The Walkmen - Lisbon

When Hamilton Leithauser stopped through for a Progress Report he focused on Lisbon’s rawness:

We have all these rock songs and they’re really stripped down, they’re really like a guitar, a bass, and a drum a lot of them so far. And then we’re going to put a few other things on them, but the core sound is a minimal thing that is really sort of raw … For us it’s just new. Maybe because we’ve just always put so much garnish all over our crap for some reason. It’s kind of nice.

“Rock” came up a a bunch. He also mentioned “power shuffles,” aka “really powerful” waltzes and noted that the new batch of songs possess “so much juice.” The best laid plans? Or did he and his Walkmen stick to that general aesthetic template for their followup to ’08s You & Me?

Most folks’ first taste of the new 11-song collection was the horn-lined “Stranded.” It has You & Me’s moody, elegiac feel. In general, the new collection does move away from the more layered and unhinged, darker and shaggier vibe of its predecessor. Sonically, they bring more of the straight-up rock. Not that You & Me didn’t also come out swinging via “In the New Year” and “Postcards from Tiny Islands,” etc., but Lisbon’s less world-weary, more celebratory. As Ham told NPR:

We took two trips to Lisbon over the course of writing this record [...] None of us had ever been there, and we were really blown away by the place. The topography and architecture are stunningly handsome. Even when we were there for the rainy season — it literally never stopped raining — it was a trip that outshone a lot of others. We’ve never had much luck at all in Europe, and the Portuguese were surprisingly accommodating. I think those two trips really helped keep us motivated while making this record. We named the record Lisbon as sort of a “thank you” and a small tribute.

So where You & Me often felt (pleasingly) insular, Lisbon is an album about being outdoors and experiencing different landscapes firsthand. The optimistic opener “Juveniles” tells us “country air is good for me.” (Instead of mulching in the rain, its dead leaves are drying in the sun. We get luck, good things to come.) It’s followed by the bursting-at-the-seams anthem “Angela Surf City”: White caps roll continuously as “life goes on all around you.” The brief, transitional “Follow The Leader” sounds like a carnival imploding — without losing its joyful stuffing. Even a song like “Blue As Your Blood” — with a title suggesting sadness and a heartbroken Hamilton Leithhauser — is muscular, romantic, and triumphantly restrained. The details that gallop along with the quick-pulse of the guitars, dramatic strings, and cymbal crashes: He sings his lament by juniper trees, beneath an ever-present sky as blue as his Spanish (or at least Spanish-speaking) love’s blood. It’s songs like this that make Lisbon an easily satisfying listen. Ditto the equally ebullient, uplifting rocker “Woe Is Me,” another sunny song — maybe the sunniest — with an un-sunny title. (Even “When I Shovel The Snow” has a surprising tropical warmth to it.)

Across Lisbon’s 45 minutes, you don’t need to pick through layers (or dead leaves) to find yourself an addictive hook. See, for instance the carousing and uplifting “Victory.” The skeletal/in-the-same-room immediacy of the mellower “All My Great Designs” and side-winding closer “Lisbon,” the longest, most leisurely (and Walkmen on Astral Weeks) track on the collection.

The Walkmen have gotten so good at what they do, it’s easy enough to overlook the complexity of what it is they’re creating. There aren’t many seams. It’s hard to find a drop of sweat. They call a song “Torch Song” and give you a torch song. No need to be cute, it’s sturdy regardless. They “coast” and careen with their heads held high. The things is, their assured approach is welcome, not boring. It’s rock ’n’ roll balm. They’re doing something you can count on, which in an increasingly temporary ADD culture seems more radical than music twice as strange.

Lisbon is out in 9/14 via Fat Possum.

Comments (35)
  1. Loving the new album. I haven’t really had time to digest it yet, but while I can say with relative confidence that it won’t beat ‘You & Me’ it does come very close. Maybe I just like the boozy, insular vibe more. They killed it on “Angela Surf City” and “Stranded” though.

