Album of the week : Heaven - The Walkmen

It’s hard to believe, but  The Walkmen have been with us for over 10 years and Heaven is their seventh studio album.  and the first thing you hear is surprising and significant: Hamilton Leithauser seems to be singing, for the first time, in his actual range. The man who’s hoarse, desperate vocal propels the band’s best known song, ‘The Rat’, almost to the brink of overload suddenly evinces a kind of character and depth never before heard from the 5 piece band

The title, Heaven, is apt. With swirling guitars, warm vocals and ambient sounds at every turn, it’s indeed angelic. It’s a well crafted, standout record from the New York based indie rockers

It starts out soft, quiet, contemplative and moody with ‘We Can’t Be Beat’ featuring Leithauser’s deep and textured vocals over sweet acoustic guitar and harmonies. The strength of vocals continues on ‘Love is Luck.’ Musically, Leithauser remains unrivalled. He holds a note for as long as all the top pop women can, but with added angst and vivacity. The lyrics border on melancholic, the vocals are anguished, the sound of the guitars is resoundingly upbeat in contrast. This feel continues with ‘Heartbreaker’, which finds common ground with Funeral-era Arcade Fire, The Velvet Underground, and a relaxed, West Coast mentality, and is sonically complex, incredibly catchy and very danceable

And then come the organs, the most underrated of instruments. ‘The Witch’ is a tender, dark and tense track, owing to those organs giving things a little bit of a sinister overtone. This is definitely a highlight of the album.  ‘ Southern Heart’  a whispery ballad, segues into ‘Line By Line’, a warm, meditative single-chord rumination that wouldn’t be out of place on a Fleet Foxes record. From there, ‘Song For Leigh’ finds the band getting close to alt-country territory. ‘Nightingales’ returns to a fast fast fast tempo: back to upbeat, back to strong vocals. And then plummeting down into moody depths for ‘Jerry Jr.’s Tune’

Things pick up again on ‘The Love You Love’ and the title track, but we’re straight back to the mellow again with the classic-country of ‘No One Ever Sleeps’.  The finale, the lulling and lovely ‘Dreamboat’ bids us a bittersweet adieu

If you’re looking for heavy, up-tempo music, you won’t find it here. The tracks on Heaven are best fit for a campfire in the country, or on a whisky-stained front porch in the summertime. This is mature, often meditative music that translates the meticulous attention that undoubtedly took place in the recording studio. Though the album’s lofty title conjures imagines of a divine, otherworldly locale, the record stands up to the challenge. The Walkmen surely know their strong suits, and Heaven assesses them seamlessly

Buy it here

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June 15, 2012

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