Posts tagged: indie

Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

By , January 26, 2013 12:00 pm

beta-love

Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love

Arts & Crafts 2013

Rating: 4/10

Clichés suck, but damn if Beta Love doesn’t qualify for the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. Beta Love itself is sort of a cliché as it is, its music resembling the same kind of rote, brain-dead saying that is force-fed you throughout life at moments that might make you think the dystopian world of Office Space isn’t too far away. The drudgery here isn’t so much a case-of-the-Mondays as a pungent whiff of desperation, a band turning to a genre long since strip-mined to recover some intangible sense of relevance. 2010’s underrated The Orchard was largely ignored by critics and the same fickle public that had made them a buzzworthy group in 2008 and slapped them with a label as crafty and complex as “Vampire Weekend with strings,” yet at least it had soul and feeling, two things that are largely lacking from the mechanical Beta Love. Perhaps the departure of both cellist Alexandra Lawn and drummer Gabe Duquette (the secret ingredient to The Orchard’s success) and various touring struggles necessitated a change, but for much of its running length Beta Love sounds like a half-baked experiment, all knob-fiddling and jagged programming, candied indie-disco hooks that sound tinny and tapped out. It’s not for lack of commitment – Beta Love doubles down hard on an electro-pop sound that comes off as a strong advocate of cheesy ‘80s pop tropes and beating an innocent drum machine to death. Rather, it’s such an abrupt left turn for the band that, for all of its relentlessly chipper four-on-the-floor ecstasy and an ADD ethos that is almost Euro in its manic intensity, it sounds like a fake-out, a grinning rictus for the cameras and the blogs.

The songwriting is still there, thankfully. Hooks like that on “Binary Mind” and the jittery “Angel Please” bounce out of the speakers and seem to embed themselves in your spine, closely approximating certain party favors these restless tunes seem determined to emulate. The guitar solo that stutters through the feedback and rips itself up before resounding into something resembling a pleasant surprise on “That Much” is just the kind of 8-bit titty-twisting that would have been nice to see the band develop further. Instead, however, the hooks tend to come in one of two flavors, be it the propulsive, ready-made dance-floor hit (the aforementioned “Binary Mind” and the skittish “I Shut Off” are probably the best of these, hectic and unhinged energy that is fun in the moment) or relatively midtempo synth-pop (presumably standing in for what would be ballads on another record). Wes Miles, possessor of one of the finer voices in indie rock, races from one end of the scale to another, alternating campy, fun performances like “Angel Please” with octave-stretching reaches like “Beta Love,” with his voice occasionally approaching an absurd, almost pixie-ish quality. Violinist Rebecca Zeller soldiers on with Lawn gone, yet the splicing in of her parts sound like the hurried addition of a frantic producer or the kind of chintzy effect a regular four-piece might cook up, because, you know, strings and shit. It’s a far cry from the organic textures of the band’s past work, where Zeller and Lawn were no less an essential part of the mix than the guitar and drums. The lyrics, reportedly drawing inspiration from “the works of cyberpunk novelist William Gibson and futurist Ray Kurzweil’s musings on technological singularity and transhumanism,” are just as freshman English as you’d expect, groping for a message while everything else on Beta Love is merely content to just shake its ass.

It’s a disconcerting tonal shift, one that gets lost in its own medium as much as it garbles the message it’s ostensibly trying to make. The songs are still there, those hooks hard to resist, a strong pop foundation that is hard to crack despite the trashy synths reaching critical mass here. Yet it lacks the heart that made The Orchard such a rewarding listen, and with its tacky electro-pop sound may lead them to becoming more indistinguishable than they might have been accused of being before. The result is an unfortunately hollow album, recycled in its sound and empty in its emotion.




