Music

The Walkmen: Lisbon

Raise your pints! One of the last survivors of New York City's post-punk boon returns with their fifth full-length of original songs in eight years, this time teaming with indie rock super producer John Congleton.


The Walkmen

Lisbon

Label: Fat Possum
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: 2010-09-13
Amazon
iTunes

The career of the Walkmen has, despite the description du jour of the band -- drunken, lonely, dark, lost -- remained remarkably steady. Since the band's debut, 2002's Everybody Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, Hamilton Leithauser and his shambolic crew of castaways (Paul Maroon, Walter Martin, and Matt Barick from Jonathan Fire*Eater; Leithauser and Peter Bauer from the Recoys) have been accountable for at least two of three things every two years: an album release, a progression in sound, and at least one incredibly affecting song. Whether it's the advertising jingle "We've Been Had", the raging punk blast of "Bows + Arrows", the hopeless loss embodied by "Another One Goes By" or "In the New Year", the group can always be counted on to deliver a track among the best of a given year.

This dialogue between the band and the fans is what leads Lisbon to be, at first, a somewhat jarring and underwhelming experience. Longtime fans of the band will note that the many tinges of Latin rock and pop instrumentation from A Hundred Miles Off have returned here, while the production is much crisper than ever before. In particular, the guitar has retained the group's trademark sheen but dropped many of its shoegaze inflections. The result is a Walkmen album in which Leithauser's vocals are not only a spectral presence throughout the album, but at times a remarkably translatable one as well. His vocals remain drunken and loose, but they are no longer unhinged, and with his boost in the mix comes songs like single "Blue as Your Blood" where every word is not only captivating, but understood. And "Woe Is Me" is the closest the band has come yet to adding surf rock to their oeuvre.

After the initial feelings of been there, done that creep away, Lisbon does reveal itself to have something very new to offer Walkmen fans: its victorious attitude. Whether it's the macaroni brass of "Stranded", the light-hearted bounce of "Woe Is Me" and "Juveniles", or "Victory" for its lyrics, Lisbon is certainly an album that confronts Leithauser's familiar ruminations on sadness and lost loves. But the vibe of these stories often feels more aloof and accepting of life's great mysteries than confounded and downtrodden. "Stranded" feels like a minimalist take on Motown balladry, injecting life into a tale that sounds as dreary as they come: "There's broken glass all around my feet / In my place, so carelessly". And yet, one would rather slow dance hand in hand than drink alone to the music behind his lament. "Torch Song" is similarly triumphant in the name of drunken losers, complete with a doo wop choir cooing in the background. And Leithauser himself seems to enjoy the story, taking his punches as they come with more curiosity than outright regret.

Ultimately, it's these injections of brightness that lift Lisbon out of the ambitious muck that claimed most of A Hundred Miles Off for mediocrity. Sure, it's not an album that's going toe to toe with Bows + Arrows or You & Me. But Lisbon is an important step for the band, as they take everything they've learned from the previous eight years and find ways to improve on nearly all their mistakes while forgetting nothing that makes them who they are. Lisbon doesn't have any truly standout tracks -- perhaps "Blue as Your Blood" or the closing couplet come closest -- and thus it may not do much of a service to lesser fans of the band. Lisbon feels transitional in that the band are clearly hurting for new ways to display their heartache, but it also feels triumphant in both the ways it presents itself and summarizes the band's arc to this point. Lisbon might leave plenty of listeners unsure what more the band has to offer us in the coming decade, but on its own there's little to be disappointed with. Another highly competent, easily digestible slice of what the Walkmen, and only the Walkmen, do so well.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image