Remember 2004? Tucked away amongst the many, many indie bands that would eventually fade into utter obscurity- The Thrills, The Vines etc- or do the opposite and become stadium rock behemoths- Kings of Leon, The Killers-, one participant in this post-Strokes wave managed to do neither of the above, letting their contemporaries either swell to dizzying heights or crash onto land with a sickening thud whilst they have taken their time; as such The Walkmen have become a prolific and enduringly excellent act, but also a cruelly underrated one. Their seventh record in ten years, Heaven sees the band continue on their departure from the angst and anger of their early records into more relaxed climes whilst still having the power to move; poignant, pretty and picturesque, Heaven announces a Walkmen increasingly, albeit not completely, at peace – certainly no longer the emotional wrecks to which tracks such as ‘The Rat’ bore witness eight years ago.
Example: Where once sharp, angry post-punk barnstormers best represented The Walkmen’s work, reminiscent of both Buzzcocks’ poppiness and Joy Division’s sombre laments, this record recalls folkier acts, such as Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, whose Robin Pecknold contributes vocals on the record. The result of this relatively seamless transition is a refreshing mix; urgent at times, relaxed at others, featuring occasional stabs of anger into otherwise relatively peaceful material. As such the album is one of The Walkmen’s best and most unique, featuring more varied formulas and a wider, more diverse range of influences.
‘We Can’t Be Beat’ opens the record with mournful guitar pickery and lyrics: “If you want my eyes, take my eyes/ they’re yours” sings Hamilton Leithauser in his tortured vocal style, as he is joined by his cohorts for full band harmonies and eventual break into more upbeat territory at the song’s climax. It is this feel that is the most dominant on the album, however occasional woe relapses are nonetheless present. ‘Southern Heart’ is a lilting, sad track steeped in mystery and Americana whilst ‘Jerry Jr.’s Tune’ is a similarly lilting, largely instrumental song that recalls a uniquely and deeply sad Deep-South style of Gospel.
However, after this the drums kick in and what follows is a lot more typical of The Walkmen that we all know and love: an absolute, ‘The Love You Love’ is an insistent, cynical track which hearkens back to early material but also invokes Springsteen and Tom Petty in its sharp, catchy chorus and heartfelt subject matter. Subsequent track and latest single ‘Heaven’ continues in the same vein; up-tempo and upbeat with a sing along chorus and similarly frank lyrics.
Overall, an excellent album; The Walkmen continue to go from strength to strength and progress from album to album with first-rate results. We must be thankful that they’ve neither imploded or become as bloated as so many of their contemporaries have; in their tendency to remain slightly under the radar lays their success and its about time that they are given the credit that they are due.
Released on 4th June 2012 by Bella Union