CD Review – The Walkmen “Bows and Arrows”

The Walkmen
Bows and Arrows
Record Collection

The Walkmen’s Bows and Arrows has a sort of dream logic. Not the kind where a giant carnival head snorts a squirrel in slow motion, or the kind where someone falls in love with a stranger. Bows and Arrows is a dream that makes the listener, upon waking, want to live a fuller life.

“The Rat” is a song that’s almost too good for most people. Jocks could use it for working out, but then they’d have a heart attack. It makes bookworms want a real life and causes junkies to want to be sober, rekindling a poetic meaning both types have lost.

This song is a faithful cross between Sonic Youth’s “Mote” with Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,”making bands everywhere join in a collective head slap. With lyrics and vocals that shame even the most self-deceiving slam poets, and a guitar/organ force blowing musical wind from the tiniest speakers, “The Rat” is easily the year’s best song. Desperate lyrics sing, “Can’t you hear me when I’m/ Calling out your name.” Other lyrics are simple and true, casting an almost endearing shadow on a nihilistic voice: “When I used to go out/ I’d know everyone I saw/ Now I go out alone/ If go out at all.”

B&A is also a dream that takes a few days to digest, showcasing a quietly brooding severity as well as the loud kind; think of a Dear John letter punctuated by a cigarette butt. One of the most important instruments to this end is lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice, which sounds like the voice of G.I. Joe villain Major Blood (the guy with the eye patch and an electronic arm) or Rod Stewart on stimulants. But the slow songs sound more like a Bob Dylan hangover, with lyrics to rival the legendary songster.

Like most of B&A’s slow songs, “138th Street” is a serenade of lonely alienation. This time, it’s a tune about someone who, on the surface, seems to have their life figured out. Yet, the character “Goes out into the night … Something you ain’t doing right/ Is haunting you at home.”

The Walkmen translate emotion with instruments tuned to the fuzzier side of rock, using equipment that all predates the ’70s. Guitars are set to full treble with little concern for bass, creating an exquisite alchemy when a vox organ is introduced. “Thinking of a Dream I Had” rewards the listener with this blend, leading the first half of the song with a repeating, guitar-driven chord. Then, the organ finally brings resolution with a complete melody, “96 Tears” style.

This NYC quintet carries an uncompromising countenance not seen since early ’90s grunge, a semblance most bands have attempted since then but have been caught looking. Of course, The Walkmen disdain anything trendy. That includes anything after the ’70s as attested to by instruments used on B&A, which boasts a voice singing some of the best lyrics since rock ‘n’ roll’s heyday in the late ’60s.