Monday, October 11, 2010

The Walkmen- Lisbon

Remember when you were younger? “Younger” as in, before you had a job and relied on holiday and birthday gifts to get the things that would entertain you for most of the year? It seemed like such a drag at the time, I know, but it was a double edged sword: whether or not the toy/videogame/album/sweater you got was any good, you had to wring every possible milliliter of enjoyment out of it because it was all you were going to get for a long time. I distinctly remember a point in junior high when my music collection consisted of four albums. I liked them all, sure, but more importantly, I had them literally memorized because, other than CDs I borrowed from the library and the radio, they were all the music I had access to. I no longer follow the Foo Fighters and don't own a copy of The Colour And The Shape any more, but even when I merely glance over the tracklisting, I can still hear the songs in my head. As I write this, I'm 26 years old, and I have hundreds of albums at my fingertips, with thousands more available online via legal and illegal means. But how many of those albums can I say I know as well as that damn Foo Fighters one I haven't heard in more than a decade?

I'm not saying I miss those days, mind you. It's just that this is something I've been thinking about lately thanks to Lisbon. See, I listen to a lot of music in the process of trying to stay abreast of new stuff as well as catch up on the old, so I can't possibly spend as much time with each album as I did during my junior high days. In some strange way, though, listening to Lisbon has brought me back to my meager four CD collection era and taught me an important lesson: the best albums aren't the ones that immediately grab you; aren't the ones that grow on you; aren't the ones that signal earthshaking changes in music. No, they're the ones that are so sublime, so flawlessly enjoyable that by their own excellence they compel you to listen over and over until you know them inside and out. You don't have the juvenile desperation and boredom of listening to the same thing for the umpteenth time because it's all you own. Rather, you have the haggard, starving need to hear those certain sounds, those specific turns of phrase and sparkling melodies, because they have captured you: constantly bubbling up, unbidden, from your subconscious while you're at work or doing the dishes.

Hell, the second side of Lisbon just finished playing and my mind is already starting side one again; the meandering guitar line of 'Juveniles' hitches itself to the Walkmen receptors in my brain, a tide of endorphins issued when the “you're one of us, or one of them” refrain comes up. The band's surf rock fascination reaches its peak here, with 'Angela Surf City' and 'Woe Is Me' the most obvious appearances, and much of the album's guitar tone is reminiscent of this music. However, Lisbon is not a surf rock album in the same way Bossanova by the Pixies, though often redolent of surf rock, wasn't one, either. I'd be remiss not to mention the eerie mariachi horns on 'Stranded', a song that has the perfect production and feel to be used in a revisionist Western or eccentric love story. 'While I Shovel The Snow', a languid winter dream that is only vocals and a chiming guitar, contributes further proof that the Walkmen are the undisputed masters of stripped down, no frills music making. Despite an intro suggesting a balls-out rock song like 'The Rat', 'Blue As Your Blood' is actually a haunting bummer ballad with lovely lyrics (“the sky above/is blue as your blood/black is the color of your eyelash/Spanish is the language of your tongue”) and what is arguably Hamilton Leithauser's best vocal performance to date. Speaking of, Lisbon is very similar to Beach House's Teen Dreaminsofar as both are among the year's best albums as well as showcasing their vocalists in full bloom.

Lisbon was named after the city, of course, and this album was inspired by visits the Walkmen took there...though it was recorded in the States. Still, this is the same city that Panda Bear moved to, and inspired his Person Pitch album...though none of it was recorded there, either (as far as I know). I don't meant to compare the two albums, but it does make me wish more bands would go there if this is the kind of music that results. Lisbon is one of those albums...a masterpiece, let's say. It's old fashioned but in a timeless sort of way. It's not flashy or show off-y but nonetheless commands your respect with its graceful, masterful, top-of-their-game song craft. Most tellingly, I can't stop listening to it; unlike my junior high days, it's because I want to rather than because Ihave to.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

1 comment:


i like this brotherrr...