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Listen Up: CD Review: The Walkmen: "You and Me"

Have you ever bought a cd by a band you liked, only to find that sometime while you were out getting beer or hiking the Appalachians or mending broken wings of baby birds they went and totally changed up their sound? Of course you have. Outrage!

Oh the wailing and indignant gnashing of teeth of music fans scorned.  In fairness, when an established, successful band’s creative trajectory takes an unexpected left turn sometimes it works and sometimes…well, not so much. You have to give bands credit, however, when they stop trampling over their own well-worn histories and embark on something new.

The last few albums by New York City’s The Walkmen were anthemic, garage-rock-with-heart sorts of affairs. Good music for driving fast while air-drumming on the steering wheel. They always reminded me of a less self-conscious, less “trying to be hip” version of The Strokes (remember them?), in that their music seems to belong to two different eras at once. I would describe their music as tightly crafted pop songs written by dudes who were really into post-punk bands who happened to have some jangly Rickenbacker guitars and a Hammond organ laying around, like when you inherited that rusty acoustic guitar and greasy bongo drums left behind by your hippie roommate who dropped everything and left school one day to work on a fishing boat in Alaska.

Yeah, like that.

“You & Me” is a pretty radical departure from everything I just described.  It sounds like it was recorded on a cheap reel-to-reel tape recorder in 1965, and gone are any pretenses to rock and roll, in the modern sense. Instead, we are left with some dark yet pretty, well-crafted little pop ditties that sound like Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, and Anton LaVey got together for a weeklong party and left the tape rolling when they weren’t doing drugs and sacrificing animals. I mean that in the best way possible. The album is catchy and haunting, especially album opener “Donde Esta La Playa” and the Hammond-driven “In The New Year.”

It’s worth noting that while I was listening to “You & Me,” my roommate’s cat, Snugs Mackenzie, totally barfed on the kitchen floor. I can think of no higher compliment, truly, than “makes cats barf.” Well done, Walkmen, well done indeed.

Completely Meaningless and Arbitrary Grade: A