Beta Love marks Ra Ra Riot's first outing as a four-piece. Inspired by their lean new lineup (with Wes Miles on vocals, Milo Bonacci on guitar, Mathieu Santos on bass and Rebecca Zeller on violin), the recording process found the band members expanding and re-defining their roles within the new makeup of the group. They built upon demos created mostly by Miles and producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello, Wavves) at Sweet Tea Studios in Oxford, MS. Joined by session drummer Josh Freese (Devo, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer) the band enjoyed exploring its potential, experimenting with new influences and exciting sounds.
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Two Gallants – Ride Away

By , November 8, 2012 10:00 am

San Francisco lo-fi duo Two Gallants have been cruising along just fine with their brand of punk-tinged folk-rock, releasing three excellent albums on indie mainstay Saddle Creek before relocating to ATO Records for album number 4, the recently-released The Bloom and the Blight. A track like “Ride Away” is a fine example of the pair’s overall aesthetic, running Adam Stephen’s guitar ragged and highlighting his throaty, powerful vocals and Tyson Vogel’s pounding drums. The apocalyptic imagery and general dusty, campfire tone imbue everything here, planting Two Gallants and The Bloom and the Blight firmly in Americana territory with an outlaw bite. 

Two Gallants – “Ride Away”

Andrew Bird – “Orpheo”

By , November 2, 2012 10:00 am

After March’s superb release Break It Yourself, one would have expected Chicago multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird to take it easy on the road for the remainder of the year, enjoying the success of the best album of his career. Instead, he just popped out another album, a so-called “companion piece” to Break It Yourself’s textured folk and fingerpicking goodness. Hands of Glory is more innately country, the rugged, sepia-tinged mirror image of Break It Yourself and one that is as effortlessly authentic as all of Bird’s discography. “Orpheo” is perhaps the best representation of Hands of Glory’s aim, a reworking of Break It Yourself’s majestic “Orpheo Looks Back” to a more rustic, contemplative acoustic shuffle. It’s lovely.

Andrew Bird – “Orpheo”

Dragonette – Run Run Run

By , September 24, 2012 10:00 am

Canadian electro-pop group Dragonette just released their third album, Bodyparts, on Universal Music last week. It’s the same hi-octane pop (heavy on the synths and breakbeats, with some fine electro house production here and there to boot) that people have come to expect from the lovely Martina Sorbara and bandmates Dan Kurtz and Joel Stouffer, but I do think the songwriting has become much more consistent over the course of an album-length here. “Run Run Run” is the opener here, starting slowly out of the gate with a synth line extremely indebted to the ’80s before launching into a sky-high bridge that Sorbara unsurprisingly kills.

Dragonette – “Run Run Run”

The Antlers – Crest

By , July 31, 2012 10:00 am

The Antlers’ transformation from critically-adored-band-that-I-didn’t-really-care-for on 2009′s Hospice to critically-adored-band-that-I-really-like-a-lot on last year’s expansive Burst Apart has been a joy to watch. This latest release, off their new EP Undersea, continues Peter Silberman and company’s ascent as masters of atmospherics, creating a swirling bit of psychedelia that mixes ambient, jazz, electronic and rock to great effect. It’s delicate yet quite substantial, lingering with you long after the mournful sax fades away and that undersea sensation tapers off. If you liked “Crest,” check out the rest of the four-song EP, particularly the stately “Drift Dive.”

The Antlers – “Crest”




4 song EP, follow up to the band's acclaimed full-lengths Burst Apart and Hospice.
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The Raveonettes – She Owns the Streets

By , July 11, 2012 10:00 am

Danish fuzz-pop duo the Raveonettes will be releasing their sixth album (and their second in two years) soon, and if the lovely haze of “She Owns the Streets” is any indication, the pair seem to be taking a more pop-oriented direction as they did on 2009′s In and Out of Control, with some more of the heavy atmospherics that they toyed with on last year’s darker Raven in the Grave. I dig how Sune Rose Wagner’s vocals are the dominating force here, as he often gets lost behind Sharin Foo’s charisma. Observator drops September 11 on Vice Records.

The Raveonettes – “She Owns the Streets”

Future of What – Back to the City

By , July 10, 2012 10:00 am

Led by wispy vocalist Blair Gimma (whose had her own share of solo success in the past), Brooklyn buzz band Future of What’s Facebook page defiantly throws aside the “electro-pop” moniker, claiming that they write “songs with a capital S.” I’m not sure when electro-pop became a genre tag to be avoided like the plague, but if “Back to the City” definitely fits within the parameters. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing; Gimma’s voice adds an airy dimension to the stark synths and gentle, space-age chord changes, and it seems like the band environment has worked well for Gimma. The group’s debut EP, Moonstruck, is available for free on their Bandcamp.

