The Walkmen’s ‘Heaven’: Comfortable songs offer musical satisfaction

May 28, 2012
The Walkmen
Heaven

The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser has always had two distinct singing styles. Sometimes, he’s a red-faced, forehead-vein-bulging howler. This is on the band’s pulse-quickening anthems, which are usually served up two or three per album and will one day serve as the bulk of an awesome greatest-hits collection. The rest of the time, he’s a dignified drawler. This is on the band’s more atmospheric and dirgier songs, which comprise the majority of one of rock’s most consistent catalog s of the past decade.

Hamilton the Howler is rarely present on “Heaven,” which means it’s harder to immediately pick out the highlights. But highs and lows are relative on the D.C.-bred, New York-based quintet’s sixth album. Comfort and contentment don’t seem like qualities that would define a great rock album, but the Walkmen has proven otherwise. It’s easy to be seduced by the satisfied glow that encompasses each of these 13 songs.

The band can still uncork a whopper of a tune, with firecracker drummer Matt Barrick leading the gallop on “The Love You Love,” one of the few tracks on which Leithauser works himself into a frenzy. The title track sounds like a less-ostentatious U2 — a decent description of the band in general — complete with a vague, well-intentioned chorus (“Remember remember / All we fight for”).

But most of “Heaven” is the sound of a band that has found what it’s looking for. “So it begins / Another blessed hymn / Walk around the world / Singing to my girl” begins “Song for Leigh,” a midtempo tune on which the band members sound so perfectly in step with one other you’d think they’d been playing together since high school. (They have, at the District’s St. Albans in the mid-’90s.) “Line by Line” is a mellow detour, just Leithauser singing over elegantly plucked, echo-laden guitar. “How do we know it? / I just know it,” he repeats like a mantra, and he sounds so coolly assured that it’s impossible not to take him at his word.

David Malitz


The Walkmen's album “Heaven.” (Fat Possum)

Recommended tracks

“The Love You Love,” “Song for Leigh,” “We Can’t Be Beat”

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