is in top form. Whether he’s griping about a less than faithful lover (“Juveniles”) or for said lover just to make the situation work (“Angela Surf City”) all the way to fantasizing about a simple, successful home life (“Lisbon”) it is all delivered with the same passion and attention to detail. Leithauser moving brilliantly from a gentle coo to an emphatic wail on a dime has always been the backbone of the Walkmen, with many of their songs weighing heavily on the outcome of his performance. While Paul Maroon’s understated yet full guitar work and Matt Barrick’s vehement drumming are also in rare form on Lisbon, it is Hamilton whom is the glue, and he’s holding everything together tight on this album.

“Well they say/‘Can’t please everyone’/but I’m stuck on a winning streak,” Leithauser states at the beginning of the gorgeous, wintry ballad “While I Shovel Snow.” Though Hamilton  probably isn’t patting himself on the back here, Lisbon could still be viewed as somewhat of a victory lap for the band. The album as whole is essentially a collection of sounds, themes and aesthetics The Walkmen have been working with for a career. A career which, at this point at least, has culminated into this, a literal “career record” if only for the fact that no one else could really have recorded Lisbon. The graduated buildups, grandiose overtures and explosions of sound mixed with diatribes of everyday life, never trying to be anything larger than what is presented; but instead is elevated by sheer quality of product. A product seemingly so bent on leaving the ground at any minute, yet it is anchored by simple human emotion. Each word uttered, each string plucked, key pressed and drum hit has its place, furthermore sounds planned. Whereas years past have seen this desire to overextended the control of their music drive it promptly into the gutter, Lisbon instead, could be that argument The Walkmen have been trying to make for years. Maybe sometimes a little more control can lead to a bevy of beautiful chaos. Or at least an achingly gorgeous, sublimely mature rock record. Either way you look at it, Lisbon is a winner, and returns ten-fold on the time put into it. "There's no life/like the snow life," Leithauser tells us, and well, if Lisbon is it--he may be right.

 

1. Juveniles
2. Angela Surf City
3. Follow The Leader
4. Blue As Your Blooded
5. Stranded
6. Victory
7. All My Great Designs
8. Woe Is Me
9. Torch Song
10. While I Shovel Snow
11. Lisbon

Five-piece American indie rock band from Harlem, NYC. They play a brand of jangly post-punk meets chamber pop and soul. They have been playing music together since high school in Washington D.C. though with different bands at the time, and formed after an implosion of two other bands from their area.

They own and operate Marcata Studios in upstate NY.

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