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Walkmen - Bows And Arrows

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 12 / 4 / 2004

Walkmen - Bows And Arrows
Label: Wea
Format: CD


Perplexing, but excellent indie pop on second album from the Walkmen, which without demanding attention manages to get it anyway

The Walkmen’s music creeps softly along. It doesn’t demand attention but gets it anyway. The icy charm of 'Bows And Arrows', the band’s second full length album, begs to be played and played again, lazily beckoning the curious music fan to work out what it is about a sound that seems so effortless that ends up so perplexing. On first listen, this is an unremarkable effort, seemingly short of hooks and ideas, but given time – and an overabundance of reviews from US websites (the Americans have had 'Bows And Arrows' since February) made sure I didn’t simply dismiss it – this album is what many call a ‘grower’. It isn’t perfect. The third track, 'No Christmas While I’m Talking' is clearly an attempt to produce an atmospheric slow burner in a post-rock/art-rock style, but is dangerously lacking melody and, while the guitar effects are interesting enough, cannot seize the attention for long. You quickly find yourself wishing the next song would start. Other than that, however, all the songs are at least worth persevering with. You may have heard the single, 'The Rat', on XFM or BBC 6 Music. But if you haven’t, it is a catchy slice of indie rock action; pulse raising guitars and high velocity drumming. The only track on the album not to be produced by the band,' Dave Sardy' was seemingly called in to fit the track up for radio rotation. That’s not to say it's trite, and in fact, the bands undercurrent of noise experimentalism is firmly in place, but it's one of the few songs on the record that seems to kick out to first time listeners. It isn’t though the catchiest, or the best, song on the album. 'Little House Of Savages' is built around a disorientating drum pattern, and chiming repetitive guitar lines. Underneath, the arrangement is no more restful as the band explodes in fits of histrionic frenzy. As a contrast, Leithauser’s vocals are his most melodic and despite the sense that it was born out of reckless experimentation the whole track resounds with a sense of immense purpose. The Walkmen may well fail to top this high water mark for the rest of their career. The rest of the album, whilst not reaching the heights of 'Little House Of The Savages' is still imaginatively constructed. 'The North Pole' features the most passionate vocal delivery on the album, and the interaction of the straightforward guitar and drum patterns with some sweeping keyboard effects is beautifully done. The piano is prominent on several tracks, but is especially lovely on the charming 'Hang On, Siobhan'. Not once on “Bows And Arrows” do the Walkmen let their guard down and resort to pointless filler. Even the track that doesn’t work is at least an attempt at an ambitious direction. The Walkmen have had, I suppose, a healthy buzz about them since their debut album and a support tour with Idlewild was well-received, but they have not had any great success. They must have known that, in a sense, this album was make or break, the big one, fluff this and the early promise would be forgotten. It’s quite remarkable (and rather pleasing!) to hear a band so sure of themselves, so calm, relaxed enough to let their sound go wherever it feels like going. This band will better 'Bows And Arrows', I hope, but right now it’s a little gem of an indie record.

Track Listing:-
1 What's in It for Me
2 The Rat
3 No Christmas While I'm Talking
4 Little House of Savages
5 My Old Man
6 138th Street
7 The North Pole
8 Hang on Siobhan
9 New Year's Eve
10 Thinking of a Dream I Had
11 Bows + Arrows

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You and Me (2008)
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