Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Album Review: The Walkmen - Heaven

"I was the Duke of Earl" are the first words heard on the track "We Can't Be Beat", [re-]introducing us to the snarling voice of Hamilton Leithauser, the frontman of The Walkmen. Leithauser references a 1962 pop song (performed by Gene Chandler) about the invincibility of love, and the song shimmers as a glorious homecoming to the music world by The Walkmen, with their fifth major release, Heaven.

"We Can't Be Beat" would be unusual had it been placed anywhere else on the album, making it the epitome of a standout lead-off track. The following tracks, "Love is Luck", "Heartbreaker", and "The Witch" are evidence that the album is unbelievably well-constructed, as they leave the listener itching to hear what's next. It would be difficult for me to not see any of these tracks getting heavy radio play in the future.

Leithauser's voice is so polished that it can send goosebumps down the listener's arms and the band's usage of a sound it has nearly perfected are equally as beautiful as they are uniquely familiar. The guitar tones are ones that will bring a smile to any Walkmen fan's face, as well as pull in new listeners who are foolish enough to have not delved into The Walkmen's prior catalog.

It's incredibly difficult to think of a band that has taken a sound it developed nearly ten years ago, and hone it in over the course of multiple albums; not necessarily changing their aesthetic, but not really breaking any new ground in the same sense. This is a compliment, not a criticism. What The Walkmen have accomplished with Heaven, is a perfect progression of their brand of sounds. Albums like Bows and Arrows featured amazing tracks that spanned genres, from punk-inspired single "The Rat" to chamber-rock tracks "138th Street" and "New Years Eve". The album You & Me featured equally-as-scattered themes. Both of these albums are spectacular in their own right, but when The Walkmen released Lisbon in 2010, you could tell the group was growing up; experiencing "puberty" as a band almost (the groups releasing of the B-Sides to Lisbon only provide further epilogue as to what was to come): Pulling in influences and prior musical efforts and finally centering them in to one passage of music.

Thus, you could expect Heaven to be the band's finally growing up. And it is. The sounds are less scattered from track-to-track, as I mentioned before, the album flows seamlessly from one track to the next, yet each song could stand-alone as a beautiful piece to the puzzle. The progression from "Southern Heart" to "Line By Line" is so flawless that the tracks could have melded in to one, especially when considering what's on either side of both tracks: "The Witch", a hauntingly-poppy and upbeat melody precedes "Southern Heart" and "Song for Leigh" follows "Line By Line" perfectly, returning the listener to a place of bliss and happiness as Leithauser confesses: "I sing myself sick about ya".

"Heaven", the album's title track and lead single, glistens as a reminiscence to what the group used to be, but in a much more polished form. The band waits until the eleventh track to return its fans to a place and sound they are used to from prior releases: the quick bass line and guitar hooks are matched by the upbeat drums, and those who have seen The Walkmen live can imagine the snarling grin that brightens up Leithauser's face as he belts the lyrics, turning his face pink. As Leithauser begs "Remember, remember/ All we fight for". The first time I heard the the chorus to the song, the smile that came to my face was simultaneously the dumbest and greatest smile, rivaling the one that I imagine strikes Leithauser's face as he sings it himself.

I had long awaited the release of this album, and I find it impossible to consider any other band who is at the top of their game as much as The Walkmen have found themselves to be with Heaven. Every track glistens (even the instrumental piece found in the latter portion of the album) as a beautiful and remarkable statement: The Walkmen have grown up and found what they wanted all along, love and happiness, and this statement is put forth in a phenomenal manner, with an outstandingly beautiful album.

My Score: 4.8/5

UPDATE: Watch The Walkmen grow up in the newly released video for title track, "Heaven"

I urge you to support the band by purchasing this remarkable record from any of the locations below:

The Walkmen Store

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