The Walkmen The WalkmenLisbon
Over the course of two visits to languid, rainy Lisbon, The Walkmen wrote thirty songs last year. The yellow, white, and blue of the lovely Portuguese capital inspired them by surprise and little by little coloured the new album they were preparing. An album that they had already been planning (it must be said) to give a more luminous tone to, setting aside the dark nostalgia that covered “You & Me” (2008) like a shroud. As Hamilton Leithauser recognises, it was logical, then, for their sixth LP in eight years to end up being called “Lisbon”. Compared to the grim mourning of “You & Me”, “Lisbon” is the album of the light, the work where The Walkmen finally seem to find glimpses of hope, less painful answers to their existentialist questions, and a more blossoming—almost summery—air to change the dejected mood that has always dogged the band.
Since 2006, with the underappreciated “A Hundred Miles Off” as the turning point, the group has been stylising its music and letting air into all of its nooks and crannies. But here is where it is confirmed that the particular rock sound found in the supreme “You & Me” belongs only to them, so they can do what they feel like with it. Where the last was an imploding, solitary work, this one opens up all the doors and windows and hits the street. It winds down damp city alleys and goes up hills with a firm step. Its style has less of an impact (it is shorter, and the songs are ruled over by another gravity), but it’s more pleasant to listen to. Recorded in both Brooklyn and Philadelphia, its eleven new songs have another, lighter dynamic, upheld by obstinate drums and repetitive guitars that—it’s true—never stop wailing ( “All My Great Designs”). The anger that they became known for with “The Rat” can still be sensed in powerful songs like “Victory” or “Angela Surf City”, but now some vintage woodwinds seem to especially reign, sublimated in the mariachi trumpets of “Stranded”, inspired by the New Orleans jazz scene. Stylish hooks that will sound close to neighbouring musicians like Alec Ounsworth or Zach Condon.
They open with the radiant, cheery “Juveniles”. Leithauser sings “country air is good for me” and wonders whether “you’re one of us, or one of them”. From there, “Lisbon” walks with its head held high, with solid thoughts in it, supporting itself when necessary with vintage instrumentation, splendid pianos, and an arsenal of pedals. Without lengthening the songs more than necessary ( “Follow the Leader”), the biggest thing comes quickly, with “Stranded” and the magnificent “Blue as Your Blood”, filled with more than one nod to the goddess Nina Simone. “Torch Song” reaffirms their 50’s homing instinct and awakens the ghost of Roy Orbison , with that of Richard Hawley also peeking out. After the invigorating “Woe Is Me”, the final section slows the tempo down to gradually disappear, melting into the disturbing air of “While I Shovel the Snow” and “Lisbon” (the song), both perfect for sadly bidding farewell to the summer from a terrace overlooking the sea.
In perspective, the group’s solemn romanticism points towards the same place as works like “Boxer” by The National (those other seductive lounge gentlemen). Every minute just confirms that The Walkmen don’t have a bad album, and that this Lisbon postcard, though less evocative than “You & Me”, continues to lead them along a dusty, tiring path, but with a pleasing destination. A very different path from the one that they were wandering along, totally alienated, at the beginning of the last decade, when people were still trying to put them in the same sack as The Strokes and company. Today, The Walkmen’s music is it’s own: a serene, lovely, beautified music that can break hearts effortlessly. Cristian Rodríguez
The Walkmen - Stranded The Walkmen - Juveniles