  2. Can we ditch some of the lyrical analysis and adjective-laden mush and get to the core of what this record actually sounds like? Tempos, instrumentation, dynamics, etc. If I wanted to read a review like this I’d open up a thesaurus.

  3. Thesauri don’t regularly contain reviews.

  4. Great LP… one of the best this year……I personally enjoy it more than “The Suburbs”

  5. I agree that these Premature Evaluations never really say much. They are mostly a string of quotes out of context, forced adjectives, inaccurate musical terms (a shuffle and a waltz are different things, guys), some song titles, and incomplete sentences. Not too helpful. This reads like someones notes for an article.

    This album probably sounds more like its predecessor than any other Walkmen album. Which is to say they are always taking steps somewhere. And they do here, too, just not as drastically as they have in the past. The overall mix is really similar to You & Me (bright, clean electric guitars, roomy drums, vocals up in the mix), as is the woozy, laid-back feeling. Not too many “hooks,” necessarily, but the songs are pretty catchy. “Angela Surf City,” after its initial minute or so, sounds the most like Bows + Arrows-era Walkmen (fast strumming, uptempo, quick snare rolls) and it’s GREAT. It provides a solid contrast to songs like “Stranded.” I love “Victory,” which is somewhere between their earlier cathartic stuff and the looser “In The New Year.” “All My Great Designs” has really great group harmonies, and a muted slapback guitar sound–which might be a bit of the Sun Records influence they’ve mentioned. That influence is most prevalent on “Torch Song,” though. It has a classic 50s sound in the chord progression and the shuffle, and the back-up vocals really nail a do-wop/early rock ‘n’ roll feel, but it’s solid and doesn’t sound like pastiche. Success. “Woe Is Me” has a surf feel and real sing-songy melody. Kind of the weak point of a very strong album for me.

    I love it, but would also love to hear all the songs they supposedly cut–more horn-heavy like the best parts of their last album and “Stranded.” Hopefully they find an excuse to release those too.

    • Ahhhh, some actual music journalism. Thank you, sir / ma’am.

      I was actually able to track the record down and give it (just one) listen. I agree that it’s a natural progression of the ideas and direction on You & Me, but some of the songs remind me a little bit of A Hundred Miles Off, and the somewhat unfinished / underdeveloped quality to several of the tunes on that record. There’s definitely a lean towards more texture on this record than peak-and-valley dynamics.

      Also, I actually think the production quality is quite different. Guitars are much less reverb + fuzz heavy than usual. In general the record has noticeably more presence — e.g. everything is more upfront instead of being buried down in the reverby mud (the sweet sweet reverby mud).

      Overall, I’m giving this one a wait and see. I think Walkmen fans will be happy, but I’m not sure this one is going to bring a whole new batch of listeners to the band the same way You & Me did.

  6. the walkmen are one of the most consistently great bands going right now.. i highly doubt this album will be a let-down for any true fans.

  7. ddogdunit  |   Posted on Aug 3rd, 2010 +1

    these prem evals are indeed PAINFUL to read. whoever strings these things together manage to say so incredibly LITTLE in these paragraphs that it is laughable. good thing stereogum doesn’t really review music per se, so when they do, they spare us a grade (because how could you discern a grade about any of the prem evals beyond “we like this album”) and spare us the quantity of these things (not to mention the DEARTH of content this site is undergoing recently anyway).

    as for the walkmen, another solid outing. strange filler track (follow the leader – wtf?), and “victory” isn’t the best song they’ve ever written, but pretty god damn solid otherwise. wonderful band.

    • It’s not even: “We like this album.”
      It’s more like: “This is an album.”

      But I agree, I’m constantly amazed at how little they are able to say with so many words. If you go back and look through them, most of the time they play it as safe as possible so they can’t possible end up on the wrong side. They might hint at something they see as a short coming, but never “evaluate” it at all. Like I said before, this is just a string of quotes–event the part about “Blue As Your Blood” is basically copied/pasted from a separate Stereogum post about the song, itself. It’s a strange approach. I guess most of their posts are like that. But then again, most of their posts don’t claim to be an evaluation.

