The Walkmen – Bows & Arrows

The Walkmen
Bows & Arrows

The Walkmen’s debut caught me by the collar, but quickly lost its grip. Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone had some incredible ideas and enough fantastic material to fill a long EP, but the excess runoff rusted with expedience. It was surely one of the most refreshing (and quite probably one of the best) albums of the year, but it sounded like a band that wasn’t quite there.
It is with this thought that I joyfully announce The Walkmen’s arrival. Bows & Arrows is absolutely incredible. “What’s in it for Me” immediately recalls the sound that permeated the band’s debut; the audaciously named Hamilton Leithauser croons, squawks, and swaggers over ingeniously dated-sounding music. The drums are distant and loose, the guitars subdued, and the organs warm and inviting. But the real surprise comes with the dawn of “The Rat.” Here, The Walkmen exhibit a style so subtly refined that it threatens to collapse in on its own majesty, and indeed it does just once: the pummel of the drums and the sway of the guitars subside to allow Leithauser to lament: “When I used to go out, I’d know everyone I saw / now I go out alone if I go out at all.” The song resumes its frenzied pace for as long as its little heart can pump, and the band takes its recovery in “No Christmas While I’m Talking,” an otherwise excellent subdued track awkwardly placed after the caffeinated “The Rat.”
As incredible as tracks such as “The Rat” are, they aren’t what lends this album its grandeur. Rather, the consistency of the venture is its most remarkable asset. “Little House of Savages” is driving and insistent, propelled to absolute perfection by Leithauser’s regal crooning at the midway point. “Hang on, Siobhan” is an antiquated bar-room romance piece, elegant in its execution and restraint. “New Year’s Eve” is a piano-lead reprise of some of Everyone‘s most successful tracks (“Blizzard of ’96,” “We’ve Been Had”) which captures almost perfectly the unplanned and anticlimactic boredom of a supposedly special night: Leithauser detachedly sings “I’ll take your hand / in another one-night stand / but we’ve got a lot to figure out.” “Thinking of a Dream I Had” is as sweeping as it is energetic, a tom-driven, organ-fleshed creature that romps between your ears to joyous effect. “Bows and Arrows” sounds like it’s being played underwater in slow-motion, sopping wet and somehow magnificent nonetheless.
I could go on, but then I’d have named every track on the disc. The important thing is that The Walkmen improved upon a remarkable debut to produce a nearly flawless disc branded with all the signs of a band at its prime. Confident, daring, regal, and altogether incredible, Bows & Arrows knows its bounds and casually out-steps them; simply put, it is the best record released this year. Such rapid inter-album growth is usually indicative of something very special (read: Radiohead, Dismemberment Plan, et al.), and if my premonitions are correct, The Walkmen will be the band to watch for quite some time now.