The Walkmen are cool. According to a certain big corporate American music magazine, anyway. After all, the Strokes are out conquering the world, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs put out an awesome EP, so according to the mag, all bands from New York are stuck with the ‘cool’ label. The Walkmen know this scenario all too well, since three of their members were part of the now-defunct, New York it band-slash-commercial flop Jonathan Fire*Eater. They’ve seen it all before, but this second time around, they’re going to try to get it right. Looks like they’re on the right track . . .
This new EP called Let’s Live Together, serves as a bit of a preview of their album Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me is Gone for the UK listening public. I didn’t know too much about The Walkmen until early this year (okay, so call me uncool), and hadn’t heard their entire new album, so I figured I was as good a person as any to try out this EP. So a couple weeks ago, I plunked it into my CD player, pressed play, listened to the first three and a half minutes, went, “Ugh, what’s this crap?”, and immediately demoted it to the back of my massive queue of CD’s. This past week I figured I’d get the silly review out of the way, and gave the disc another shot. And drew blanks. The music just didn’t work for me. Hit the repeat button. Nada. After about the fifteenth playing, though, something clicked.
It’s that first hurdle you have to get over, and it’s a tough one, but once you get to the other side, you’ll be rewarded. “Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me is Gone”, the title track of the new album (for those of you with Attention Deficit Disorder), comes off at first as a lofty, pretentious, disorganized experiment in ambient music, sounding like a band drunkenly trying to imitate Sigur Ros, while a whacked-out drummer tries to drown out his bandmates by doing his best imitation of Animal from The Muppet Show. What Hamilton Leithauser is singing in his annoying falsetto, I’ll never know (I detect “And may the best win” in the chorus), but after several listens, you start to hear some hints of early Eighties New Wave, and realize the drumming seems to work, that the band is remarkably tight, and the song gradually gains in momentum before coming to a sudden quiet stop, like a car running off a cliff.
You’re kept from plummeting by the three remaining songs. As “We’ve Been Had” starts, a muffled, plinkety piano intro fades in, and drummer Matt Barrick comes in with a more laid-back beat than before, while bassist Peter Bauer plays a neat little two-note bassline. Leithauser abandons the falsetto for a more sneering vocal tone, sounding like Julian Casablancas’s bitter, drunken older brother (the whole EP sounds drunken. In a good way. Trust me.), slurring, “I’m a modern guy / I don’t care much for the go-go / Or the retro image I see so often / Telling me to keep trying / Maybe you’ll get here.” Leithauser sounds both weary and wary of the whole hipster scene as he croons in the chorus, “We’ve been had / You say it’s over / Sometimes I’m just happy I’m older.” This song is better than most of what’s on the Strokes’ Is This It, catchy, smart, and much more creative than, say, the Strokes’ throwaway track “When It Started”.
“Rue the Day” starts off in a similar way, with a two-note keyboard/guitar intro, but suddenly takes off with fierce drumming by Barrick and more plinky piano accents as Leithauser sings, “But yesterday I remember driving with no headlights / We would tiptoe out in the evening / Never done such things before.” Just as your head starts bobbing to the snappy little tune, it all dissolves into a creepy little bridge where the band holds on one note, as if waiting to see where Leithauser takes the song next (“I’d be lying if I said your name never came up / As I’d be thinking of just how I’d like to cash my days in now”), then the band gathers steam again, finishing off the song like and old U2 song, with atmospheric guitar and thrumming bass as Leithauser closes with, “I’m a lucky guy now / But I never know it ‘till it’s gone.”
“French Vacation” sounds like an early Smiths song, with Leithauser’s chiming guitar setting a regretful tone. A simple guitar-bass-drums song with atmospheric keyboards, it’s a rather by-the-numbers Robert Smith mopefest (“Where’d you go? / Been a drag on my own” . . . waah, waah, waah . . .), but the Walkmen nail it perfectly. Navel-gazing, yes, but not the least bit dull, and a great way to end this fine EP.
Again, I haven’t heard the rest of the entire album, but judging by the merits of Let’s Live Together, I’d bet it’s worth your while. There’s nothing on this EP that’s not on the album, so unless you find Let’s Live Together for real cheap somewhere, hang onto your hard-earned cash and hold out for Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone instead. At least it’ll have four songs that I can guarantee will not disappoint. Now to find a copy of that album for myself . . .