  8. Agreed. The PMs usually say very little and are obviously too timid to make a definitive statement about the album for fear of ostracizing themselves from the SG community. The closest they came was pointing out that MIA was muddled and all over the place – an understatement as it was a total garbagefest. Real notes on this one: The tinny guitars and cool shambolic melodies are back, and Hamilton’s voice sounds great, but the album lacks the instrumental and thematic depth that made You & Me so successful. Still a really enjoyable album, and perfect for the transition from Summer to Fall.

  9. jesus. complain more, why don’t we. these aren’t even meant to be serious reviews anyway, they’re just hype-building pieces for leaked albums.

    listen, comment, move on with life. or, go be a music journalist if you’re so concerned with the quality of stereogum’s writing.

    • Wasn’t trying to complain, just stating the facts. Also, I think that calling them just “hype-building” pieces is more offensive than anything I said – they’re music analysis pieces that, I feel, should be a little more analytical. I don’t care if they make a definitive statement, just say something. Still love the site though, and the PEs.

  10. Sincere thanks for the feedback on PE guys. You make good points and I do wrestle with the no-byline-on-PEs issue. (There are multiple reasons for it, but it may change soon.) However, I do want to point out that the four of us at Stereogum are not being intentionally “safe” with appraisals: we usually get PEs up w/in 24hrs of the leak, so that’s why they are qualified as premature (it’s not just a cute name) AND also why, yes, probably we do err on the side of fair (how do you rate an album you’ve heard few times?) instead of kneejerk panning/raving. (We have panned plenty of LPs, though. Check the archives.)

    Do you want # rankings? Or a broader base of writers (we are probably the only large music news site that doesn’t use freelancers)? My goal from the start of Stereogum was to create a “virtual watercooler” (ugh) in that your PE is as meaningful as ours. We thrive on conversation as opposed to conventional one-way music criticism.

    Separately, I take issue with the “DEARTH of content” comment. Whuuuut?

    Who’s going to Lolla? Wanna arm wrestle?


    • I actually enjoyed reading the evaluation. It doesn’t have to completely describe the sound of the album in words, just seed the discussion a little with some perspective and thoughts. I’m afraid people are too desperate for someone to simply tell them if it is “good or not”. It’s art though and everyone will percieve it differently. If there is one thing I have learned over the years reading music reviews online, it is that an album score is really meaningless.

      Anyway. Thanks for discussing the album, and thanks to everyone else here that has heard it and is sharing their thoughts. I’m looking forward to hearing it for myself.

      • Being desperate for someone to say whether it’s good or not is much different than what I was trying to get out. If something is claiming to evaluate an album, it should probably do that. Or at least use complete sentences and avoid cliches. The trend with these posts is to use many words and not really say anything. It kind of acts like a compilation of previous posts on the album, rather than mentioning anything new about the album. It’s not about needing to know someone’s personal opinion on the album, but it would be nice to read something with a bit of substance and a bit of accurate, concrete description, which these posts seem to lack. Thanks for the response, Scott. Good to know you’re interested in readers’ opinions. My only real recommendation would be to wait another day or two, rather than rushing out the post. Everyone knows when it leaks, sooner or later, and being the first to post on it is worth much less than putting out quality writing that might include some insight.

  11. The album is yet another wonderfully heart felt, hazy, crooning of melodies. This band reaches into a miscellany of decades and draws from it a beating drum, a pace dissimilar to all that is around us.

  12. I’m a bit confused about people complaining about a lack of substance here. I just reread it, and there wasn’t really much that didn’t give me a solid impression of what the album sounded like. It’s a straightforward write up of a first reaction to the album that, to me, never read as unsubstantial.

    And that’s all I expect these to be. A sort of stop gap between a preview, recapping the artist’s intent, and a review, in that they give the reader a loose description of the album. They’re ideal for me. Numeric scores for albums are totally arbitrary, and most reviews speak with a kind of certainty that never really translates to how I hear the music. PM’s describe an album in a way simple enough for me to judge whether or not it would be worth my time to give it a listen.

