The Walkmen - Heaven

If the Walkmen were a basketball player, they’d be Tyson Chandler: Charming, erudite, handsome, and smooth, but not flashy or self-aggrandizing. Like Chandler, they bring a fundamental intensity to just about everything they do. Chandler has his muscular low-post moves, and the Walkmen have drummer Matt Barrick, who never overwhelms the songs he plays on but who hits harder than just about anyone else in indie rock. And like Chandler, the Walkmen had to keep working for a long time before it started to dawn on people that they were as good as they are. So here’s hoping that Heaven, the Walkmen’s seventh album and quite possibly the best, works as the Walkmen’s equivalent to the 2011 NBA Finals — the moment where the world at large realizes that the Walkmen aren’t just strong and dependable, but that they’re one of the best indie bands we’ve got.

To date, the general-consensus best Walkmen song, and the one that the band still uses to close out shows, is “The Rat,” the vengeful guitar-cyclone from 2004′s Bows + Arrows. And whenever the Walkmen get ready to release another album, I see people talking about how they wish the band would return to that stormy sound. But over the past eight years, they’ve gone in the other direction, getting progressively slower and tenderer with every album. Their best songs in the years since — “In The New Year,” “Angela Surf City” — have built themselves on similarly desperate thoughts, but they’ve done it with craft and panache, not volume. Heaven pushes them even further in that direction; its best moments are its quietest.

We Can’t Be Beat” has the Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold doing gentle Everly Brothers-style harmonies in the background (though the non-singing members of the band did just fine with those backing vocals when I saw them last week). “No One Ever Sleeps” is the band’s take on starry-eyed doo-wop. And “Line By Line,” well on its way to replacing “The Rat” as my favorite Walkmen song, relies on nothing but impressionistic guitar-picking, a few strings at the end, and a Hamilton Leithauser vocal that’s utterly confident in its own plaintiveness. It’s simply a beautiful song.

As always, the Walkmen are a band who commit deep thought to questions about how far they should place their mics from their amps, and Heaven sounds like a million bucks. It’s deeply satisfying to hear a band whose members are this good at what they do. Even in its less-memorable midtempo moments, Heaven remains an expertly realized piece of work. Leithauser, who still carries himself like a Winklevoss twin onstage, is a casually brilliant vocalist, his tenor carrying grit and feeling even as it effortlessly reaches for big notes. The band’s guitars spin webs without ever going for attention-grabbing effects-pedal whooshes. Organs are more prominent here than they’ve been on recent albums, and they fade into the overall atmosphere of the songs just as easily. Songs end exactly when they should and never stretch to indulgent lengths. None of the sounds on the album scream to be noticed, and all of them gel together beautifully. This is music for back porches and humid summer evenings and glasses of whiskey with ice. It’s grown-up music.

As the band was coming onstage in Charlottesville, Virginia last week, Leithauser said, “We’re playing nothing but the hits tonight.” Then the band played a set almost entirely comprised of songs from Heaven, songs that almost nobody in the audience had heard before. That was a pretty snarky move, but fate might bear that quote out. All the songs on Heaven deserve to be hits, at least within this indie realm. Maybe they will be.

Heaven is out 5/29 on Fat Possum.

Comments (35)
  1. True this PM to the max – though You & Me is still their masterpiece.

  2. “It’s grown-up music”
    This sentence bothers me. Grown-up music? I have no idea what you mean by that.

  3. I just got fired yesterday but I don’t give a shit because this album is coming out and I’ll have more time to listen to it

  4. I’m crazy excited to finally listen to this album, but I’m a little bit saddened that they’re touring with F+TM this summer….no way I’m springing for $60 lawn seats.

  5. They’ve now got the same problem as Spoon. They reached that certain plateau where ir’s kinda difficult to get yourself excited for a new album by them because, literally, their whole output is so consistently great.

  6. After their 10th anniversary show at Metro in January, I’ve been dying to hear studio versions of the new songs. They sound beautifully recorded, but there’s some weird fear I have that some of the rawness might be lost because of the production. Can’t wait for my vinyl to arrive soon to hopefully prove my fears to be unfounded.

  7. Can’t even express how glad I am to know that there’s a true Walkmen fan within Stereogum…

  8. This premature evaluation doesn’t inform us on how this album holds up to Goblin.

  9. this is def grown up music, threw this on the porch last night for some friends (not really indie listeners) and multiple people asked who this was

    here to the walkmen! easily one of the most consistent bands out there. You & Me will always be their greatest imo thou

  10. so grown ups cant make noisy music?

  11. I’ll never understand why everybody says “The Rat” is their best song and that they’ve been failing to live up to it ever since. It’s a good song, sure, but I wouldn’t even put it in their top 5.

    • The Rat is my favourite song of all time. Something I never felt comfortable saying as it seemed such a strong statement but I never lose that feeling of “Yes! Here we go!” when it comes on. In spite of that I wouldn’t for a second say that they’ve failed to live to up to it since then. Just because they haven’t made anything else that resonates with me quite as much I’m still hugely excited for anything new they do.

  12. Wow, this premature evaluation leads off with an extended Tyson Chandler metaphor. Awesome; Jackwhiteesque. Hopefully the Walkmen don’t join their hometown Knicks, then. Can’t wait to spin this.

  13. i’ve been forcing myself to not listen to a note of this before i get my copy of it, but i just wanna know…ya know how the walkmen can make both the wintriest and summeriest music? – what would you say, if there is one, the seasonal feel to this record?

  14. i think it`ll be a american indie classic album.. they are getting old, and their music are same. but it`s not bad. their albums tell the human life. getting older, getting wise

  15. Totally disagree with that article. “the Walkmen’s seventh album and quite possibly the best” No way. The production and even the songs,are probably their less inspired work in a long time. It sounds all pretty mainstream and easy to forget,and the anthemic wo-oh-oh vocals,that Leithauser fills half of the songs with is prett scary.

    • Totally disagree with this statement. It may not be as ‘risky’ as some of their earlier stuff. But there’s a lot of value in the maturity displayed in this album, and I’m not using ‘maturity’ as a synonym for ‘boring’. I’d say the rest of us would agree that the walkmen are a band that have really honed their craft.

  16. i tihnk heaven now clearly explains why the hell the walkmen were jaming on this u2 medley by the end of their recording sessions…

    • I could definitely hear bono singing ‘Heaven’… Especially the “Remember, Remember” bit… Bu apart from that I don’t think the album is overly U2 influenced

  17. Vinyl arrived today! So glad that I skipped the NPR First Listen. Looking so forward to spinning this one.

  18. is this Tyson Chandler you speak of single? hubba, hubba.

  19. Alright Stereogum, you brought this on yourself. Let’s compare NBA players to indie bands! I’ll start us off:
    Tyson Chandler – The Walkmen
    Tim Duncan – Jack White (dependably exemplary)
    Kyrie Irving – The Men (young, hungry, exciting)
    Allen Iverson – Trail of Dead (at the time was considered a legend in the making, in retrospect kind of depressing to think about)
    Kobe Bryant – Flaming Lips (one of the best ever, consistently weird, with a mild sinister undercurrent)
    Russell Westbrook – Deerhunter (amazingly talented, occasionally unhinged, prone to shooting 20+ times/ playing My Sharona for 20+ minutes)
    Greg Oden – Best Coast (crippled before the career can get going by knee injuries/lack of talent)

  20. This album will be the walkmen`s best album ever. it`s lovely, gently, easily ..

  21. Lazy writing comparing a band to an NBA player. Really? Best you could do? Come on.

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