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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Calla/The Walkmen
Calla/The Walkmen split EP
Troubleman Unlimited Records

Rating: 9/10 ?


January 3, 2001
Hype is a bitch; it embraces you one moment and pretends it doesn't know you the next. Just ask The Walkmen. Six years ago- in their former incarnation Jonathan Fire*Eater- they were boosted to the front of people's minds by a succession of sold-out NYC shows and a major label bidding war. The Rolling Stones-turned art rockers eventually signed with Dreamworks and released a decent full-length that critics mostly adored and the record-buying public mostly ignored. Wolf Songs for Lambs was simply too weird for its own good. The band caved under the pressure to be the next big thing and called it quits in 1998.

Three-fifths of Fire*Eater- organist Walter Martin, drummer Matt Barrick and guitarist Paul Maroon-took their remaining advance money from Dreamworks and built Marcata Recording, a 24-track analog recording studio in Brooklyn, and filled it with their vintage equipment. They recruited bassist Peter Bauer and Martin's cousin Hamilton Leithauser (both of The Recoys) to round out a new band. The quintet practiced, played out, recorded in their studio and released an EP followed by a full-length on Startime International Records (also home also to French Kicks) to little critical response. It's taken listeners- myself included- some time to warm to the group's sound, which at times is even more abstract, sparse and archaic than Fire*Eater. And so a band that in its former incarnation was favored by the press and backed by a major label's hype machine now finds itself at square one. And square one leaves you with little to discuss but the music. The Walkmen- who in the rare few interviews I've read are not bitter but rather happy to be free of the stress and expectations- would rather not focus on the band they used to be and the fortunes of yesteryear. They wanna talk about today, the record they just released and listening to their music, I can see why.

If you've yet to purchase Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, the group's debut full-length, you're missing out on one of the year's truly brilliant, under-the-radar releases. If you've yet to see The Walkmen live, do so. Dressed in black with their drummer bouncing off his stool in a bright red shirt, the band's charisma is undeniable, personified by tall and lanky crooner Leithauser and his subtle standoffish cool (think Mark E. Smith, not Julian Casablancas). I suppose you could say the group benefits from a bit of the NYC flair that the press drools over; but a little style goes a short while without a lotta substance to back it up. The band's return to the recorded forum comes in the form of this split four-song EP with fellow New Yorkers Calla.

"Look Out the Window," which opens the EP, is as close to Television as you're going to get without sounding completely derivative. Maroon and Leithauser's guitars play melodic tag ala Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, setting the bare bones structure for Leithauser's sexy vocals to ramble on about his lover who's gone M.I.A. The casual listener will make a comparison to The Strokes, but that's simply lazy. "Look Out the Window" is a perfect example of The Walkmen's mastery of restraint, use of tasteful melody and ability to make four instruments sound like four distinct voices. (Wait, is that a harmonica? Make that five.) They rock out, almost to mock the art of playing ringing joyous chords, over the brief chorus. The song ends in with five staccato snare slaps joined by Maroon's bombastic accompanying chords.

On "Here Comes Another Day," the guitars take the lead once again, storming out of the gates with a Link Wray-like rumbling of noise before dissolving into softly strummed chords textured by lap steel guitar. The rhythm section maintains a faint casual beat, centering your attention once again on Leithauser as he relates the character sketch of a guy who bumbled his way to getting dumped. The ballad, which would sound comfortably at home alongside Billy J. Kramer's "Trains and Boats and Planes," is a marked departure for a band that shows no boundary in its diversity.

But enough about The Walkmen; there's still another band to discuss. I'd never heard of Calla prior to this release, but speaking with French Kicks after a recent show it seems I'm a bit behind the curve for not knowing of them. Either NYC is giving birth to an insane number of talented bands right now, or the hype is just shining a light in the right direction at the right time, because Calla are yet another NYC band worthy of your attention. This EP serves as a precursor to Calla's third full-length (to be released on Arena Rock in January). Comprised of a trio of Texas-natives turned New Yorkers, Calla's sound reminds of early American Analog Set in its ability to pull from both old-time country and '80s psychedelia. Presenting a loose, sensuous offering in "Don't Hold Your Breath," Calla adheres to The Walkmen's less is more theory, knowing when to layer the distortion and when to lull you with melody. Wayne B. Magruder's (ex-Bowery Electric) shaker-heavy drum beat coupled with Aurelio Valle's soft, gravelly vocals create an aura not unlike Starflyer 59 or Spiritualized.

But less you think these boys can't rock, Calla takes a huge risk in covering a song by German prog-rockers Can. Calla's shortened take on Can's "Mother Sky" (from the 1970 release Soundtracks, their first recording with Japanese vagabond Damo Suzuki) follows Can's lead in a straightforward manner, with Valle's gentle voice capably filling Suzuki's shoes. Valle repeats the phrase "I think madness is too pure like mother's sky" while the band regurgitates Can's sharp, angular earthen guitar attack. Clocking in at over eight minutes , "Mother Sky" will likely intrigue whether you're acquainted with Can or not. Calla pays an honest homage to the band with a vigorous performance.

Surprisingly, Calla steals the show on this EP by providing the only song that chews you up and spits you out. In the course of 19-minutes we go from the abstruse pop-rock of The Walkmen to the tonal destruction of Calla, and somehow it makes sense. Chalk it up to whatever "it" is that NYC bands seem to have an abundance of these days. Some call it talent. I'd agree.

Reviewed by Doug Hoepker
A former staff writer for LAS whom we like to call Diggles, Mr. Hoepker is currently laboring away on various music-based projects. He now works in academic publishing (ahem), but is perhaps still best known by his DJ moniker, The Noiseboy.

See other reviews by Doug Hoepker

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