Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You & Me - The Walkmen

You & Me

The Walkmen
Gigantic Records.

SCQ Rating: 85%

The first time I heard ‘Canadian Girl’, I was half a world away from that Western Hemisphere I call home. The new Walkmen record had been released to some acclaim and although my first taste foreshadowed an elegant but raw songcraft, I felt a shudder deep in its creaking keys, a claustrophobic rattle in Hamilton Leithauser’s tenor. Hold off, I told myself, wait till I get home where the Autumn winds and darker days might accentuate this record’s deep contrasts. The decision was wise – yes, this record is deserving of November’s ushered dimness – but well beyond my intentions: had I owned this record while living in Taiwan, where cigarettes and alcohol are always appropriate, always dirt-cheap, I would’ve disintegrated into a complete maniac. Throwing wine bottles into the street, cracking my tar-filled lungs in lonely song; how could You & Me accomplish such a task?

In no small part, The Walkmen’s latest evokes such pre-depression-era debauchery; its aesthetic a throw-back to classic gramophones with its tinny, compressed production. Compound its dated feel with arrangements that marry Golden Age crooning with contemporary indie-rock, and You & Me is a distinctly original masterstroke. ‘On the Water’ establishes the first apex; a rumbling bass and drumline that rotates like well-oiled gears while Leithauser and guitars surge like waves to a cathartic crest. What keeps the entire affair from even approaching the notion of pastiche is Leithauser’s streak of self-loathing, the band’s sense of urgency, that reveal the hidden sentiments beneath their black tie and formal gown setting. These emotions, which battle against restraint for the spotlight, are fully set free in the utterly devastating wail of ‘I Lost You’.

If their colourful discography is any deterrent, you can rest assured that You & Me is The Walkmen’s most well-rounded collection; carefully sequenced between ‘I Lost You’ firing-on-all-cylinders balladry, Leonard Cohen-esque folk ruminations and brash rockers. ‘Four Provinces’ swaggers on a shambolic groove as ‘Red Moon’ takes a late-night walk through the horns of Manhattan. As contemplative as it is thrilling, Leithauser is perfectly suited for this square spotlight, instilling these songs with an intangible, 50s-cool quality. Whether reserved or unleashed, You & Me is a telling and personal record, and it’s this parallel dividing formality from primal nature (which even graces this record’s artwork - what are those well-dressed ladies whispering about?) that deepens the dangerous impulses and emotions within. Hands down, no other record in 2008 will rival You & Me’s flawless hybrid of being a liberated loner and drinking album at the same time. An immense and staggering achievement.

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