Review Summary: Leithauser and co. show a stunning breadth and depth of emotion and do the best to coax that out of their instruments on what may be their best effort yet.
The Walkmen are a lot like the Phillip Seymour Hoffmans’ or the Gary Oldmans’ of the indie-rock world: quietly making excellent, groundbreaking music in a style that is undeniably theirs, raking in the critical acclaims and slowly accumulating fans with each album, but never really achieving mass fame and fortune like some of their peers. 2004’s Bows + Arrows was the closest the band ever came to reaching mainstream success, the record’s defiant attitude encapsulated in single “The Rat,” which made its way onto teen drama The O.C. and a video game. The Walkmen may be decidedly older, but You & Me contains enough vintage gems and choice lyrical insights to prove that their best days are not yet behind them, even though they don’t still go drunkenly around New York boldly giving everyone the finger.
“Donde Esta la Playa” starts off with a slow burning bass line and scattershot drums that sound submerged, alternating with a discordant, jangly guitar riff and singer Hamilton Leithauser’s whiskey-soaked vocals careening through a story about a one night stand. Leithauser has always been the make-or-break point for newcomers to the Walkmen; either you enjoy his Rod Stewart-esque roughness or it quickly becomes grating. On You & Me, his voice doesn’t to run as rampant as it did on A Hundred Miles Off, and his unique tone tends to complement a song’s mood rather than overshadow it.
Skipping over the throwaway instrumental track “Flamingos (for Colbert),” “On The Water” is another track that starts off slow, with a simple syncopated beat and a guitar swirling in the background supporting some of the Walkmen’s most surprisingly earnest, responsible lyrics yet: “Oh, you know I’d never leave you / no matter how I try . . . and that’s just how it is.” The Walkmen are growing up, and it’s heartfelt without sounding maudlin.
The music picks up as the record goes on, from the Pogues-ish rock and hopeful sentiments of “In The New Year” to the rollicking drums and wistful guitar on “Seven Years of Holidays (for Stretch).” The Walkmen have long been known for their penchant for old recording equipment and vintage instruments, and the care they put into every one of their albums is just as clear on You & Me. The production is practically flawless; just listen to the beautiful piano and swelling horns on “Red Moon” or the in-the-studio vibe that soft drums, percussive cracks, and haunting piano of “Canadian Girl.” The Walkmen have done something few producers and even fewer bands can accomplish: creating a studio record that sounds like a live one.
A few songs falter along the way: “Postcards from Tiny Islands,” while starting off promisingly with a hypnotic guitar line and a quiet thunder of drum rolls in the background, the song’s alternation between its quieter beginning and a louder chorus turn the guitar into an annoying buzz and Leithauser’s singing into unintelligible wailing. “Long Time Ahead Of Us” is nearly too slow for its own good and too long by half, losing the listener’s interest before anything worthwhile can come of it. And the worst song of the bunch, the aptly named “New Country,” chugs dutifully along to Leithauser’s tear-in—my-beer laments and a repetitive guitar progression that acts like it’s going to go somewhere but never really does.
But when the Walkmen do it right, they don’t mess around, and on You & Me, they hit it the right notes with stunning regularity. The cheery bar-hopping party vibe of “Four Provinces” (one of the record’s best), the vibrant strings on “The Blue Route,” the palpable nostalgia of closer “If Only It Were True,” all of the songs combine to create an album that may have a few missteps (hey, Hoffman had Along Came Polly), but, all in all, is another fantastic effort by an underrated band.