Even though this is the second time around on a major label for most of the Walkmen -- whose previous incarnation, Jonathan Fire*Eater, rather famously dissolved after their first (and last) album for Dreamworks, Wolf Songs for Lambs, failed to live up to the label's sales expectations -- the band's second album, Bows + Arrows (which was released by the Warner Brothers imprint Record Collection), certainly doesn't sound like your typical major-label debut. Although it's tighter and more polished than the brilliantly shambling Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, any worries about restraints on the band's creativity are dismissed by the first eerie-yet-warm strains of its opening track, "What's in It for Me": a gentle prologue to the rest of the album, it's about as charmingly off-kilter as the band gets. Walter Martin's organs and keyboards glow like streetlights reflected on rain-slicked pavement on this song, and on Bows + Arrows' other strangely luminous interludes. While there aren't as many of those moments on this album as there were on Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, Bows + Arrows fuses that heady atmosphere with the band's angular rock into songs that are equally noisy, dreamy, angry, and romantic. And though even their loudest songs still have a foggy distance to them, the album includes several tracks that rock much harder than anything the Walkmen have done since their Jonathan Fire*Eater and Recoys days. On "The Rat," the band sounds joyfully pissed-off, as Hamilton Leithauser screams "Can't you hear me?! I'm calling out your name/Can't you see me? I'm pounding on your door!" "Little House of Savages" and "My Old Man" both start out like the harshly chugging, post-punk influenced indie rock of the Walkmen's former acts before evolving into the bittersweetly philosophical sound that the band seems to have cornered the market on. Nowhere is there a better example of this than "The North Pole," an equally funny and sad recounting of running into an old flame around the city; Leithauser's rasp holds both self-pity and a sneer, which are mirrored by the song's alternately chiming and charging guitars. However, the Walkmen don't limit themselves to familiar emotional and musical territory; the breathtakingly lovely "Hang on Siobhahn" is a delicately drunken waltz that, with its faraway drums and tinkling pianos, finds Leithauser promising to come home soon; it could be from a tour, or a tour of duty. It's one of the best songs the Walkmen have done, and along with "138th Street," it finds the band exploring the Pogues' influence that has always lurked around the edges of their sound. "Thinking of a Dream I Had," meanwhile, splices together surf, Christmas music, and garage rock. Bows + Arrows may not be a drastic change from Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, but their music, built on loud guitars and organs and strange reflections and remembrances, is so unique that drastic change isn't necessary, and simply having more of it around is more than enough.
Bows + Arrows Review
by Heather Phares