We have all heard the saying that with age comes responsibility. I quickly realized that once the four-year party that owns the moniker of college came to an end, a growing stack of accountability followed. Job deadlines, bill payments, and serious relationships promptly became the norm while days dedicated to vicious drinking sessions slowly fell by the wayside. If these immature days do pop up they are followed by a hangover so bad that you actually consider never drinking again. The hangovers continue to get worse and the false promises continue to grow. While nothing that I just depicted comes across as enjoyable, I find a continued satisfaction with growing up because there is a silver lining that comes with experience. With each e-bill transaction I make or each goal I hit at work I feel like I am gaining maturity and this is not necessarily a bad thing. With maturity comes polish and with this shine offers anyone in their mid to late 20s the ability to be taken a little more seriously than the days of doing beer bongs in the bathroom. This self-proclamation for the acceptance of time passing is not meant to promote my deep feelings, but more of an opportunity to tie these thoughts with a band. Once a rugged, less-accessible indie rock band, The Walkmen have embraced maturity and display their grown up side with their recent release Heaven.
My initial exposure to The Walkmen came in 2004 when they opened up for The Strokes in Indianapolis during the Room on Fire tour. They had just released their second studio album Bows + Arrows and began to generate a lot of buzz with songs like “The Rat”. I remember thinking little of their live performance. I tried to grasp their album because they were opening up for my favorite band in the world, but it refused to stick. As a listener I stood on a parallel line with The Walkmen’s musical progression. Introduce Bows + Arrows to me at the age of 27 and it would be the front-runner for album of the year. It was like giving a toddler a sip of beer. I was being given a taste of something that I just was too immature to realize how incredible it would turn out to become.
The Walkmen have released four other records in an eight-year span since my introduction in 2004. Their two-year life cycle release schedule has allowed me to stay engaged with The Walkmen, while identifying their uncanny ability to progress as a band. Before their 2010 release of Lisbon, they were just another band to me. That was the record that really grabbed my attention. This was a band that was for me all along and Lisbon gave me the opportunity to look back at the evolution. Looking back, I find that each two-year term has allowed The Walkmen to add an additional layer to their music and continue to grow as a band. The release of Heaven highlights their growth through experience and the wisdom that comes with age.
Before the listener hits play on Heaven, one will quickly identify the maturity that I mention in this post. Photos of band members and their children line the inside and back covers of Heaven. After several dozen spins, these photographs make all the sense in the world. Children force maturity. It is my best assumption that The Walkmen were able to make Heaven shine by transmitting this maturity in their music. This record is their tightest and most advanced. It signifies their bond as this record was recorded in three separate cities. They display the ability to work remotely while being effective, the ultimate sign of a group of professionals.
The Walkmen offer their best songwriting to date, while exploring the opportunity to tie it together with moments of musical simplicity. Opening track, “We Can’t Be Beat” begins with simple finger picking, lead-singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice and supporting vocals. This song draws listeners to not only to Leithauser’s beautiful voice, but also introduces new listeners to the synergy that comes after 10 years of experience. The line, “We’ll never leave, we can’t be beat” underscores the confidence that only comes with experience. This line serves as the opening remarks of Heaven where it almost seems as if Leithauser is challenging the listener to either take it or leave it.
The next opportunity for the listener to identify The Walkmen’s acceptance of time is in song “Heartbreaker”. Here, Leithauser belts out, “These are the good years, ahh the best we’ll ever know, these golden light-years”, which plays to the “yeah we are old and have kids, but we can still do it” card. This song offers the classic delivery that we have come to know The Walkmen by, but offers it in a more polished tone. “Heartbraker” serves as a cleaner, more accessible version of earlier material from The Walkmen.
The exclamation point of this record is the first single and title track “Heaven”. Opening lines, “Our children will always hear romantic tales of distant years, our guilty age may come and go, our crooked dreams will always glow” offers listeners a quick summary of what believe The Walkmen are trying to inform the listener during this entire record. Time provides certain ripeness to life, while offering the ability to quickly glance back at the past. It is these types of visions that The Walkmen are able to paint throughout this record that verify to me that they have not only grown as a band, but many of us have as listeners. A mutual musical maturation where both sides are able to progress together even if it comes with a few gray hairs.
With each successive spin of Heaven, I begin to consider the importance of what it means to grow up. While diapers are changed more often than guitar strings these days, The Walkmen have somehow found more time for detail. I have progressed as a listener, it is my hope that I can find success in my own personal maturation as the days continue to fly by. Maybe I can start now by putting a limit on how much I am going to drink this weekend…maybe.
Written by Brett McGrath
Great leaders have the uncanny knack of surrounding themselves with the best talent. Before impact can be made in any industry, leaders find ability, mold the talent, and then set their products free. While this process might seem rudimentary, oftentimes most people in charge miss the mark. A thick ego can bog the brain. Tyrannical thought, mixed with a self-serving aptitude typically leads to a premature death for many projects. Revolutionary bands like the Sex Pistols were shut down with so much more left in the tank. They lasted only three years because of John Lydon’s (Johnny Rotten) constant disputes with those who were helping drive his radically rebellious mission. Exhibit B is Noel Gallagher. He compared Oasis to the Beatles and became blinded by self-worth. Ego rose above blood and he pushed his brother to the side by ending a project that had much more to offer. I do not bring up these stories to defeat the mood, because that is not what we do around here. I attempt to identify band abandonment in order to showcase someone who has maintained brilliant leadership for nearly three decades. The key here is that one man has found a way to allow success to survive, while maintaining control over a revolving door of musical talent.
