The buzz on this record has been released upon us like a cloud of Prada-clad insects: the Walkmen have been on MTV all week, and the Village Voice has instructed me to consider them my "favorite new band." Formed two years ago with members of Jonathan Fire*eater and the Recoys, they already sound like they've been making the rounds for years and are eyeing some arena dates. In fact, they're thinking so big that they're already worried that Sony could sue them over their bandname.
And I don't see anything wrong with that. It's actually refreshing to hear a new band that seems so confident. It's not that they sound commercial-- yet-- but that they remind us that "pop" stands for popular. From the start of Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, their first full-length, they aim high: the two minute warm-up of "They're Winning" comes throbbing from the ether like a machine revving to life; and on "Warm Up" that machine is taking bold strides-- the guitar attack, the brutish drums, and Hamilton Leithauser's showmanlike vocals rage in unison. Leithauser is being compared to other rock vocalists, and as one reference point, he sounds like Bono: he veers to the high end of his range and he's not afraid to make every note sound important. But more crucially, he's a true frontman. He's remarkably self-assured and you can hear his exertion, particularly on the potential single, "We've Been Had."
The Walkmen record in their own studio, Marcata Recording, and they've nailed their sound: Everyone Who Pretended is a pleasure to listen to, a visceral recording with a large soundscape. The palette is also nicely limited: the atmospheric sweeps come from many sources but they have a consistent feel, and the most prominent sounds are the basic drums, bass and guitar that anchor each track. The Walkmen have one innovative texture: an upright piano that's recorded with a warbly, slightly distant sound, like small rocks knocking against each other in the sea. It sounds so neat that Paul Maroon can just idly twinkle out notes, like the plinks that dot "Revenge Wears No Wristwatch." Its texture even dominates the quiet "Stop Talking" and the creepy introduction to "Roll Down the Line," and it carries the pretty, rolling melody of "The Blizzard of '96."
The piano helps create their signature sound without becoming a distraction, and also, it's just nice to hear a band use stark arrangements-- for example, the album closer, "I'm Never Bored," starts with just drums and vocals until Maroon and Leithauser layer in the piercing and grinding guitars. These guys play quietly and simply enough that when they pile on the sound, well... it's pretty damn magnificent.
The songwriting on Everyone Who Pretended is solid, but it's the title track that really impresses. It harkens back to bands like U2 or the Cure-- not just in tone, but in magnitude: skyscraping guitar smears and then a striking riff, the texture taking flight, and Leithauser insinuating his vocals on top, never weighing down a song that's already soaring. The only complaint you could make is that it's too short-- that, in under four minutes, they play a song that sounds like it should go on for eight or nine, with big video screens looming behind and Leithauser doing something filthy to the mike stand.
Remember when U2 was younger and hungrier, and Bono could sing about "the desert sky" so boldly that you could picture it? It's rare today to hear a rock band think that way. This is why the Walkmen deserve attention. There must be some way to make the kids rebellious and excited about the things of this earth, and when I hear a song as vast and propulsive as this one, it gives me hope.
-Chris Dahlen, April 8th, 2002