The Walkmen have been a staple of the end of the year “Best Of” since 2000—but will not be in the near future. In November 2013, the critically and commercially successful Brooklyn-based band announced an indefinite hiatus, much to the disappointment of their fans.
The Walkmen have been playing together in some form since their high school days at St. Albans in Washington, D.C. Band member Peter Bauer said in a press release that “It’s been almost 14 years now. I think that’s enough, you know?” He further described playing shows with the other band members as “a really fun time seeing old friends” and “like going to Thanksgiving.” The band played their last show—for now—on December 4, 2013 in Philadelphia.
The Walkmen’s dissolution seems like a dark day for rock fans. Since their 2002 debut album “Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone,” the band has churned out some truly fantastic songs as ‘We’ve Been Had,’ ‘Heaven,’ ‘Angela Surf City,’ and their now-classic 2004 single ‘The Rat.’ They have been prolific—seven albums in nine years—and consistent, with all of their albums ranging from good to excellent. It is rare for a band to release one or two quality albums, much less seven, and their absence in the rock scene will be felt greatly.
However, all is not lost for Walkmen fans. This is only an indefinite hiatus among band members who appear to be very close friends, which leaves the door open for more concerts or albums in the future. The better news is that three members have released or plan to release solo albums in the next few months. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser’s new album “Black Hours” was released on June 3, and Peter Bauer and Walter Martin have released singles off of their upcoming albums.
Solo albums released by a band’s lead singer tend to be a mixed bag. Luckily, “Black Hours’ is a good record that compares favorably to the rest of the Walkmen’s work. Leithouser’s record draws more upon soft-rock and folk influences like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan than the thrashing rock of his former band. There are a lot of little gems on “Black Hours,” such as the fun and poppy ‘Alexandra’. The song pairs acoustic guitars with harmonica and some of the most enthusiastic handclaps I’ve ever heard, and the overall effect is both delicate and aggressive.
Other highlights are the sultry ‘Self-Pity’ and ‘I Retired,’ which veer towards cabaret music as Leithauser describes the difficulty he finds in being a father and a musician. If there is one complaint with the record, it is that it meanders a bit. There is not a huge amount of variety among the sounds, and there are moments where you can hear Leithauser trying to sound as cool and relaxed as possible. Obviously, this has the opposite effect. Despite this, “Black Hours” succeeds in dispelling fans’ fears about low-quality content from former Walkmen.
Peter Bauer recently released the song ‘Latin American Ficciones’ from his upcoming album “Liberation!” The song is much more in line with the Walkmen’s former output, with a flair of Tom Petty-like Latin guitar and keyboard befitting the song’s title. However, Bauer’s lyrics get caught in the same sort of twee hyper-descriptiveness that bogged down some of Vampire Weekend’s early output, and the contrast between the overly literate lyrics and the heartland guitar sound is uneasy.
Walter Martin has just put out the problematic ‘Sing to Me,’ a song featuring Karen O from his upcoming album “We’re All Young Together.” It’s suffers from a serious case of cutesiness, with lyrics that sound embarrassingly like high school poetry (“Everyday I listen to the funny things you say”/”I hope you never ever change your ways.”). Karen O does not help, as her inherent ferocity is tamped down under the oppressively twinkly arrangement.
While the Walkmen do not appear close to reforming the band, fans can take solace in that the former band members are at least releasing new songs and albums–thought some are arguably better than others. Now, the question is whether the new material can live up to the legacy of the past nine years. Only time will tell.