For much of their career, The Walkmen have always been mired by what many consider to be the band’s best assets. Subtle touches and minimal compositions are at the core and around that is always some kind of guitar melody and Hamilton Leithauser’s uniquely essential vocals. On “While I Shovel the Snow,” he’s singing about the weather and remarkably, the tones and chords decorate the image of somber winter. Placing all of the strengths in a position that is achieving greatness, aforementioned moments of skill are ubiquitously present on Lisbon, the band’s sixth studio album.
There never seems to a direction of where the sound should be going but instead, Lisbon sounds like your typical Walkmen album. Laid-back and tempered at moments and jarringly stunning at other times, but never dull. I remember reading an article where someone mentioned that You & Me was some kind of wrecking ball of damage with how ‘boring’ it was; comments like that don’t tend to resonate. Much like that above mentioned album, Lisbon is The Walkmen sounding poised and effectively in control. Like “Woe Is Me,” there is still darkness to find in even the brightest of lights but with a chiming guitar and singing “She was my not-so-long-ago…woe is me,” everything sounds tremendously astounding.
There’s a stirring guitar chug on “Blues As Your Blood,” by the time the strings open up the waves of sound, Leithauser is singing, “There’s sky above…it’s blue as your blood.” The swooning guitar at the middle, the chugging of the rhythm guitar in support and that tapping drum set: this is new ground. And still, in emblematic Walkmen fashion, the words are about the depressingly re-told story of broken relationships. The bluesy, southern swing of the song is a sharp contrast to the band’s normally viscerally-charged rock but it makes for a delicate change of pace.
The most subtle of Beach Boys influence comes on the backing vocals provided on “Torch Song,” but it’s mostly the jangly sound of their guitars that fills the spaces with sentimental touches. The surf rock that has become a constant in their music is firmly upheld on many of the songs’ bones. So much so that on a few of the songs’ beginnings, like “Victory,” it’s steadied in the full knowing that it is the sole melody. The frame is always different but the sound of the guitar is chiefly vigorous and light.
And this stems from the fact that the band had originally found 28 songs to choose from the eleven that were selected. The primest slices are served here and every song breathes a little bit more than the one before it. “Juveniles” is the brisk opener that lights all of the candles before leaving the room and its effervescent guitar is proof of it; “Angela Surf City” packs drums and a lively energy that finally explodes onto what is Lisbon’s first opening waves of rushing sound. There’s nothing quite as effective as “The Rat” on here, but at this point, that’d be asking A LOT. In the end, The Walkmen always teeters between those two thematic sounds that they’ve championed: the empty air and the robust pumps.
I’ve never experienced The Walkmen live but they’re well-known for being downright electric. I’m sure Lisbon will find a home amongst many of the band’s most prolific fans but it won’t necessarily attract new ones either. Regardless, it’s the sound of fall upon us and at the right time too, another Walkmen album is always welcome.