Surprise! New Walkmen disc exceeds expectations

The Walkmen: Bows + Arrows 

I didn't get the garage/indie-rock group The Walkmen's latest release, Bows + Arrows, when I first got hold of it. I had enjoyed their 2002 release, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, with the distant air of a sated lover "That was nice," I'd say to no one in particular when the disc reached its conclusion. It featured a few tracks that I felt approached a metaphorical great lay, but something was a little off. Next to catchy and strange pop nuggets like "We've been had" were songs that just sprawled there, spread-eagle, like a necrophiliac's dream.

"They're almost there," I'd say. "Their next album could be the big one."

My idea of the "big one" was something combining the Walkmen's singular and strange elements: Hamilton Leithauser Bowie on Broadway vocals, the group's penchant for including more soft, slow songs than rockers on their albums, and their strange grasp of that little conundrum, the pop song, into an album that would be a classic.

Bows + Arrows, I decided after I listened to it a few times, is not this album. And now, after many more spins, I stand by my original statement. It just turns out that the album I expected the Walkmen to create (big sing-along choruses, pop hooks) would probably be far inferior and much more ordinary than the album they did make.

Bows + Arrows begins with "What's In It For Me," a "With or Without You"-tempoed sloucher where Walter Martin's organ and pandemonium slowly meander their way– with the aid of Leithauser's warbling "What's in for me?"– for eventual touchdown with Matt Barrick's tom-heavy drum set. Verses are separated by short musical segments, where the rapidly strummed ghostly apparition of a guitar sometimes floats in and out of your perception.

On the single "The Rat," guitars make their triumphant return, and Paul Maroon more than makes up for their absence on the last track. U2's "The Edge" without the delay pedal is essentially Maroonfaster-than-rapid chords wash over the spectrum, leaving no gaps in a constant barrage of E-A-D-G-B-E. When the Walkmen get excited, as on "The Rat" or "Little House of Savages," their pop leanings are more evident than they are on slower tunes such as "No Christmas While I'm Talking." But these latter numbers have a strange spectral beauty, like a musical kiss from a ghostly apparition.

It's on tracks like "My Old Man"– somewhere in between the group on methamphetamine and the group on methaqualone– that they truly shine. On this number, pop drums and jangly guitar support organ and bass, all providing the background to Leithauser's occasional verse/chorus/verse habit.

If you ever get in a situation where you have to describe the Walkmen correctly or be shot (and for some god-awful reason you have not heard them before), choose this song to listen to, track 5. It just might save your life.

Bows + Arrows