Initial Reactions (2012): The Walkmen, Saint Etienne, Great Lake Swimmers

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an initial impression on me, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

The Walkmen – Heaven [B]: From the big croon to the arpeggios to the vintage equipment, there’s much to love about The Walkmen, but it’s time they got difficult. Heaven is a good album, but it’s not a great one, and given that it’s their 6th or 7th in 10 years, that tells me that they need to tear it up and break it down. Maybe not all bands go through the mid-life artistic crisis, but I’m a fan of The Walkmen, and I happen to think they would benefit from one.  ("Line By Line", "Song For Leigh")

Saint Etienne – Words and Music [B]: The first 2 tracks are brilliant, a music lover’s manifesto, but despite a winning concept, it’s an early peak and a steep descent. Dig that cover though, great idea!  ("Over the Border", "I’ve Got Your Music")

Great Lake Swimmers – New Wild Everywhere [B]
: I wonder if "New Wild Everywhere" is an homage to REM’s "Near Wild Heaven." After all, much of the album reminds me of Stipe & Co.’s middle period, i.e. stripped back loveliness. From the lush strings of Miranda Mulholland to the easy-does-it earnestness of Tony Dekker pleasantness abounds, but I wish the band would inject more fight and angst into these tunes (except the title track, it’s perfect). As a wise man once said, a little pain never hurt anyone.  ("New Wild Everywhere", "On The Water")

Quick Review (LP): Lisbon by The Walkmen

The Walkmen
Fat Possum; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Stranded”, “Torch Song”, “Lisbon”

Ah, lyrics! Clearly enunciated lyrics. Mumblecore bands, take note: here we have a singer who sings, full-on and up-front.  The human voice! Wow! I detect a myriad of influences at play on this record, from the anthemic minimalism of The Joshua Tree to traditional styles including old-world music and primitive gospel. As a newcomer to The Walkmen, I’m delightfully surprised by Lisbon. This is a great album in the grandest sense, a novel of a record and no mere collection of tracks. There’s texture, location, vision, unity, high emotion, and all of the other factors that go together to make great art. A gloriously high aural experience, this should be experienced with headphones. Walkmen, sirs, I am sold. Now where’s that back catalog?

Pitchfork review
NPR review
Metacritic reviews
Band website