Sound: One band is carving out a unique niche of its own in the rock world, ironically by straying as far from the traditional rock sound as it can. Formed in 2000, the New York-based The Walkmen began to attract plenty of attention with its last record, Bows And Arrows. Entertainment Weekly writer David Browne picked the record as one of his top 10 of 2004 and giving The Walkmen a nice boost for its newest offering, A Hundred Miles Off. Led by charismatic vocalist Hamilton Leithauser, The Walkmen are rounded out by the talented group of Paul Maroon on guitar, Walter Martin on organ, Peter Bauer on bass, and drummer Matt Barrick. What immediately becomes evident at a first listen of A Hundred Miles Off, each band member has a very distinctive sound that never gets hidden by the frontman.
By using a rotating mix of minor and major chords, dreamy reverb and brittle distortion, and ever-changing strumming rhythms, The Walkmen offer what is, to put it plain and simple, an interesting record. Just when you think you know what to expect in the next section of the song, guitarist Maroon proves he has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. A Hundred Miles Off combines so many different styles and techniques, often with Maroon's strumming mimicking the percussion closely, l that you feel like you're often listening to twenty songs in just one tune. Leithauser's vocals seem to be a curious hybrid of Bob Dylan's legendary delivery and the fiery cries of some of the early British Invasion frontmen. But the more you listen to the album, Leithauser distinguishes himself in his own way. His vocals are so passionate that you can never pin-point where his vocals will go next, whether to a soft confession or a blaring wail.
The first track, Louisiana, starts out as a run-of-the-mill laid-back rock song, but suddenly shifts for the better three-fourths through the song. Just when we're used to hearing the strumming pattern of the guitars, the song takes on almost a mariachi-like feel half-way through the song. We are no longer in Louisiana, but taking a tour of Mexico -- and it's the best thing The Walkmen could do. By surprising the ear, all of a sudden you're a bit more curious what might be around the corner. Another notable track is Emma Get Me A Lemon, which utilizes drummer Barrick's talents to create a very strong percussive background, creating almost a bongo-like feel with his toms. // 8
Lyrics: It's almost like looking through The Walkmen's day-to-day life when listening to the new album. Louisiana uses the lyrical composition to highlight the musical elements of the traveling song. Leithauser begins to tell of a simple physical journey saying, Crossing through Tennessee, watching the sunrise, and then shortly after abruptly crying out with the statement, I've got my hands full, I've got my hands full. Intertwining mundane views of the physical world with his innermost thoughts creates an effective, intriguing start to the CD.
The lyrics continue to paint visual pictures on songs like Good For You's Good For Me. The listener almost feels like he or she is taking a stroll on a hot day in New York City with lyrics like, On some hazy afternoon, heard a siren in the air and The sun was shining out, cast my shadow on the wall.
The words on A Hundred Miles Off are never too groundbreaking or clever and to focus on day-to-day aspects of life, but it supplements music that is already colorful enough on its own. // 7
Overall Impression: The tracks on A Hundred Miles Off more often than not tend to have more than just a simple verse and chorus. The result is an album full of consistently interesting transitions that may not be your average radio-friendly tunes, but musically are extremely satisfying. While the lyrics may not probe the soul with new or unheard revelations, The Walkmen is creating plenty of atmosphere with the music. The Walkmen has an individual approach to its song breakdown, often involving multiple sections that seem to come out of nowhere. But by doing so, the band is taking risks and showing they aren't afraid of creating a tune that isn't radio-friendly. And what a glorious change it is to have a band that isn't afraid of giving our ears a little change. // 8