Future of What – “Back to the City”

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

By , July 3, 2012 10:00 am

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

Epic 2012

Rating: 9/10

Idler wheel (noun): 1. A wheel, gear, or roller used to transfer motion or to guide or support something.

Fiona Apple doesn’t so much write albums as she does give birth to them, expunging the songs out of herself in a sea of self-flagellation, venom and red, red, red. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do was a tougher germination than most, coming seven years off of the studio fiasco that produced the strangely ebullient, jazzy Extraordinary Machine, and it shows – nothing on this record comes easy.  Apple spends years and years keeping to herself, performing one-off shows at her favorite intimate venues, and her claims that she gets what feels like the flu every time she leaves her home and that she doesn’t know how to drive are the very definition of the Artist Recluse. The songs here don’t sound like the result of any pre-production planning, of careful songwriting and the common mark of a pen and the irritating rub of an eraser. No, these songs pour out of the speakers like a wave, unrepentantly raw and crushingly determined.  I have a tough time analyzing The Idler Wheel as a result; as more than anything else Apple has done, it sounds like her truest work, the very definition of one’s innermost thoughts spooling out into the air. In an illuminating interview with Pitchfork, Apple described her music as “the stuff that I really needed to get out, [the] excrement of my life, the excrement I was trying to exorcise out of me.” Shut the doors, stop the presses: this is The Idler Wheel in a nutshell.

“I don’t cry when I’m sad anymore.”

It comes at you fast, from the opening verses of “Every Single Night,” that throaty, full-bodied voice that sounds so uniquely, wonderfully Fiona. There’s the gentle brush of a drumstick, the background tinkle of a piano, the softest bump of percussion, but Apple’s voice is the centerpiece, starting off in quiet anguish: “Every single night I endure the flight / of little whims of white flame / butterflies in my brain.” Then her voice arcs up into that potent roar in the chorus, unadorned and all the more majestic for it. This is the template of The Idler Wheel: Apple’s voice, front and center, taking stock of all her pains, her insecurities, the ugly moments that make up far too much or her life and everyone else’s. The album is ruthless in its unflinching look at Apple, stripped and bare of protection or any sort of emotional wall. “Left Alone” details her inability to coexist with the guy who was right for her all along: “Oh God what a good guy / and I can’t even enjoy him / ‘cuz I’m hard, too hard to know.” Ever the centerpiece, her vocals fluctuate with her emotions, rending the speakers with a desperate howl when she reaches the denouement of “Left Alone,” punctuating each word with a vindictive bit of imaginative spit on the deceptively lovely “Periphery,” and bouncing lightly to and fro on the a capella show-off “Hot Knife.” It’s a visceral performance, one that seems to reach a jagged emotional high on the vicious torch song “Regret” but never truly peaks in any one song, instead twisting and turning around Apple’s swirling moods and piercing lyrics to fit the tone of each. It’s exhausting, to be sure, but it’s also liberating, being able to peer into the psyche of an artist and having her stare back at you, uncompromising and courageous and standing on her own. “I don’t wanna talk about anything,” Apple sings on “Jonathan;” I do think the lady doth protest too much.

Whip (verb): 1. To whip the end of a line is to lace it tight with light line (whipping twine) so it won’t unravel.

Accompanied only by her trusty piano and bandmate Charley Drayton’s superb percussion work, Apple is simultaneously at her loosest and most focused, unburdened by the flashy production that marked Extraordinary Machine. There’s nothing elaborate here or bejeweled besides that ever-shifting voice, and Drayton’s work is note-perfect; a soft thwump there, a gravelly shuffle here, all barely rising above the level of a tap. Indeed, many of the arrangements fall just short of skeletal, a harmonic shading or the occasional multi-tracked rhythm, but in its unfettered, jazzy inflections much of The Idler Wheel comes off as the perfect lounge record: we are sitting here, a dark room with wooden floors and liquor stains, watching Apple perform under the bright lights, the haze of cigarette smoke doing nothing to obscure that voice. It forces the songwriting to shine through, whether it comes immediately like the hook on “Periphery” or whether it surges to the surface after percolating a bit as “Werewolf” or “Every Single Night” do. But there are no pithy singles here and nothing that arrives with an easy promotional angle, Apple finally pulling off the blatantly anti-commercial promise she has hinted at ever since her sly, subversive “Criminal” video aired fifteen years ago. Instead, there’s a vigorous determination and a terrifying dexterity, in both the album’s free-flowing style and in Apple’s own vocal cunning. She is fully untethered, not having to answer to the whims of a record company or the desires of a producer, and as a result The Idler Wheel never has to stop to wonder what it’s all about.

“Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key.”

Apple’s greatest gift has always been going to the darkest part of herself, the heartache and jealousy and self-loathing and rage, the same parts that everyone grapples with daily, and staring it right in the eye, giving no quarter to it as she belts it all out. It’s a refreshingly candid quality and one that makes Apple, for all her inhumanly agile vocals and odd idiosyncrasies, one of the most relatable singer-songwriters of her generation. More so than any of her previous albums, The Idler Wheel, with its spartan production, shines an uncomfortable light on all those uneasy insecurities, everything messy and tense about the human condition. Yet there Apple is, at the forefront of every song, opening by expelling the ideas that split her skull on “Every Single Night” and finishing as the confident man-eater of “Hot Knife.” She has never sounded as good, as irascible yet as in control as she does here. It’s compelling vocal drama, told through the twists and turns of her voice and the softly pervasive arrangements, and Apple is crystal clear in her protestations and so, so easy to empathize with. To bare your soul to an audience starved for seven years for your work, to go about it as tenaciously and unshrinking from all expectations and to succeed, as Apple unequivocally does here, in getting that audience to feel what she is feeling, or at least to be a part of it all for a little; The Idler Wheel is an emotional thesis that cannot be ignored. It is perhaps the most unforgettable work of her career.




Fiona Apple made her debut at age 19 with 1996's Tidal, which is certified triple Platinum. Rolling Stone named her Artist of the Year in 1997 and in 1998 she won a GRAMMY for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for one of the album's singles, Criminal. When the Pawn...followed in 1999, and was hailed by Entertainment Weekly as the work of an original. In early 2005, fans organized a massive Free Fiona letter-writing campaign, insisting that her label release the long-delayed follow-up album, Extraordinary Machine. Released in the fall of 2005, Extraordinary Machine was named the top album of the year by The New York Times, which called it magnificent, and was awarded four stars by Rolling Stone, which praised it as her strongest and most detailed batch of songs yet. Five years later, Extraordinary Machine earned a spot on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the 00s list, underscoring how her work continues to resonate powerfully.
Fiona's first album since 2005, The Idler Wheel, is a 2012 Grammy Nominee for Alternative Album of the year. She has received countless accolades taking over Top 10 album lists from such credible sources as Time Magazine, New York Times, Pitchfork, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Stereogum and more.
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Fiona Apple – Periphery

By , June 28, 2012 10:00 am

Still not sure how to put my feelings about Fiona Apple’s new album The Idler Wheel…, her first in seven years, into words (aside from the fact that it’s really, really good!), but “Periphery” immediately jumped out at me as a favorite. The jazzy piano ostinato, the shuffling, spartan percussion, and, of course, Apple’s voice, which snipes and barks with vigor and a fair amount of venom while still staying the course through one of the more straightforward melodies on the record. It’s a great song from a great album, one that has taken me a number of listens just to get a handle on everything. If you’re an Apple fan or just a fan of art in general, check it out stat.

Fiona Apple – “Periphery”




Fiona Apple made her debut at age 19 with 1996's Tidal, which is certified triple Platinum. Rolling Stone named her Artist of the Year in 1997 and in 1998 she won a GRAMMY for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for one of the album's singles, Criminal. When the Pawn...followed in 1999, and was hailed by Entertainment Weekly as the work of an original. In early 2005, fans organized a massive Free Fiona letter-writing campaign, insisting that her label release the long-delayed follow-up album, Extraordinary Machine. Released in the fall of 2005, Extraordinary Machine was named the top album of the year by The New York Times, which called it magnificent, and was awarded four stars by Rolling Stone, which praised it as her strongest and most detailed batch of songs yet. Five years later, Extraordinary Machine earned a spot on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the 00s list, underscoring how her work continues to resonate powerfully.
Fiona's first album since 2005, The Idler Wheel, is a 2012 Grammy Nominee for Alternative Album of the year. She has received countless accolades taking over Top 10 album lists from such credible sources as Time Magazine, New York Times, Pitchfork, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Stereogum and more.
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Crocodiles – Endless Flowers

