The Truth: THE WALKMEN are from New York City. They consist of Hamilton Leithauser (vocals/guitar), Paul Maroon (guitar/piano), Walter Martin (organ/bass), Matt Barrick (drums) and Peter Bauer (bass/organ). 'You & Me' is their fourth album and their first on fierce panda, although hardcore panda enthusiasts may well recall that a Walkmen track, 'My Old Man', appeared on the 'Shock & Oar' EP in 2004. ** THE WALKMEN are of course men of stealth and craft, dressed in black and, one wagers, distressed at the lack of loving care and attention applied to modern music. Eight years since the mighty 'We've Been Had' signaled the demise of Jonathan Fire*Eater and heralded the start of something even weirder, 'You & Me' finds the enigmatic quintet in predictably moody form with fourteen tracks of fearsome ingenuity featuring their trademark clanging guitar, their spooked keyboards making like a gothic ice cream van on Mars, their drums rolling like a schooner in a force ten gale. ** Alternative wild cards THE WALKMEN may be but you can't fault their consistency: 2002 saw the release of 'Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone', 2004 was the year of 'The Rat' and its parent album 'Bows & Arrows', 2006 witnessed 'A Hundred Miles Off' and precisely two more years later comes 'You & Me'. So underestimate THE WALKMEN at your peril. Likewise, if the music has a chaotic, drunken ebb and flow which hints at some spontaneous outpouring of musical grief then the reality is anything but, as 'You & Me' was painstakingly pieced together over two years in two cites - NYC and Philadelphia - and part of that meticulous construction was to make the album sound like a rock'n'roll record with depth and warmth and - uniquely for this notoriously challenging outfit - an uplifting mood to accompany the downtrodden chords. This then is a pukka grown-up album by a proper music lover's band. ** Drowned In Sound has already acclaimed 'You & Me', saying "This might be the best thing they've ever done", and we aren't about to disagree.
Review by Heather Phares
The Walkmen took a working holiday from their usual sound on their remake of Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats and, to a lesser extent, on the Dylan-goes-Latin vibe of A Hundred Miles Off, but they return to more familiar territory on You & Me. Quite literally, too: the band revisited the same studio where they laid down Bows + Arrows for some of this album's sessions. However, travel is one of You & Me's major themes, with beaches, holidays, and provinces placing these songs all over the map. That plays perfectly into the Walkmen's uncanny ability to conjure specific places in their music: "Donde Esta La Playa," from its turista title to its deconstructed surf guitars to lyrics like "there is still sand in my suitcase/there is still salt in my teeth," plays like blurry but vivid memories -- and proof that not everything that happens on vacation stays on vacation. Grotto-like reverb gives "Postcards from Tiny Islands"' riotous guitars a nostalgic twinge only heightened by small but telling details like "the bar band and their sorry songs." The Walkmen also travel through different sounds on You & Me: "Red Moon"'s gentle acoustic guitars and brass give it a subtly Latin feel, while "Canadian Girl"'s dreamy warmth suggests a vintage soul single that's been tucked away for decades in a forgotten jukebox. You & Me's return to the Walkmen's usual shadowy, introspective moodiness feels like a cloud covering the sun, especially after the drunken wake of Pussy Cats. Fortunately, that cloudiness suits these songs, particularly "On the Water," a darkly pretty ballad lit by faintly shimmering keyboards, and "In the New Year," which sets a bruised melody to jubilant organ swells that only sound more poignant together. Despite a few louder moments like "Seven Years of Holidays (For Stretch)"'s shambling waltz and "Blue Route"'s gut-punching drums, You & Me delves deeply into the evocative ballads that have made the band fascinating since Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone. The album closes with a trio of them, with the spare jangle of "New Country" and "If Only It Were"'s final declaration "I'll die in dreams of you" ending You & Me on a somberly sweet note. This may or may not be the Walkmen's prettiest album, but it's certainly their loneliest.
You & Me
On both record and onstage, the Walkmen have always reached for the rafters-- often at the risk falling on their collective faces or completely overshadowing their moodier material. In the light of their previous powerful singles and go-for-broke performances, the New York band's latest album, You & Me, might seem like a step down. However, it's the first that fully commits to their seductive, eminently soused-sounding late night sulk. If there are people who still consider the Walkmen a singles act-- granted, that will happen when you write a couple of the best rock singles of the decade-- You & Me might finally convince them otherwise.
The album begins with a whimper-- the tentative patter of "Donde Esta la Playa" followed by instrumental "Flamingos (for Colbert)"-- but there's one striking, early difference between this record and all their previous work: You can make out what singer Hamilton Leithauser is saying. It's a good thing, too; among hazy tales of reckless vacations, the album's most vivid tracks are often its most lyrically straightforward: "Red Moon" is about missing a girl, "The Blue Route" is about missing better days.
Those are simple, well-worn topics, but nearly all of these songs are buoyed by some small, cautious detail that-- while it might sound slight on paper-- make for indelible musical moments: The woodsy whistling on "On the Water", the horns that make "Red Moon" gorgeously mopey, or the warm hum of organ and harp-like piano fills on "Long Time Ahead of Us". Elsewhere, the fantastic, clattering percussion on "Postcards From Tiny Islands", "Four Provinces", and more reaffirm drummer Matt Barrick is the band's MVP.
Moreover, these songs refine old ideas scattered throughout the Walkmen's catalog, mostly building them into stronger tracks than their predecessors: "Red Moon" takes the ostentatious horns from "Louisiana" (from 2006's A Hundred Miles Off) and use them as essential pieces of atmosphere and mood. The loping guitar and offbeat drumming of "Look Out the Window," from their 2002 split EP with Calla, are folded into the late-game clincher "The Blue Route". Here, all the band's wanderings coalesce with more focused lyrics and assured songwriting, neither racing nor shuffling towards its ambiguous climax. With all the elements of a Perfect Walkmen Song-- cavernous echo, stinging guitars and straining organ, vocals where you can hear the veins on Leithauser's temples bulge-- it would easily fit on the band's peak, Bows + Arrows.
You & Me isn't as hard or immediate as the band's earlier records, but that's not a complaint; its sound is coy, and invites you to spend time with it. Its lyrics are direct and its pleasures are simple-- as easy to notice as the mournful horns on "Red Moon", or hearing Leithauser hoping to get home to his loved one on the same song. While the Walkmen likely have more hits in them, if they keep making records as consistently engaging this, they won't sink for a lack of them. This is the sound they've reached for since the very beginning, and they've never played it as gracefully or confidently as they do here.
- Jason Crock, August 18, 2008