The Walkmen – The Rat

Bows + Arrows
Year :
Broken Social Scene / Arcade Fire / Harry Nilsson

The Walkmen recently announced that they were throwing in the towel after six (or seven, depending on who you ask) albums. More specifically, they’re going on the dreaded “hiatus” from which they will inevitably return for a reunion tour–but functionally, this is no different than calling it quits. The band has broken up.

I’ve been a fan of the Walkmen for almost as long as they’ve been making music. I’ve converted a few fans along the way but, by and large, I always felt somewhat alone in my fandom. Clearly, the band maintained enough of a following to keep making music (someone out there was listening), but it never seemed like they were part of the larger musical conversation after the initial splash of 2004′s Bows + Arrows and its breakthrough hit “The Rat.” They were a band that, refreshingly, never seemed too interested in “staying relevant” but always managed to tweak and tinker their distinctive sound on each release. Only the Walkmen sound like the Walkmen.

“The Rat” is the song that introduced me (and many others) to the band. That fact helps explain why they were, briefly, a band that the entire internet was, seemingly, collectively obsessed with. It also explains why their subsequent releases were seldom heard by anyone outside of a devoted core audience. “The Rat” finds the band at their loudest, most urgent, and most visceral. Incredible as it is, it’s almost a total anomaly in their discography. On 2006′s follow-up, A Hundred Miles Off, they leaned almost exclusively on a sound that can only be described as Bob Dylan-by-way-of-New Orleans (the album is every bit as gleefully unhip as that sounds). From there, their music weaves back and forth through ’60s garage rock, doo-wop and crooner style arrangements, warm horns, icy arpeggios, and on and on. For over 10 years, they quietly mined musical territory in a virtual no-man’s land.

It strangely heartening, then, to see the reaction to the band’s announcement unfold over the past couple of weeks. Grantland’s Steven Hyden gives my favorite take on the band’s career, noting:

This was the rare rock band that aged gracefully out of its messy, tumultuous, romantically wasted adolescence and into a wised-up, no-bullshit, domesticated adulthood. And because I aged in and out of the same lifestyles at roughly the same time, I stuck with them.

Like Hyden, my preference too is for the band’s late-period records (You & Me is the record that cemented them as a favorite). As time wore on, The Walkmen got less dejected, more thoughtful, and more elegant. Hyden hits the nail on the head–I’ve never seen a band age so gracefully. There was no better soundtrack for transitioning through your late 20s in the last decade. Will I miss the band? Absolutely. But, their trajectory feels like a sentence that ends with punctuation. Their swan song, Heaven is a beautiful, appropriate, closer and the Walkmen never came close to wearing out their sound. It’s sad to see them go, but very nice to know that I’m not the only who was listening.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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