The countdown has begun! My book on Slint's Spiderland will be in stores in about a month. As in, mere weeks from now. The 33 1/3 blog has posted an excerpt from the first chapter today. You can pre-order it from Amazon now. I'll have some more Spiderland-related announcements as the release date gets a little closer.
Any opinion, observation, conversation, or description of the Walkmen must begin with the band's singer, Hamilton Leithauser. His is one of the most identifiable voices in contemporary indie rock, alongside the likes of Britt Daniel, Matt Berninger, Will Sheff, and Craig Finn. Compelling frontmen with strong voices and a grasp of emotional and lyrical nuance are a rare breed in indie rock, a genre that has typically favored effacing the lead vocal through reverb, distortion, a low mix, nonsensical lyrics, or an enigmatic personality for the better part of twenty-five or thirty years. (Aside: is that the legacy of the Jesus and Mary Chain or does it go back further?)
When a strong persona does emerge within the genre, it's worth noting. Leithauser's Rod Stewart-like rasp is a morass of dejection, melancholy, regret, and, occasionally, fury. But the Walkmen aren't compelling solely because of Leithauser. The other day Nick Sylvester interviewed the Walkmen's producer, Chris Zane, and it was illuminating precisely because it wasn't about Leithauser, but everything else that goes into the Walkmen's sound—the recording process and, more specifically, the sound of Paul Maroon's guitar.
The "Walkmen sound" is something the band has been honing for five albums now, to the point that there is definitely a template for how their songs are designed. I'd never heard it confirmed prior to reading the Zane interview, but the roomy sound of the drums and the almost merciless absence of low end in the mix certainly points to a raw recording process. (Read the interview, but the basic gist is that they record everything live in one room with only a modicum of microphones, none of which are close to any one instrument, so everything sort of bleeds into everything else. Only Leithauser is isolated in a booth, though he's still singing live with the band.) This all adds up to a clattering mess of tones in the mid and high range; the lack of low frequencies makes for an agitated, nervy sound—the perfect accompaniment for Leithauser's agitated, nervy voice. It feels like the Walkmen are all half-drunk, threatening to fall apart at any moment.
Though it's been present from the start of their career, with Lisbon I find myself keying in on just how important Maroon's guitar is to the band. It's almost all treble—if you told me he didn't even bother stringing up the low E, I'd believe you. Maroon's playing is terrifically melodic, but his tone is often harsh or washed out. Maybe it's because of the way the band records, so the rhythm section doesn't feel as in your face as a close-mic'd prodcution would manage, but Maroon's guitar is really the counterpart to Leithauser's isolated voice. For everything else being recorded in that room, it's his guitar that cuts through it all. The more I listen to Lisbon, the more each song feels like a duet between Leithauser and Maroon—the guitar itches, the voice scratches.
I'm not sure what triggered it but I suddenly had a yearning to delve back into old-school releases from Kranky. Only problem is I don't have much in my iTunes library. I was heavy into vinyl around the same time I was heavy into Kranky, and what I still own from the label is mostly tucked away with my other records. So here's a quickly assembled collection of youtube videos, for the hell of it.