Here it is. Seven short, long, agonizing, far-too-brief years after Hamilton Leithauser thrust his deep sadness into a Shure SM57 with the delirious energy of a rabid cougar in a tenth of the speed, we get the best-produced, most connected, most homogeneously honed offering by the Boys of St Alban's, and the content and delivery - despite being far cleaner than the quality of Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone and far removed from advertising Saturns during Conan O'Brien - has remained fairly constant. The requisite expansion of musical palette and Leithauser's voice settling are subtle differences after this near-decade, most noticeable in A Hundred Miles Off where Leithauser struggled to crank his voice to the acmes reached in the previous album and where the rest of the band dabbled in punk-zydeco. The Walkmen's most recent offering (I say this six months later and many, many listens later) is far more sinister, tired, and skeptical of the world in which it exists. Hamilton's voice is mellower, more distant, more thoughtful, and more accurate than any other point; the vintage tube amps and one-off guitars and thick, saucy cymbals remain consistent, but even here is a lurking, dirty edge, one of functional desperation and oppressive shadow. Structurally, the songs are the most complex the band has offered up; Leithauser's voice grows more and more unsettling in moments where resolutions simply never occur after a tonic-dominant phrase or measure. There are worry lines in this album; to cover this up, the guitar work is the most technically proficient since Bows and Arrows, and the percussion (I hesitate to say trap set) has evolved from marking time or being used for special effects into an instrument, sparingly used, wisely exploited, and ferociously slaughtered when the resignation boils over.
The Walkmen are far too overlooked in the rock music world, never mind the erroneous "indie" world. I credit them with re-pioneering garage and tube-amps and dirt and fuzz and soul in rock. They technically beat The Strokes to it as well as all the derivative acts thereafter, and while they were a few years behind Jack and Meg, their aesthetic is closer to a Bob Dylan Gospel Choir than Screamin Jay Hawkins or Chuck Berry. Hamilton Leithauser's voice is some deliciously queer mix of Rod Stewart and Sinatra, with far more energy and truth behind his singing than any other artist working today. The music and primacy of craft takes Dick Dale, Richard Thompson, The Zombies, and Gang of Four and throws it all in a blender, coming out the other side a nervous, dreamy, decayed, and wistful melange -- someone driving a dirty-stringed Rickenbacker into a rare Russian tube amp cranked up and pushed through a bastardized Leslie cabinet, your ears four city blocks away from it all, the sound snaking through naked streets and abandoned storehouses and tenements and wrestling the night fog just to get to your earlobes. Of course, someone is just back and to the left, thrashing away on the drums, or claves, for pete's sakes. How many rock bands still use percussion these days, not just drums, and not in the tired Montreal sort of way? Seven years ago the lyrics were haphazard and written by prep-school naifs; now, they're as laconic as W C Williams on his deathbed, images reserved, direct, and emphatic. The words are earnest, the music a bit more dejected and far more experienced than the target audiences. Leithauser occasionally meets this salt of the earth music with a candor and deep sadness that every other act out there tries so hard to conceal through irony, makeup, beards, stage antics, corny music, or self-serving and self-referential lyrics, despite the subject matter of many of the songs positive or at least non-depressing.
Not at all a retread, though showing their roots well, a threadbare band gets vulnerable for you, just for you. Take them up on the offer. They've grown up quite a bit, you know. They're certainly no children anymore. You might even want to hold their hand a little before they slink off into the foul black brooding of the studio.