The Walkmen are one of the more quietly brilliant bands out there. Their transition from brash, angst-ridden young adults into sublimely unobtrusive songwriters has been a joy to behold, with nary a misstep in their entire ten year career. Heaven, the band’s sixth original album (and seventh overall), is an impeccably smooth, easy-to-swallow collection of songs. While it represents a small step back in overall quality from 2010’s Lisbon, it is an assured stride forward in maturity, temperance and identity.
“Nobody loves perfection,” sings Hamilton Leithauser on opening number “We Can’t Be Beat.” Heaven never strives for it; sometimes it seems like it is barely trying at all. But after hearing how effortlessly lovely these songs actually are, perfection will seem not just needless, but tedious. “Song For Leigh” is an emotionally gripping blue-tinged ballad in which Leithauser sings himself sick, and the heartache is completely palpable. “Nightingales” has a cool but gentle touch despite the litheness of the guitar work, with icy cymbal crashes and other percussive embellishments providing additional sheen.
There’s also still plenty of that “Walkmen” sound for those who are looking for it. “Heartbreaker” is a classy, squeaky-clean ballad with that instantly recognizable ‘60s jangle the band does so well, while “Line by Line” weaves and elegant guitar web for a story that is “Not in line with history/ Not in line with make believe.” The middle of the record is very guitar-centric, with drummer Matt Barrick and bassist Walter Martin taking a notable leave of absence on several tracks. After the somnolent and nearly instrument-free slump that is “Southern Comfort,” the record begins to pick up some steam again.
Along with their more mature sound, the band’s lyrics have mellowed out as well, and there are moments of genuine wisdom to be found. Everyone wants to leave a legacy, it’s why we share stories, give advice and forge connections with others. There’s nothing better than triumph after struggle, although we tend to be a little less forthcoming about our failures, particularly to those who look up to us. “Heaven” captures the purity of this truth in a single couplet. “Our children will always hear/Romantic tales of distant years,” croons Leithauser amidst the trembling guitars. After the opus title track, “No One Ever Sleeps” and “Dreamboat” serve as lulling final numbers, bringing Heaven to a close so gingerly that it’s as if the whole thing never really happened at all.
Thoroughly enjoyable from front to back, Heaven oozes confidence and polish. Each track sits quiet and unassuming, their beauty percolating through unhurriedly from layers of delicately placed instrumentation. The Walkmen have grown into this sound so comfortably and so organically that Heaven seems like a record they were destined to make.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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