As a founding member of fever-pitched indie act the Walkmen, Peter Matthew Bauer handled bass and organ duties for well over a decade before the band went on indefinite hiatus in late 2013. Bauer debuts as a solo artist with Liberation!, calling on the guidance and spirit of some of the best names in the American singer/songwriter tradition. It's unlikely that the album title is referring to Bauer's liberation from his tenure in the Walkmen, especially as Walkmen drummer Matthew Barrick lends his percussion talents to many of the tracks, and the heavier compositions lean on some of the same wry, swaying, melodic tendencies that characterized much of the Walkmen catalog. Look no further than the manic guitar clusters that begin "Irish Wake in Varanasi" and the driving rhythm that pushes its chords along for evidence that this album branches off the Walkmen family tree. Instead, Bauer seems to be on a journey for personal freedom and self-understanding throughout Liberation!, with the indie rock strains of his songs tempered by introspective lyrical themes. A feeling of road-weary pilgrimage flows through many tunes, "Latin American Ficciones" and "Fortune Tellers" in particular sounding designed for the searching road trip that follows a huge life change. Bauer shamelessly borrows from Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello in terms of vocal delivery throughout the album. The title track is based around a pseudo-highlife groove, and the jumpy basslines and tropical backing vocals give the song the same sense of wide-eyed tourism Paul Simon bathed in on Graceland, or perhaps more fittingly, Vampire Weekend's faux-African yacht pop. While the songs are heavy with a sense of transitional urgency, Bauer never forgets to make hooks and interesting arrangements a priority. As a result, Liberation! remains highly listenable and likeable, keeping its potentially edgy sentiments hidden just far enough behind Bauer's knack for penning memorable, evocative rock tunes.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas