Brought to You by the Letter Gby Grant Moser
The Walkmen: You & Me (Gigantic)
The Walkmen have come a long way since their first album more than six years ago, and it’s been two years since their last effort—but You & Me was worth the wait. While their tunes still have that feeling of off-kilter carnival music, this time around they’re playing with a new confidence. Hamilton Leithauser’s voice dances and skips across the jangly landscape as he channels Tom Waits’s growl into a post-millennial howl. The music has an atmosphere that is both haunting and languid, like heat waves off the blacktop. There’s a sense here of not being in a hurry; the songs feel like they’re being created as you listen. The Walkmen create a feverish tableau full of ghosts, flashes of color, and forgotten hopes. You & Me is the group’s masterpiece—substantive, engaging, and sublime. No more proof is needed that the Walkmen should be lauded as indie-rock royalty.
Shannon McArdle: Summer of the Whore (Bar None Records)
McArdle comes out swinging on the first song on this, her debut solo album: “Don’t have to be so careful / Honey I don’t live in town / Don’t have to tell me you love me, baby / I’ll still go down.” As you can see, what’s got everyone in a tizzy is the rather frank lyrics that she throws around, including these from “Leave Me For Dead”: “You’d like to wash my fresh mouth out / Shove in a big bar of soap / But you know that I always swallow / I let it slide down my throat.” There’s plenty more confessional writing on this album, centered around her breakup with former Mendoza Line bandmate Timothy Bracy and the subsequent sadness, rebounding, and apparent loss of a baby. Needless to say, it’s not particularly uplifting. The only problem is that McArdle doesn’t demonstrate the musical chops to back up the lyrics. This is a serious album about the painful aftermath of a breakup, but I don’t hear a lot of emotion coming from the rather bland music that McArdle puts behind her words. The music has been described as “hypnotic,” which I see as just another way of saying “boring.” While the lyrics are the star of the album, McArdle’s songwriting skills seem to be lacking without Bracy. This would have worked much better as simply a book of poetry.
Windmill: Puddle City Racing Lights (Friendly Fire)
Talk about a breath of fresh air. Windmill is Matthew Thomas Dillon, and Puddle City Racing Lights is a beautiful, big ball of sunshine and syrupy-sweet tunes; it’s like riding an indie-rock rainbow. The sounds that Dillon puts together switch quite easily from intimate, close atmospheres of quiet piano to large, lush blooming music that can’t quite be contained. The lyrics don’t always make perfect sense, but you’ll still be singing along to them immediately, like these from “Tokyo Moon”: “You never thought / You never would / The drugs were doing things you already could…So Rachel packed it all away / And I think it was a museum / Experiments were conducted that day / The Tokyo moon is out of reach / Falling out of love can breach your world / And the boundaries of your friends’ worlds.” Dillon’s high-pitched voice is perfect accompanying this music, bringing the listener along the troughs and crests. The songs are orchestra-like walls of sound, reminiscent of the arrangements of Arcade Fire, the Flaming Lips, and Mercury Rev—with joyous ovations applied liberally throughout. It’s wonderful to discover someone who can channel such strong influences into good, original songs.
Everest: Ghost Notes (Vapor Records)
Everest has quite a pedigree: The press release points out that its members have played with bands such as Sebadoh, the Folk Implosion, Earlimart, Mike Stinson, Slydell, John Vanderslice, and the Watson Twins. Ghost Notes, it continues, was recorded in Elliot Smith’s New Monkey Studios. What it fails to mention is: (1) it’s not the room that makes the music, and (2) maybe there’s a reason these guys aren’t with those other bands anymore. If you had to categorize Everest you’d have to call them an alt-country band, but that’s not true either. I’m sure they were aiming for an easygoing vibe that showed their sensitive songwriter side, but the album never quite reaches anything remotely interesting. “Rebels in the Roses” and “Into Your Soft Heart” show the most potential to deliver on the promise of something ear-catching, but the album quickly devolves into wearisome, generic, overdone adult-contemporary songwriting. If you have any albums by Ryan Adams, you’ve got all you need. Ghost Notes might seem like a nice adventure upon first hearing, but it’s more a molehill than a mountain.
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.