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Key Tracks: "We Can't Be Beat," "Dreamboat"
Seven albums in the last 10 years--that’s impressive right? It is indeed, but perhaps it's time The Walkmen sat down and put some effort into their next release.
I’m not saying this album is horrendous. I don’t even know if I would call it bad. Rather, it just exists.
What doesn’t exist, however, is The Walkmen’s trademark use of an old school upright piano. This is something they stepped away from with their 2010 release Lisbon, but at least it was still utilized on tracks such as “Victory.” Eliminating it completely for this year's release was most certainly a poor choice.
Without the keys, Heaven has a very minimalistic feel to it, and the reward is the opposite of that which you would receive from the simplicity of Sigur Rós. Heaven's simple structure creates tracks that are dry and tend to sedate you into a pissed off slumber rather than the peaceful one expected from Sigur Rós.
The Walkmen do give us some odd electric keyboard action on "Nightingales," but a cluster of guitar riffs forming some kind of black hole drowns it and the band’s piano out.
Without a piano, this album rides on lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice--which isn’t always a bad thing.
The best part of this album is indeed the vocals, especially the introduction of an album hosting a new style from The Walkmen. Humming, as well as “oohhs” and “ahhs” from Leithauser and the rest of the band members consume the album’s sound, which on some tracks, proves enjoyable.
In fact, this group of New York/Philadelphia gentlemen nicely harmonize when they want to, in particular throughout the record's opener “We Can’t Be Beat.” This track is definitely one of the stronger songs off the album, and possibly of their career. It provides Heaven with an upbeat opening and features everything they've got on vocals and instruments--minus the coveted keys listeners will dearly miss.
Ohhh, the lack of piano. I wouldn’t bring it up again if I didn’t believe this album would be significantly better with it. Leithauser's voice has the power to carry the band's music, as it does in some of Heaven’s stronger tracks, but without the compliment of a piano, the music becomes outright boring.
“Song for Leigh,” for instance, is a little painful to sit through. Without the black and white notes, this song plays host to significant lulls when Leithauser quits singing. The gaps in the song last for five seconds apiece; five seconds that feel like five minutes with a lackluster guitar riff on repeat.
The introduction of a vocal-based version of The Walkmen isn't good enough without any of the band members placing themselves on a piano bench. The new sound is good, but not great. If, and only if, The Walkmen decide to take a year to listen to their piano rock anthem “We’ve Been Had” and combine their new style with the old, then I’ll be in favor of this band producing seven more albums in the next decade.
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