he indie music underground learned long ago that hype is a cruel, unyielding bitch, but that’s never been as apparent as it is now in post- Strokes America. The most meager of associations is enough to warrant the Burnsian release of elitist hounds. Although the comparison may seem overbearing and trite, I can’t help but link the treatment of critically supported new acts to this year’s campaign season in its unrelenting ferocity and furor-inducing shortsightedness. For all the praise that their albums received, allegations of similarity and overwrought dapperness will continue to haunt every sprightly 2002 up-and-comer, from Interpol to Trail of Dead.
Indeed, New York City’s the Walkmen picked the wrong summer to burst upon the scene with their starkly pleasurable blend of ebullient cabaret-isms and muted theatrics. Beyond the notice of many, March’s Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone stood head and shoulders above the rest of the revivalist breed and, even unlike some of the better of the wrongly-pegged pieces, it truly felt like something exciting. Following a world tour and mild MTV rotation, the band has returned with this split EP that pairs them with hometown companions, Calla. The two songs presented by the Walkmen here show that, if anything, their almost fully-developed sound is getting that much closer to perfection. And to the pleasure of that more established band’s fans, the dueling tracks submitted by Calla bring warranted attention to an intriguing group of musicians.
“Look Out The Window” kicks off the Walkmen’s portion of the EP with one of their bounciest songs yet that manages to lay out nearly all of their strengths-- the bubbly and playful, yet utterly precise rhythm section; Hamilton Leithhauser’s impeccably phrased vocals; the thickly veiled tension and joyous release-- and run with them. Certainly, the track vaguely recalls Spoon at their cheerfully taut best, but odd instrumentation and dueling guitars ensure a tangible sense of originality and innovation that cannot be denied.
“Here Comes Another Day” shows the band flexing their more subdued muscle with much better results than the LP, where the slower songs often suffered at the album’s expense. A tranquil Hawaiian guitar rests below drummer Matt Barrick’s lilting beat and Leithauser’s plaintive vocals, resulting in a splendid stretch of the band’s increasing range.
Since 1997, Calla have been creating wildly hypnotic, compressed cinematic music out of electronic feeds and spare instrumentation. Their lethargic tunes come as a welcome variation on the “slow-core” formula, as they stress not secluded warmth and consoling shelter, but entrapment, exhaustion ,and paranoia. Indeed, their touch is in full force on “Don’t Hold Your Breath”, a beautiful, lilting song that rises from a quiet, mumbled start to a terse, jagged finish with little more than a guitar and a pair of maracas. The fact that they can close out this EP with a nice, competent and inoffensive cover of Can’s “Mother Sky” is testament enough to their worth.
So maybe this EP is just the Walkmen’s way of getting people to remember their existence and Calla’s of getting people to acknowledge theirs, but with talent like this, it’s a noble enough pursuit and one that I’m more than willing to aid.
Reviewed by: Colin McElligatt
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01