Jason Pierce has represented consistency and proper organization over the years with his band Spiritualized. Prior to fronting Spiritualized, Pierce drove Rugby, Warwickshire band Spacemen 3. From 1982-1991 this band grew an enormous cult following in the independent music scene in England while shifting band members regularly. Pierce was continually able to maintain synergy with new members and project music that kept listeners engaged regardless of the people involved. Towards the end of Spacemen 3, Pierce decided to do what any musical executive does best, start fresh. In complete start-up mode, he grew an idea and surrounded himself with the best talent available and then watched it blossom. I share this story with the readers of Thought on Tracks because it is important to not only note Pierce’s drive and leadership, but also to highlight his longevity. While many listeners did not think he could not produce another release that held a candle to Spiritualized’s 1997 release, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, I write this review to say that he has made a hell of a try nearly 12 years later.
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space set the bar for Pierce’s career by giving him that album that listeners will remember forever. It amazes me that this feat was reached and sanity was preserved during the 30 years of band attrition that Pierce was forced to reconcile with. While this kind of band turnover would make the typical crazy front man jump off the deep end, it has oddly has given Pierce a rare lasting energy . Pierce corralled the newest members of Spiritualized together and released Sweet Heart Sweet Light this week. Serving as a mirror image to Pierce’s career, this record has immediate staying power and the opportunity to flirt with the year’s best.
I am struck by the 8:51 of “Hey Jane”. The breakdown, just past the 3:30 mark, grabs the listener’s attention for the rest of the album. Bass build up, a screaming electric lead and drums that kick, have caused rock and roll to officially land for me in 2012. Lyrics, “Hey Jane, when are you going to die?” are repeated over and over again as this epic anthem comes together. This song plays like a rock opera with serious substance. I will have trouble finding another song this year that fills the speakers the way “Hey Jane” does.
Song, “Too Late” intimately begins with a string section. The mood comes off calm, comfortable and collected. The character references past advice from mom and demands my attention. Speaking as a mother Pierce states, “Don’t get to deep because you know you know you’ll regret, heart ache and pain because that is what you get”, which digs deep for me. Pierce projects words of wisdom by those who know more, but highlights the theme that the listener chooses to ignore the obvious. Hanging on to a smokers mentality until something serious happens, Pierce is able to project an ignorance is bliss atmosphere throughout this record. I can look back on many moments in life that I chose to discount advice, but now I am able to realize how big of an idiot I was for the ignorance. If you find yourself looking back on stupid moves of the past then this record is for you.
I would be remiss not to mention the beauty that closer “So Long You Pretty Thing” offers. Opening line, “Help me Lord, help me Jesus because I am lonely and tired” begins to put Pierce’s theme of carefree and live each like it his last into perspective. This song offers tremendous quality to close out a record because it counteracts everything that he presents listeners with throughout the rest of the record. It is hard to identify if these thoughts are genuine or faded realization covered with regret. Sometimes all it takes is a moment of vulnerability to create a masterpiece and I strongly believe that Pierce was able to reach that point here. This song demands the most important quality that music can offer for me, reflection. A “Holocene” type impact bottled with hope. This song is a quick recovery that causes me to forget past events to believe in.
Sweet Heart Sweet Light is one of those records that not only caused me to reflect on the music itself, but the career of Jason Pierce as a whole. Many others will review this record and sing its praises, but I want to focus on Pierce as a great musical leader in this one. Throughout decades of crazy lifestyles with countless crazy partners, Pierce has continually provided his listeners with releases that have kept us all engaged. Pierce possesses an eye for talent and an even greater capacity to bring it together. While Jason Pierce might not go down noted in the same breath as Johnny Rotten or Noel Gallagher, those who he has reached will always recognize him. He continually projects a subtle style of direction that will always cause me to follow.
Written by Brett McGrath
There is something to be said for consistency. As any music fan will tell you, there are no guarantees when it comes to bands. For the majority of the indie world, the first album is always the highlight. Years of work playing in front of small crowds at shitty bars leads to a triumphant album that is more of a culmination than the beginning. The “Sophomore Slump” is a common phrase that tends to follow up this spectacular first album. Simply, it’s much harder to keep the goods coming.
However, the truly great acts can deliver, and do repeatedly. The Walkmen need no introduction, because, well… they are one of the best. Whether you first heard them on The O.C. rocking out with “Little House of Savages” in 2004 (oh yes, I did just go there) or with their last masterpiece Lisbon, it’s almost impossible to listen and not be a fan. And the best part about The Walkmen? Like a fine wine, they just keep getting better. “Heaven”, the lead single and title-track from their forthcoming album was dropped yesterday. And sure enough, it’s absolutely great. Scope the track below and pre-order your copy of Heaven from Fat Possum.
Written by Greg Dahman