By , June 18, 2012 10:00 am

Crocodiles – Endless Flowers

Frenchkiss 2012

Rating: 7/10

Crocodiles have always seemed a band more intent on paying homage to the past than crafting anything lasting for the present. Their previous efforts, 2009’s Summer of Hate and 2010’s Sleep Forever, name-checked all the influences that you would expect a noise-pop band named after an Echo & The Bunnymen album to worship: there are your Jesus and Mary Chain melodies, covered in layers of fuzz, the free-floating psychedelia of Spacemen 3, and a heavy dose of My Bloody Valentine’s thick, druggy production. Endless Flowers doesn’t necessarily go away from these touchstones, yet one look at the title is all you need to know how things have shifted for Crocodiles. No longer are they the brooding, black-clothed purveyors of pop-scented sonic sludge, morosely indulging in multi-tracked layer upon multi-tracked layer of buzzing guitar. First single “Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)” bursts out of the gate with a lurching melody that screams out summer anthem more than anything this band has ever laid down on record, all sunscreen and surfboards and blinding glare stretching out endlessly. It propels itself relentlessly forward, an unconscious amount of level-stretching noise nearly obliterating the vocals. It’s damn fun, the way everything sounds after a wave has turned you up and violently down, washing everything out with a thud. “If you were a daisy, thirsting for a fix / I’d gladly be the dew,” Brandon Welchez sings to his wife Dee Dee Penny (of similarly-minded noise pop group Dum Dum Girls) on “No Black Clouds for Dee Dee.” “No more dead birds raining on you / no more black clouds hanging around,” a fitting summation of the direction Crocodiles have confidently gone for with Endless Flowers.

After two albums of tinkering their sound, playing around with their influences and showing a fine grasp of where to set the storm of guitars and keys so they just barely fail to overwhelm Welchez’s laissez-faire vocals, Endless Flowers is the sound of a band in full control of their faculties and more confident than ever in their songwriting. The opening combo of the title track and “Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9) is the purest distillation of their noise-pop/shoegaze ethos, pruned down to a respectable length and wasting not a note in lengthy buildups or outros. The melodies here are muscular, never overshadowed by the constant crackle and hum of the instruments but enhanced by it, built up on layers upon layers of reverb. The Jesus and Mary Chain is still the predominant musical precedent, but the band’s pop finesse land them more along sunnier contemporaries, a scummier, messier Best Coast on the enchanting “Bubblegum Trash” or a noisier Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on the go-to-hell riffage of “My Surfing Lucifer.”

Over the course of a full-length, Crocodiles’ pitiless sonic assault wears, with tracks bleeding into one another; “Electric Death Song” is a passing trifle after the superb trio that opens this album, while “You Are Forgiven” seems almost an afterthought. The group’s one attempt to change things up, the dreary, hazy “Hung Up On A Flower,” takes away the band’s strong melodies in an effort to add tension and atmosphere to a song that ends up more a soupy haze of a bad trip than any real, coherent sentiment. For a band that seemed to have struggled with finding out what they were, however, these missteps are almost necessary. They make the triumphs, like that soaring, nebulous beginning to “Bubblegum Trash” and the massive hook to “Welcome Trouble,” all the more rewarding, fine examples of what finding your own path can do for a band. That omnipresent wall of sound, washed out keyboards and thumping drums and oh, that glorious roar of a guitar and the tendrils of feedback; they all sound so much better when matched up with the best overall songwriting of the band’s career. Endless Flowers is an album of summer anthems for those who like their beach days mixed in with a good dose of torrential summer downpours.




