Seasoned post-punk band The Walkmen still going strong

The Walkmen will play with The New Pornographers on Friday at The Blue Note.

By Parker Tarun | April 29, 2011

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The Walkmen bassist Walter Martin has been playing music since the seventh grade. After releasing music in multiple critically-acclaimed groups, his longest tenure in the Walkmen, it doesn’t seem to faze him anymore.

“It’s about 95 percent the same as it was then,” he said.

The Walkmen is one of the last post-punk groups of the New York Revival that still produces records at a natural, earnest pace. While drummer Matt Barrick cascades wildly across his drum set, Hamilton Leithauser belts in a hermetic drawl designed for elegance but dragged through the city streets of the glinting albeit gritty melodies of guitarist Paul Marron, bassist Martin and organist Peter Bauer. The result is a mesh of fine art and rock and roll.

Coming together in New York out of the disassembling of two D.C.-native bands, the ephemeral sensation Jonathan Fire*Eater and The Recoys, The Walkmen grouped up, trying to make music exciting for themselves again. Most of the members had been playing since at least high school.

There was a conscious decision to avoid the simple, lo-fi nature of their New York peers by The Walkmen. While the rest of the scene was grabbing for vintage semblances of rock and roll, The Walkmen were playing shows in button-down shirts.

Even on its debut Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, the band sounds freer for giving its members space to play off each other, rather than over each other. 2004’s Bows + Arrows marked one of indie rock’s most formidable entries of the decade and 2008’s You and Me cemented the Walkmen’s discography as having lasting power. Last year’s Lisbon made several critics’ 2010 best-of lists. The band entered the studio with songs written and recorded them in a matter of five days.

The album title seems apt. Despite The Walkmen’s continued momentum, the moods permeating the album seem worldlier on the beach-toned, low-lit punch up of opener “Juveniles”. One could hear how the intoxicating vertigo of the chorus on “Angela Surf City” reflects the jet-setting memoirs of a rock band. But Martin says the title comes from the high morale the band felt while in Portugal’s capital.

“We’ve been to Europe many times and we always kind of struggled over there, but when we went to Lisbon, it was very different,” he said. “They seemed to really appreciate what we did. It’s to show how we’ve always wanted it to be. We named our record after it as a hopeful kind of thing.”

Even as their contemporaries phase out, The Walkmen continue to produce unselfconscious records without regard for prevailing trends, instead fleshing out a body of art. Writing and rewriting on the road, Martin hinted that the next Walkmen release might be on its way.

“It’s hard to tell what it’s going to sound like,” he said. “I’d say it’s triumphant, happy-sounding, but kind of weird.”

As to how The Walkmen further vivify their already live-sounding records on stage, Martin said the dynamics are stinger.

"Bombastic, I’ve heard somebody say," he said. "The louder parts are louder, the quieter parts are quieter.”

Then Martin paused and, almost as if realizing it for the first time, concluded, “We play really loud.”

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