Draft the Walkmen High


Football season is upon us; more importantly, so is fantasy-football season. Millions of people have spent the past few weeks preparing for and conducting fantasy drafts, and, year after year, one of the most common themes is the allure of the new: We’re routinely infatuated with young, burgeoning talent, often at the expense of more reliable options. This year, for instance, heavily buzzed-about but largely unproven kids like Ryan Mathews and Arian Foster will frequently get drafted ahead of routinely productive known commodities like Steven Jackson and Joseph Addai. No one compliments you for taking Hines Ward in a fantasy draft the same way no one compliments you for recommending a Walkmen album.

They were who we thought they were, these guys—still are. Drawing parallels between sports and indie rock is a chic practice nowadays; fetishizing the newest flavors of the month is a trait that fans of both diversions unmistakably share. So while Johnnies-come-lately like Best Coast, the Drums, and Salem eat up the headlines, comparatively little excitement is being generated by the fact that the Walkmen have released yet another extremely strong LP, one most likely superior to almost everything released by a new artist in 2010.

These nominally NYC-based guys were once emergent darlings themselves, coming to flower during the early-2000s hysteria for gutty, back-to-basics guitar action. Yet while most of their then-trendy contemporaries (the Strokes, the Hives, the Vines) have to varying degrees fallen by the wayside, the Walkmen carry on churning out recommendable albums of elegantly dissolute last-call rock, their songs seamlessly swinging between bleary-eyed elegy and roaring, full-throated abandon. The band’s peers now aren’t young, puckish guttersnipes but established groups like Spoon and the National, dudes you can count on to recommend a good tailor and a better scotch. 

2008’s You and Me arguably represented a high-water mark in the Walkmen’s sturdy career; the new Lisbon does nothing to erode that goodwill. On the whole, it’s less raucous than its predecessor, which doesn’t bode well for its PR prospects, since You and Me was already plenty overlooked. In what has become a personal trademark, many of these songs sound drunk, jerked around by guitar lines that stumble, fall down, and generally appear to be coming apart at the seams. Couple that with singer Hamilton Leithauser’s equally besotted, Rod Stewart–ish howl, and it makes sense why Walkmen songs often seem to progress and evolve according to momentary whims rather than precise designs. Crucially, though, the rhythm section remains sober, admirably keeping pace with whatever abrupt emotional or sonic lunges Leithauser and the guitars might make.

And just because Lisbon is a relatively restrained effort doesn’t mean they don’t find plenty of disparate approaches to evoking shambling grace, whether it’s the horn-aided loveliness of first single “Stranded,” the Western-ish lope of “All My Great Designs” and “Blue as Your Blood,” or the starry swoon of the appropriately titled “Torch Song.” By comparison, there aren’t a whole lot of rave-ups here, yet Lisbon‘s best and possibly most important song is also its loudest. “Angela Surf City” is an absolute tear-the-roof-off beast, a track to finally rival the Walkmen’s most indelible song to date, 2004’s incendiary “The Rat.” If it hits the way it ought to, “Angela Surf City” might get the band re-regarded as indie studs rather than quality yeomen. Hey, I wouldn’t bet against Steven Jackson, either.