San Diego, CA's Crocodiles have signed to Frenchkiss Records and will release their third full-length album, Endless Flowers, on June 5th, 2012. Recorded in Berlin last summer, Endless Flowers is the first album to feature Crocodiles' full five-piece line up, which has evolved from their 2008 genesis as the core duo of singer/guitarist Brandon welchez and guitarist Charles Rowell to now include keyboardist Robin Eisenberg, bassist Marco Gonzalez, and drummer Anna Schuite. Endless Flowers follows in the footsteps of the band's stellar two previous releases (2010's Sleep Forever and 2009's debut Summer of Hate), while adding a refined cohesion and unmistakable sunny-ness to their glorious noise- and echo-cloaked pop. The title track opener is four and a half minutes of soaring, alarm-ringing guitars, while ''Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)'' comes next with a resounding, punk-inflected charge. The 7-plus minute ''My Surfing Lucifer'' begins with two minutes of grimy, hissed spoken word before ascending to glammy, distorted heights; the bass-heavy and buzzing ''Dark Alleys'' is a motorik march; and the swirling ''Bubblegum Trash'' has a sweet, dirty charm. Nearly all are single-worthy, and are embellished with Welchez's newly forward-mixed croon. Crocodiles are: Brandon Welchez (vocals, guitar), Charles Rowell (guitar), Marco Gonzalez (bass), Anna Schulte (drums), and Robin Eisenburg (keyboards).
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The Tallest Man on Earth – Revelation Blues

By , June 11, 2012 10:00 am

Swedish folk artist Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man on Earth will be releasing this third LP tomorrow, and There’s No Leaving Now is uniformly excellent, in the “Euro Bob Dylan” mold of 2008′s Shallow Grave and 2010′s The Wild Hunt (one of my favorite albums from that year). His odd vocals take some a bit to get used to, but his skill with a guitar and is irrefutable songwriting talent hasn’t aged a bit since I last heard him. A song like “Revelation Blues,” meanwhile, adds a bit more texture to his usual bare-bones recording style, adding in electronic elements and some mild percussion that enhance his guitar playing and lyrics, rather than detract from them.

The Tallest Man on Earth – “Revelation Blues”




There's No Leaving Now, the 2012 record from Kristian Matsson's aptly titled moniker, The Tallest Man On Earth, finds the Swedish troubadour trading in the sense of urgency that fueled his first two records for a confidently relaxed approach. Drums, piano, baritone guitar, woodwinds and pedal steel layer this collection of songs that never compromise virtuosity for immediacy.
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The Walkmen – Heaven

By , June 6, 2012 10:00 am

The Walkmen – Heaven

Fat Possum Records 2012

Rating: 9/10

I feel old. Not, of course, in the physical sense – according to the fine people at the census, I’m in the prime of my life – but damn are these numbers weighing me down. However high or low a certain decimal point is determines how many zeroes I will be making in two years time. I need to watch those points piling up on a license to keep low the amount of dollars on my insurance policy. There’s a minute difference in percentages that coldly looks down every year and decides whether to burden me with an extra twenty thousand in graduate loans or merely smiles and moves on. There are a lot of crafty little abbreviations – APRs, GPAs – that really just disguise what’s at the heart of everything: numbers, numbers to rule my life and numbers to ruin it. There are still dreams, but those dreams seem more obscured than ever by the crushingly mundane. This is why I enjoy Heaven so much – it turns the mundane into something extraordinary.

It’s been ten years since the Walkmen released their first album, and more so than any band that I’ve really come to love, theirs is a group that has (cliché alert!) grown up before our very eyes. They came of age in that scrappy New York scene where dozens of red-eyed, shaggy bands went to shout and make a mark and, more often than not, die quietly and usually with less dignity than when they arrived. The Walkmen’s path seemed preordained, for the most part – Bows + Arrows was the angular, mid-‘00s tour de force predictably co-opted by the mad men working for the WB/CW that plenty of other bands never overcame, while that Harry Nilsson cover album almost seemed like a dying gasp, one last shot across the bow of novelty before mutually agreeing to go their separate ways. Yet something funny happened with 2008’s You & Me; although frontman Hamilton Leithauser still sang like he had just gone through a bottle of Bushmill’s the night before, the band seemed more at ease, more comfortable in their skin than the constantly fidgeting black-and-white shades of their earlier albums. Could it be, the Walkmen . . . growing old? Lisbon, of course, virtually cemented this in a glorious burst of color, of New Orleans jazz processionals and wistful campfire sing-alongs, 2010 Leithauser dousing out the last dying embers of his old self with those first optimistic stanzas of “Juveniles.” And it was good.

