As its first chords are plucked and the opening lines sung, Heaven quickly sounds like a new path for The Walkmen. But the feeling hits even before you press play, as you examine the record's packaging. Austere black text on a bright white background is accompanied by photos of band members with their wives and children inside. Even the title of the album is upbeat.
Could it be? The Walkmen have become grown-ups? The band's members even appear to be (gasp!) happy. Yes, that feeling that has single-handedly destroyed the angsty appeal of countless bands over the years. But, fear not, The Walkmen have not only managed to evolve through 12 years of bandhood, but to prove just how much they've grown with this gift of an album.
The first track, "We Can't Be Beat," opens the record by highlighting feelings of contentment and insight. The song uses a simple melody and gentle multi-part harmonies--yes, that's Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold's sweet croon you hear--to ensure the focus remains on the lyrics. "Golden dreams, all lose their glow / I don't need perfection, I love the whole / Oh give me a life, that needs correction ... The world is ours / We can't be beat," croons lead singer Hamilton Leithauser.
But this forward-looking attitude doesn't remove complexity or darkness from the album. Songs like "Southern Heart," "Line By Line" and "Song for Leigh" provide an emotional range that keeps things interesting and balanced.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Seattle's beloved Phil Ek, Heaven's sound is varied but focused. The album never grows tiresome or repetitive, managing to be cohesive and genuinely Walkmen-esque. This record is more than a culmination of one band's career; it coaxes listeners toward the idea that being a stable human being isn't such an undesirable thing. That the lads who once sang self-centered lyrics like "You've got a nerve to be asking a favor" and "What's in it for me?" on 2004's Bows + Arrows, have made this compelling collection of sincere songs is nothing short of a miracle. Cheers to their happiness.
Heaven will surely be found on many respectable Top 10 lists at the end of this year. It's the most-earnest record that's come from The Walkmen thus far.