Shaking off the wintry fog of Bows + Arrows like a parka come springtime, the Walkmen return with A Hundred Miles Off, an album of lighter, brighter songs that still maintain the band's fantastic sense of atmosphere. The Walkmen's odd, endearing ability to be noisy and nuanced, belligerent and bittersweet at the same time made Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone and Bows + Arrows two of the most distinctive-sounding albums of the 2000s. Here, they tweak a few elements of their sound, and while it's not a radical overhaul, the differences are significant. Matt Barrick's outstanding drumming and percussion and Hamilton Leithauser's raspy croon are the stars of this show, resulting in an album that's more like the Walkmen's concerts than the meticulously crafted sound of their other albums. A Hundred Miles Off feels downright summery, from the Dylan-meets-mariachi-band vibe of "Louisiana" to the tropical rhythms and djembe that pepper "Brandy Alexander." There's also less reliance on the band's once-ubiquitous keyboards, with the notable exceptions of the poignant organ swells on "Emma, Get Me a Lemon" and "All Hands and the Cook," which switches between a rickety saloon piano and horror-show organs. And though there's nothing quite as furious as "The Rat" on A Hundred Miles Off, most of the album shies away from Bows + Arrows' slow-mo introspection, especially in its middle section: "Lost in Boston," "Don't Get Me Down (Come on Over Here)," and the surprisingly thrashy "Tenley-Town" -- which even features a drum solo! -- all showcase the bigger, more powerful sound that seems to be A Hundred Miles Off's raison d'être. Even so, the Walkmen still find room for some of their more typically brooding, elliptical vignettes, of which "Danny's at the Wedding," with its slinky bassline and percussion, is the standout. While the album's other blurry mood pieces are well done, they feel a tad repetitive, especially compared to the newer ideas the band tries. The songwriting on A Hundred Miles Off might be a shade less memorable than on the Walkmen's other albums, a feeling that is underscored by the final track, "Another One Goes By." It's a terrific song that sounds like a scratchy, slightly-melted 45 of some long-lost blue-eyed soul single and takes the band's music in a more mature (but not self-consciously so) direction. It's also a cover of a song by the Walkmen's friends Mazarin. The Walkmen certainly aren't slouches when it comes to writing unique songs, either, but "Another One Goes By" shows just how amazing they can be when their material is equal to their expressive sound. Nevertheless, it's a highlight on an album that's a grower, from a band whose sound is still growing.
A Hundred Miles Off Review
by Heather Phares