Music

The Walkmen: You & Me

These New York rockers continue to tweak and twist their sound, while the lead singer makes massive bounds.


The Walkmen

You & Me

Label: Gigantic
US Release Date: 2008-08-19
UK Release Date: Available as import
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The Walkmen are a group whose albums are defined by their respective openers. On their 2002 debut Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, Hamilton Leithauser's demur moans on "They're Winning" hearkened back to the New York malaise and dissidence that defined the group's citymate predecessors The Velvet Underground. The seminal follow-up Bows + Arrows saw a more ambivalent Leithauser, slowly realizing his rising stardom and his rapidly changing big-fish-place in his now not-so-small pond. From there, he became more settled, avoiding the traditional New York trappings with A Hundred Miles Off's opener "Louisiana." But through all of these frantic changes, Leithauser and the Walkmen as a whole still seemed the underdogs, beaten down by something too deep for any of us to know.

But "Dónde Está la Playa", the opener from the group's latest effort You & Me, sees a strangely optimistic and complacent Leithauser, content with the battles that have colored the entirety of the group's catalog. "Well it's back to the battle today / And I wouldn't have it any other way", he boasts over a roulette table of stifled percussion and an uptempo bass line. There seems to be an energy behind the group that hasn't existed in the past, the penultimate emancipation from the glum world of New York City streets and the grime that so comfortably covered their previous work. It's no difficult task to discover what's so different though: Leithauser (or someone with serious influence over the group's collective songwriting) got himself a girlfriend.

The Walkmen's earlier records were beautifully mundane, grim in all of the right places with subtle hints of joy and comfort. When Leithauser used to sing explicitly about happiness, it would more or less be about what it was like being Leithauser; not in the sense that he's a big-time rockstar, rather a genuinely contented person, drinking with his buddies and just getting by. Behind his haunting voice, you could glean a sense of home, something inherently gleeful in the dreary mess of strained croons uttered. But on You & Me there are painfully explicit moments of schoolboy excitability and flirtation in several songs("Canadian Girl", "Long Time Ahead of Us", "In the New Year"), not to mention in the album and song titles, which, for the first time in the group's catalog, represent a collective pairing.

Like any good smitten boy, Leithauser has been taking some singing lessons to impress his young lady. Rather than the hollow Dylan-growl on the Walkmen's previous records, his voice is fuller and smoother. It fills all of the gaps that gave it so much character, the metropolitan snarl of crushed Camel cigarette packs. Though this new-found bulk could just as easily be attributed to significantly cleaner production. Leithauser's voice cuts through the paralyzing flood of deafening guitars on You & Me, whereas before, he was muddled, lost in the mass. On the aforementioned "In the New Year", you can make out every note and word of his towering vocals, even amongst piercing keyboard feedback and crashing cymbals.

Though all of this is not to say that You & Me is markedly worse than their grittier material. Frankly, some of it is quite beautifully composed. "Long Time Ahead of Us" perfectly grasps what it's like trying to go home with someone in the hope that it will be more than a one-night stand. And the psychedelic, substance-induced landscape of "On the Water" is undeniably the most poetic track the group has ever produced ("All the windows are glowing / branches bending low / skyline is swinging / rocking back and forth").

The Walkmen typically can't reel in this new optimism on You & Me, but it does work once in a while. Namely on "Four Provinces", arguably the group's most upbeat and sonically ambitious track. The choruses are heralded by over-your-head handclapping and complimentary rim shots, while the guitars drive the tempo. Leithauser's crafted voice is perfectly suited for this fulfilled group sound. It becomes abundantly clear that it's the group that needs to continue to progress rather than Leithauser regress. His voice has filled out, like an adolescent discovering girls and his true sound at the same time. But too often on You & Me the rest of the group sounds pedestrian, cautiously still and unambitiously sticking to what they know so well.

You & Me represents a turning point, one in which the group continues to perfect their sound, one hinted at on previous cuts like "Louisiana". But the Walkmen can't continue with this partially-fulfilled realization. They've outgrown the New York rock that made them famous. Leithauser is simply too large for the City's claustrophobic guitars and frantic percussion.

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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