    Keep up the good work!

    • I agree, I thought the review gave a plenty of descriptors for me to imagine what the album might sound like. It’s not like reviews need to spell out what instruments were played in what time signatures. This PE clearly stated the Mood and Tone of the album, which is my preferred approach.

      • I try to remain neutral on any album until I’ve had several listens, several meaning at least 4-5. This album has had 5 thorough listens and I believe I’ve listened enough to make an accurate mini-review.

        The Walkmen are an amazing band whose explosive dynamics, rhythm, and lyrics have made them my favorite band of the past ten years. However, their explosiveness (which I fell in love with in EWPTLMIG and Bows and Arrows) have slowly evaporated (A Hundred Miles Off, You and Me, and now, Lisbon), from album to album, with their current “Lisbon” being the least-explosive of the bunch. But, as their explosiveness has decreased, their creative lyrics and Hamilton’s vocals have increased ten-fold.

        To me, this album is nowhere as good as the previous 4 records. It doesn’t “rock out,” has an irregular and slow collection of songs, and lacks a “hook” song that simply knocks your socks off. While, several of Lisbon’s songs are good, Lisbon as a whole is a yawn-fest. Previous Walkmen songs such as “Wake Up”, “The Rat”, “Little House of Savages”, “Thinking of a Dream”, “In the New Year”, “Emma Get Me A Lemon”, “All the Hands and the Cook,” made their albums great. They were dynamic. They are intense.

        I understand the Walkmen have evolved, as all great bands do, but this album simply doesn’t rock. Angela Surf City is awesome, Stranded is good, Juveniles is a good opener, but songs such as Follow the Leader, All My Great Designs, Torch Song, While I Shovel Snow, and Lisbon are irregular, soft, and make this album extremely hard to like. Quite honestly, these songs belong on a Hamilton Leithauser solo album because it seems the rest of the band is not even involved.

        I saw the Walkmen in Asheville, NC about a year ago and they played several of these songs. I remember noting how lackluster their performance was and how uninterested their performance was, outside of The Rat, Little House of Savages, and In the New Year. The previous 4 times I saw them it was the opposite – intense, explosive, dynamic, and fun.

        I will not completely stop listening to Lisbon, it is a decent album that I will still try to “get into.” However, it is a let down. I know they can still explode and create the music that drew me to this band, as Angela Surf City is proof, however they have chose to go in a difference direction. While Hamilton’s lyrics and vocals are inspiring, the lack of substance and explosiveness will keep this record far from earlier Walkmen albums.

        • It is interesting to see how they have shed their angst. I do really like this side of the walkmen though. They do melancholy well, and I think they exhibited that best on You and Me. That being said, I would like to see a return to their more energetic side next..

        • Weird. I think Lisbon is more “explosive” than You & Me. And to say that All My Great Designs sounds like a solo song is confusing…the drum part is prominent, and the back up vocals are the strongest they’ve ever been for this band. Same with Torch Song. Those back up vocals are a big step for the band. Agree to disagree, I guess.

  13. They dipped into this album quite a bit during their Lolla aftershow at the Double Door on Friday. Angela Surf City, Stranger at Her Side, Stranded, Woe is Me, Victory, and While I Shovel Snow were the new ones that they played. Hamilton also totally messed up the lyrics on the Blue Route.

    As good as their albums have been, this is a band that just kills it live. In the seven or eight times I’ve seen them, I’ve never seen a bad performance, or one that didn’t live up to my expectations.

  14. Gave this a quick listen over the weekend. My first impression is that its a total snoozefest.

  15. Whatever happened to the band “Surf City”? They “rocked out” and were “explosive.” They sure as hell blew me away more than this record.

  16. Incredible album. I was a fan of their old stuff but this is such a great subtle, gorgeous record. Juveniles and Blue As Your Blood are definitely both in my top 10 best songs of 2010.

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