The Walkmen: Bows and Arrows

Jason Korenkiewicz

The Walkmen

Bows and Arrows

Label: Record Collection
US Release Date: 2004-02-02
UK Release Date: Available as import

On their sophomore long play album Bows and Arrows, the Walkmen suffer to find outrageous fortune as they urge their fans to take arms against a sea of troubles. While their debut, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, buckled under the weight of diffuse aural collages and a smattering of lyrical non-sequitors, their self-produced second album takes flight with more focused song structures and storytelling narratives. There is a new urgency and immediacy found here that illustrates a band delving into the mundane aspects of life and battling their way to some sort of modern self-help solution across the vista of these 11 tracks. Those looking to pigeonhole the Walkmen will readily flock to comparisons between this band and U2, which seem to center around the similarity between the drumming of Matt Barrick and the axe slinging of Paul Maroon to that of their Irish counterparts. The truth of the matter is that the Walkmen have synthesized many aspects of popular culture into the tired format of rock music and somehow have manipulated it into a harrowing dissection of the mundane possibilities of everyday life.

This revelation is no more obvious than on the album opener, "What's in It for Me" where vocalist Hamilton Leithauser picks up where he left off on their last album. Direct in nature the song focuses on the ego present in all human interaction. Based around organ and drums in the verse and a lilting guitar line in the chorus, this track creates a clear mental image of Leithauser lamenting in his bedroom while a distorted music box filters through the background. Part of the charm here is Leithauser's delivery as his voice always sounds one note blown, painting the image of a world-weary and blasé troubadour.

Much discussed and much hyped, "The Rat" may be the finest hour for the Walkmen to date. It's a "shake your head and dance like you just don't care" anthem that relies on all of the best elements of music. Maroon's guitar churns, wails and erupts as Leithauser spits, "You've got a nerve to be asking a favor/ You've got a nerve to be calling my number/ Can't you hear me?/ I'm beating on the wall." This is an emotive masterpiece that finds the Walkmen channeling their newfound maturity into bursts of venom and offsetting them with a singsong low-key break that highlights the ferocity of the choruses. At the end of the year this may end up as one of the finest songs of 2004.

Part of the allure of the Walkmen is their ability to drastically change tempos and styles without making the music sound forced. After the maelstrom that is "The Rat", the band steps back and releases an understated performance on "No Christmas While I'm Talking" which pushes Leithauser's vocals back into the mix and finds the band tempering some of their energy. While this track doesn't have any standout moments the placement of it in the album order after "The Rat" demonstrates that this band is not just thinking about songwriting and performances, but also album sequence, which we know is an essential ingredient in producing a classic.

Just when it seems that the Walkmen have pulled out all of the stops they unleash the soon to be cult favorite, "Little House of Savages". Revolving around a drum corps tom beat the tempo cranks up only to stop just shy of that displayed on "The Rat". The rhythm section is in full effect here as Barrick and bassist Peter Bauer provide both the melody and pace for the other members to follow. Maroon's guitar clanks against the percussive beat and in a surprising turn, Martin's organ provides the overriding melody for Leithauser to drawl over.

Once again shifting styles and methods, "Hang on Siobhan" is an old saloon serenade that utilizes barrelhouse piano to tell the tale of a day sleeping bar patron. The song follows him through his nightly haunts as he joins in a song sung wrong, enjoys the camaraderie of drinks with other drunks, and muses on the memories of a missing mystery girl that he only refers to as Siobhan. This is an effective somnambulist valentine that demonstrates the more poignant side of the Walkmen.

The album comes to a fitting close with title track, "Bows and Arrows". By this point we've seen all of the Walkmen's tricks and are somehow comforted when Barrick kicks in with his signature military shuffle and when Martin begins to shift deep in the fretboard of his guitar we feel at home. The message and theme of this album is brought full circle as Leithauser ambles in and releases us from duty with the phrase, "There is nothing for you here" setting us free after three-quarters of an hour absorbing these tales. Much in the way a drunk will ramble on as long as someone is buying them drinks, this album comes to a close just as we refuse to buy the band another round. The band becomes churlish and antagonistic sending a clear message. We don't have to go home, but we can't stay here.

Bows and Arrows is an album that would have made England's immortal bard, William Shakespeare, proud. This is a work that blends a preoccupation with both the maudlin and mundane with the musical sensibility of the Factory Records collection. In a dramatic step forward the Walkmen have authored an album that is nothing short of a whirling dervish of passion, romance and theatrics on the grandest scale.





Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.