Contrary to what the internet thinks these days, The Walkmen have always been a “mature” band. They were among the first wave of indie-rock bands to have a song played in a car commercial; they were using toy pianos on their 2002 debut, and New Orleans-styled horn sections by 2006. They released a Harry Nilsson cover album for crying out loud. Needless to say, this was never a band that was ever tied to some punk mindset or limited themselves to one-dimensional fast/loud song structures. If you couldn’t see a record as nuanced, textured, and flat out brilliant as You & Me coming from a hundred miles off than you weren’t paying attention during their formative years. Yeah, their un-fucking believably great “The Rat”, from 2004’s Bows + Arrows, shreds like nobody’s business, but it infamously sports the cathartic declaration, “When I used to go out I’d know everyone I saw, now I go out alone if I go out at all”. Not exactly a party anthem from a NYC guy in his mid twenties.
The brand new Lisbon, their third brilliant album and fifth overall, doesn’t find them growing old gracefully, but rather refining the simple approach they’ve been utilizing for almost a decade – writing great indie-rock songs and playing them in the most effective manner possible. Like its predecessor, Lisbon’s songs may be, on the whole, quieter than those of earlier albums, but they are certainly no less intense. In fact, “Angela Surf City” hits with more brute force than anything they’ve done in years. Unsurprisingly though, that song’s explosive arrangement and soaring chorus only tell one side of this band’s story. “Stranded” sounds like it was cut from the same cloth as You & Me’s centerpiece “Red Moon”, with boozy horns punctuating Hamilton Leithauser’s wounded vocals. The bouncy “Woe Is Me” is far and away the most pop-influenced song the band has yet attempted, and the deceptively intricate “All My Great Designs” unfolds over nearly five minutes of spaced-out, chiming guitars and perfectly smacked drums. And “Juveniles”, with its luminous guitars and stick-in-your-head melody, is their strongest album opener yet, starting Lisbon off with confidence and (shudder to think) positivity.
While many of their early-aughts contemporaries have seen their initial buzz dwindle, The Walkmen have grown as a band from album to album. It’s hard to say that they are getting better, but that’s more of a comment on their consistency than a knock against where they are now. They’ve proved to be one of the best band’s in indie-rock and, once again, have produced an album that expands on what we thought they capable of. That’s not a band that’s “growing old gracefully”. “Growing old gracefully” implies there’s some sort of comfortable predictability. With Lisbon, The Walkmen sound like they're hitting their stride.