The Walkmen


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Happiness writes white, the maxim goes. Similarly, it's just as difficult to write songs about contentment that aren't boring, or worse, smug. However, the Walkmen manage to pull this off on Heaven, which they recorded during the celebration of the band's tenth anniversary. Just how far the band has come since the Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone days is reinforced throughout the album, from the pictures of the bandmembers with their families to Phil Ek's clean but unobtrusive production. This feeling of homecoming is all the more striking compared to the Walkmen's previous album, the woozy travelogue Lisbon. Though that album's brightest moments hinted at the happier version of the band that Heaven presents, it's still somewhat startling to hear Hamilton Leithauser and crew sound so settled on these songs. "Love Is Luck" and "Leigh's Song" sound bathed in sunshine, even more so than the Walkmen did on A Hundred Miles Off. Where they used to be searching, they now offer sage advice; Leithauser repeats "Love will decide" like a mantra on "The Witch," one of many songs taking the band's quintessentially philosophical nature in a more mature direction. And where their rockers used to rage, they now burst with exuberance; the album's title track plays like a happier version of Bows + Arrows' "The Rat," with Leithauser sounding like he's ready to beat down the door to share some good news instead of to finish an argument. However, the Walkmen's version of Heaven isn't all harps and halos; an undercurrent of regret, even apology, is often palpable, particularly on the album's many quiet, ruminative tracks such as "Line by Line" and "Dreamboat," which makes Heaven's last word one of yearning more typical for the band. That many of these more hushed songs are grouped together in the album's middle lends a somewhat uneven feel that is especially jarring when the band returns to poppier territory. But even if it's not the band's most cohesive work, Heaven comes across as a more or less triumphant culmination of the Walkmen's first decade, and the fact that happiness fits the band better than anyone could have expected is just a welcome bonus.

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