On You & Me, The Walkmen don’t reinvent their signature, scratchy, dance hall sound, but they do tweak up the sadness, more sad-sobering than happy-drinking. One of the many New York indie-rock bands to breakthrough earlier this decade, The Walkmen still had their own style, using vintage equipment, especially organs, and adding an inebriated energy to fill a grand hall. Since the initial success of 2004’s sophomore Bows + Arrows and charting with 2006’s A Hundred Miles Off, the band has played numerous tours, along with leaving their Harlem studio (and giving it a send-off in the 2006 cover-to-cover cover of John Lennon & Henry Nilsson’s Pussycats – QRO review). Yes, the band’s a bit soberer (and certainly dresses nicer…), but that’s given You & Me some extra underlying emotional heft.
“Dónde Está la Playa” is a fitting opener to the record, as it brings back the old-timey dance hall echo-remove haunt that has long characterized The Walkmen’s sadder material. But it also is the introduction to an altogether sadder album, as well as first hinting at some of the south-of-the-border spice on You & Me. After the barely-over-a-minute guitar instrumental “Flamingos (For Colbert)” (at least it wasn’t bears for Colbert…), The Walkmen return to that style with “On the Water”, albeit with a little more world-weary resign. “In the New Year” is a little pitchy, dawg, in its rises & crashes, but “Seven Years of Holidays (For Stretch)” brings some of The Walkmen’s drunken shanty to their weary ways.
However, it is with the following “Postcards From Tiny Islands” that The Walkmen really head off the road and onto the water, albeit stumbling at first, as “Postcards” does get a little lost. But it is the first track on You & Me to get some of the tropical click-clack from drummer Matt Barrick (one of QRO’s Indie-Rock’s Best Drummers). Stronger is the traveling “Four Provinces”, while in between lies the tropical-sad horn-melancholy of “Red Moon” and “Canadian Girl”.
However, nothing on You & Me is quite as sad as the stripped and unique “Long Time Ahead of Us” – and nothing has as much old-style Walkmen energy as “The Blue Route”, with singer/guitarist Hamilton Leithauser’s frayed vocal chords cutting in the clarion call chorus, “What happened to you?” To finish, The Walkmen return to their downbeat personas, with “New Country” providing a wistful backbone, “I Lost You” a grand hall missive, and closer “If Only It Were True” a sad swan song epilogue.
Leaving their Harlem studio may not have significantly changed The Walkmen’s style, but it seems to have changed their outlook. Long-time fans, especially of their live show, may complain that You & Me is too sad, and is missing that old school Walkmen spirit. Some of that is true (and the record would have been better served had the track listing varied styles up, instead of lumping them together) – and some of that will certainly be answered by their still-electric live show. But if The Walkmen have put some of their dance hall energy aside on You & Me (and it does seem to have been picked up by saloon friends & frequent showmates, The White Rabbits – QRO spotlight on), they’ve certainly crafted their new face with skill.