Over the course of four songs, The Walkmen lay waste the notion that
garage art-rock could be an oxymoron. Tin-can sound and stadium-sized
songs combine to propel them, even at this initial stage, far past
the retro stylings of their previous incarnation, Jonathan
Fire*eater. Indeed, they make the music of a band that knows itself,
demonstrating a sense of dynamics and economy of style that most
bands take years to develop. The drums thud, the guitar cuts, the
bass loops, the organ floats; nothing gets lost, nothing stands out,
but every note counts. And then there's the singer, Hamilton
Leithauser. Lying somewhere between an early Bono and a late Robert
Plant, his delivery wrings the drama from every word, wrapping itself
around every syllable and letting them struggle out of his mouth.
The lead-off track, "Wake Up," shuffles in on a bed of tense rhythm guitar before the drums introduce the main riff. Leithauser then offers a drowsy take on post-graduation existence, comparing it to "a joke that's told without its final line." What begins as a personal statement ("I'm trying to wake up") becomes a general one by the next verse ("They're trying to wake up") and an imperative one ("Wake up") by the song's end. This call to arms sets the lyrical tone of the EP; by the end of the second song, the remarkable "We've Been Had," they've made their intentions known, rejecting retro-vision, nostalgia, and irony in other words, the hipster culture that bore them. "We've Been Had" also marks the highest musical point on the EP, featuring a faraway music-box melody and another compelling drum hook.
The dreamlike "The Crimps" follows, finding Leithauser upset about the emotional detachment of the jet set as he pleads, "Come in closer, there's a chill that comes between us." The low fidelity of the recordings emphasizes their earnestness without ever inhibiting their sonic ambitions. The EP concludes with the slow-burning "Summer Stage," an exquisite, yet somewhat out-of-place, song about laziness the only song here that sounds even remotely relaxed. The rest of the EP marks the advent of that rare kind of band whose music actually strengthens their restless conviction of its power. The full-length, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone, arrives in March.