The Walkmen
Heaven


4.5
superb

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
June 2nd, 2012 | 48 replies


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Our crooked dreams will always glow.

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 (cliche 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 ***kicking 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.



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user ratings (133)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
Ali CONTRIBUTOR (4.5)
At last, The Walkmen hit gold....


Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
June 1st 2012


10417 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

aoty for me so far

AggravatedYeti
June 1st 2012


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

so fucking good Rudy.

Spare
June 2nd 2012


5306 Comments


the fuckin walkmen, man

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AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
June 2nd 2012


7338 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great write up man. Glad this got a staff review, maybe now it'll get the attention that it deserves.

This is my album of the year also, and by a considerable distance.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2012


7275 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great review, Klap. Pos-ed in my heart.

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robin
Emeritus
June 2nd 2012


4248 Comments


remember rememmmmmmmmmber

DoubtGin
June 2nd 2012


6752 Comments


not a 4.5, but it's pretty good

Steoandnoodles
June 2nd 2012


2832 Comments


Man, Phil Ek is awesome.
This is a great album too. Might even bump my rating. =P

And Robin Pecknold on 'We Can't Be Beat'. Cool stuff.

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2012


10417 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah i'm pretty sure pecknold is on some other tracks as well

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
June 2nd 2012


7338 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Rudy how do you rank this compared to the rest of their discography?

It's their best by a distance for me.

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 2nd 2012


10417 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

you know i've always thought you & me was their best but i was listening to lisbon recently and was like damn this is really good and also listening to this now i think it might be their best. hard for me to decide yet

sinisterplague
June 2nd 2012


151 Comments


I don't know, I heard a lot of hype about Lisbon but just could never get into it. I really wanted to like it.

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2012


10198 Comments


Klapper remains my favorite staffer!

That first paragraph is incredible, man. I completely know what you mean by it, too.

Digging: The Contortionist - Language

plane
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2012


6094 Comments


Rudy you are one of the best, really. I have never tried the Walkmen ('Godfather' complex) but now I will. Excellent, have a pos.

Kiran
Emeritus
June 3rd 2012


6001 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this is soooo great

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2012


10417 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

thanks guyyyys. i'm glad this is getting some love, feel like it took lisbon a while to catch on here too

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2012


7338 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I liked Lisbon a lot but fo rme this is on another level. It's a long time since an album has hit me so hard on first listen.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2012


23818 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

such a good review. love your writing Rudy.

I didn't know they had a new one coming out but I will definitely give it a try. I loved 'Lisbon' so I'll probably like this.

jefflebowski
June 3rd 2012


8243 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great review, album is pure class from end to end

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Tyrael
June 3rd 2012


20876 Comments


great band & review

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