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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The new Walkmen album is really great

This is an opinion that I'm sure shocks all of you. But really — I know a lot of people were disappointed with A Hundred Miles Off, but this is just a gorgeous album. Sad, sentimental, spooky, beautiful. Stereogum pointed out that things are pretty shitty right now, and that's probably why nobody's landed a big summery favorite this year yet. But this album's lamentations and nostalgia are ringing pretty perfectly. I do have two complaints however.

I've been hearing a lot of this material for a while. I've heard several of these songs go through many stages of evolution. And while some of them are much improved for the time taken ("The Blue Route", what they've done by canibalizing "Today or Tomorrow" into "Canadian Girl"), two songs are not hitting the high points that they did before.

1. "Red Moon"
They slowed this song down and minimalized the horns. The horns were the centerpiece before — making it sound like more of a waltz and less of a dark and lonely corner. Now the horns sound like they're being played two floors below and happen to have landed there and the whole tone is changed. I know it's not a happy stein-swinger, but I really liked the way the two halves rubbed up against each other before. One good thing: this hits at the things we know Ham is capable of doing vocally. Unlike my 2nd and bigger gripe.

Red Moon (old) - The Walkmen

Red Moon (album) - The Walkmen

2. "I Lost You"
This song was immediately a favorite from the first time I heard it performed live. The WNYC Soundcheck version has practically worn a hole in my iPod. The beauty was in its slow pace and subtle accompaniment, letting Ham's voice boom and soar in ways that I'd never heard it before. That "I was sleepin in the backseat/when I got home" bar made an already huge Leithauser fan like myself rewind and go, "no, couldn't have possibly been as good as I think that was!" But it was! And on the album version it seems that they lost trust in his vocals. They abandoned the feeling that made that song so dreamy -- bumping up the tempo and adding prominent horns. It is, as you can see, the exact opposite problem I had with "Red Moon." Give those big horns to the Waltz and keep them 2 floors down on "I Lost You." And sign me on as a producer.

I Lost You (old version) - The Walkmen

I Lost You (album) - The Walkmen

Otherwise, this album is seriously gorgeous. There's one track that's a beautiful lullaby that I can't get out of my mind. And these songs, had I not been familiar with their prior iterations, would also be favorites. Just small objections from someone who's spent way too much time with this band's music. The album's out August 19 on their new label, Gigantic.


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