The Walkmen released their bold debut album, "Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone," in 2002.
It's an effort that successfully sounds old without mining the admittedly fertile ground of classic rock or pop, and thus, it sounds weary, melancholy and beautifully innovative. The album often relies on piano and organ to set the creativity in motion, with the band finding excellent ways to merge the vocal and guitar parts with the piano and organ.
The album starts with a complete roar, slowly and evenly rising in volume. At about 45 seconds in, Hamilton Leithauser's voice joins, bellowing, often cutting against the tune of the din. Then it abruptly stops, and the second track begins with the guitarist pounding out strangled riffs.
A few loose, vague piano notes cement for stretches over flat-yet-booming drumming. The guitar shifts on choruses, intonations to "wake up," unspooling acerbic half-melodies. It all gives way to a bridge built on two droll, ricocheting piano notes.
The third track has besetting drumming over an atmospheric hum. Leithauser's vocals lack the biting sense of self-awareness of the first two tracks.
The guitar, when it joins, is an enthralling, disjointed element tying everything together.
The piano on "The Blizzard of '96" is beautiful and sets the song up well for when Matt Barrick's strong percussion kicks in and Leithauser sings "we've begun to work things out again." A few lines later, Paul Maroon's piano part slows into an absent-minded irregularity. From early on the guitar part gives the sixth track, "French Vacation," a more conventional sound than the album's first three songs, or the song that follows. The singing and drumming also are more subdued at first and less about subverting expectations. After an instrumental bridge takes up gothic brooding, the band uses it effectively to heighten tension and the drumming pivots to long, staccato stretches.
The eighth track is a particularly great song. It contrasts gorgeous, haunting piano with tight, creative and irreverent drumming, both used, along with the aching vamping of the singer's voice, to craft a song that is smart and sincere.
The ninth song has light, airy percussion and strained piano, perfect for the lost, bewildered affectation the singer adopts, and for the buzz that joins later. Then, everything slows until it crawls, and the drummer shifts to an urgent, irregular beat that ignites the song. The 10th track, "That's the Punch Line," is, like the sixth, more conventional. While not as good as the two songs that proceeded it, it helps bring nuance to the album, making it more fully realized.
The simplicity of the 12th song's drumbeat is winsome, soon stepping up to meet the driving piano part. Everything falls off to a quiet simmer but the singing. The 13th and final track, "I'm Never Bored," bumps along on Barrick's drumming and a further screeling that sets up the off-kilter climate. The guitar's emerging presence is gradual, until it's an energizing fixture in the song.
While both the 12th and final songs have their merits, the 11th track, "It Should Take a While," encapsulates the album better. Leithauser has a disconnected drone to his voice, and when the guitars' careful, fuzzed-out surf-rock joins it contrasts to the singing and diminutive drumming very well. The guitars also effectively choose when to pause, before taking a more celestial turn. While one of the album's longer tracks, the band puts every moment to use, with the instrumentation giving the song a regal, refined air well-tempered by the vulnerability in Leithauser's singing.