Heaven celebrates those ten years not with fireworks and a blackout but with a picture of the band on the back cover, suited up and surrounded by their families. “It’s been so long, been so long, but I made it through,” Leithauser croons on opening track “We Can’t Be Beat,’ and there is nothing fiery or remotely venomous here, but pure contentment, even as Leithauser assures us that he wants “a life that needs correction / nobody loves, loves perfection.” Perhaps Leithauser protests too much; it’s difficult not to find perfection in Heaven, which doesn’t attempt to expand the band’s sonic collage past the impressive borders they painted on Lisbon, as kaleidoscopic and vibrant as they were. Instead, producer Phil Ek and the band would rather refine the edges and color in the blanks, all with an adroitness that the younger Walkmen would have trampled roughshod over. Ek has been content to traffic in workmanlike, midtempo indie for much of his career, and on Heaven, he applies that knowledge consummately, pulling back the curtain on the Walkmen to a tighter canvas, one that focuses on just how good the band has gotten at the tints and hues and backgrounds. It’s the little things that jump out at you on Heaven: the flashpoint of synths that close out “Line by Line;” the constant, faithful bass that underlines all of the triumphant, sweeping “Nightingales;” the cavernous drum echo on the aching “No One Ever Sleeps.” There’s no unusual motif like the horns on Lisbon or the piano on You & Me, but instead everything coalesces slowly around Paul Maroon’s flickering guitar and Leithauser, whose vocals have never sounded stronger or more centered than they do throughout Heaven. Without Leithauser’s expressive pipes, worn down over the years, more restrained and consequently sounding better than ever, Heaven is just another guitar rock record. With it, “Southern Heart” turns into a translucent web of delicate acoustic interplay and soulful vocals (“Tell me again how you love all the men you were after,” Leithauser whispers) and “Heartbreaker” turns into a surf rock anthem for guys who would never surf, full of Leithauser’s confident gruff: “I know the answers, to all your demands / I have no secrets.”

Heaven doesn’t move resolutely from point A to point B on the Walkmen Victory Tour as it does float there, sometimes leisurely (“We Can’t Be Beat”), sometimes forcefully (“Love Is Luck”), sometimes melancholy (“Dreamboat”); many other times, simply happy to be there. The Walkmen have never needed to be particularly complex songwriters – “Song For Leigh,” about the band’s respective children, is about as straightforward a hymn as you’ll find in contemporary indie – but it’s their mastery of the finer edges, the contours of a song, that has made them one of America’s special bands. Maroon’s sparkling guitar tone twists and slinks along throughout the record, providing the narcotic riff on the title track as easily as it does a luminous shimmer in “The Witch,” easing its way past Matt Barrick’s thudding kit and Walter Martin’s bass and distinctive organ, all deft arrangements purposed around the highlighting of Leithauser’s vocals and timeworn lyrics. There’s a depth to these tunes, one that comes not out of fast nights and wrecked relationships but the hindsight and experience of age; it’s a well that, thankfully, seems to be getting deeper and deeper.

The band don’t have to be shitkicking New York rockers anymore, just as much as they don’t have anything left to prove after Heaven, the third in a trilogy that matches the best of any modern rock band. They’ve successfully grown up, far along into what should be the twilight of their career but what is, inexplicably and delightfully, a golden age. They remain proof that, perhaps, growing old is the best medicine for what ails you. “Our children will always hear / romantic tales of distant years / our gilded age may come and go / our crooked dreams will always glow,” Leithauser reminds us on the titular track. It’s a fitting thesis for a band that has never seemed caught unawares by what lies around the corner. In listening to Heaven, I don’t feel quite so overwhelmed.




2012 album from the East Coast-based Indie Rock band. The album was produced by Phil Ek, best known for twiddling the knobs for Fleet Foxes, Band Of Horses, Built To Spill and others. Ten years into their career, The Walkman are more focused and determined than ever, which makes Heaven one of their finest albums to date.
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