The Walkmen

Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me is Gone

(Star Time; 2002)

By Scott Reid | 31 May 2002

Let’s get this history thing out of the way so I can get around to how great this album is: Jonathon Fire*Eater came along in 1997 much like the Strokes in 2001 and, also like the Strokes, became darlings for the booming NYC scene—snatched up by Dreamworks and hyped until they realized the record wasn’t about to get played on commercial radio. Breaking up just a year after their debut, Wolf Songs for Lambs, they use some of that wonderful Dreamworks cash to start a studio; in 2000, the Walkmen form with three members of Jonathon Fire*Eater (Walter Martin, Paul Maroon and Matt Barrick) and two members of the Recoys, including lead singer Hamilton Leithauser (who sounds like a weird combination of Beck, Julian Cassablancas, Shannon Hoon and Bono). That brings us up to date, pretty much.

Although similarities to other NYC bands are often imminent (Interpol, Radio 4 and yes, the Strokes—especially on songs like “They’re Winning”—although one must realize that the similarity comes between a similar vocal style and both being huge fans of certain, ahem, other bands that I promised myself I would never bring up in a review of NYC bands like this), the Walkmen have accomplished here what others like Radio 4 still have not: they’ve created a cohesive album that remains part of growing scene yet seems to be living in its own world. Not denying its influences but creating an album that is undeniably the sound of a band completely in control of their sound with unique production ideas and strong songwriting skills. The piano tracks sound like they were recorded through broken microphones (with a busted piano, for that matter) with a production quality not unlike the acoustic guitar stereo-panning showcased on the brilliant last Microphones record, The Glow Pt. 2. It adds an unique air several of the tracks (most notably “The Blizzard of ’96,” “Stop Talking” and “Roll Down the Line”) that helps give the album such a magical quality. Much like Interpol, the band often throws conventional arrangement and structure out the window, opting instead for songs that flourish around common themes without being repetitive in form, showcased nicely on standout tracks like “Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me is Gone” and “French Vacation.”

Even when they decide to create fairly standard songs (in form, at least—the production often seems slightly inverted and much more atmospheric than you might expect) like “Wake Up,” “We’ve Been Had” and “This is the Punch Line,” the songwriting is so strong that the listener doesn’t feel like the band is falling into a clichéd circle of recycled ideas. The more straight-forward songs have enough hooks and strong lyrics to make them some of the best moments of the album, while the less catchy atmospheric songs (especially in the last half of the album) make the album much more focused and keep it from getting really old, really quickly.

Of course, the album isn’t perfect and has some filler and although they (“It Should Take A While,” “I’m Never Bored,” “Roll Down the Line”) don’t work like the rest of the album, they do show the band experimenting with production and songwriting ideas. When it comes right down to it, their ideas pay off more often than not and they have put together enough great songs here to make it one of the best albums I’ve heard this year and one I’ll be listening to for many years to come. Cheers.