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Paint by the numbers

The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off
(Record Collection)
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 8, 2006
The Walkmen

Review by Andy Argyrakis

When The Walkmen's Bows and Arrows released two years ago, it rounded up all the usual suspects of hype in both the mainstream and underground. The group logged performance time on programs like "The O.C." and "Late Night with David Letterman," while reaching number eight on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and positive press from Pitchfork. Despite the exposure, it admittedly caused the New York based band distraction from the usual writing, recording and self-production routine, forcing members to pull in their engineer friend Don Zientera to help keep the A Hundred Miles Off sessions on track. Despite his lineage of working at Inner Ear in Arlington, VA (where the likes of Bad Brains and Fugazi recorded) The Walkmen still scored self-production credits, but to mixed results of genius and dullness.

The disc starts out in a positive direction thanks to the unpredictable "Louisiana," written before Hurricane Katrina and having nothing to do with the event, but rather the state's diverse culture and spirit. Those intentions are evident as the gravely moans of singer Hamilton Leithauser unfold over an array of trumpets, piano and flavorful beats ready to rock any festivity. Though more streamlined with its instrumentation, "Emma, Get Me a Lemon" is packed with insistence, growling with jangly guitars and shuddering percussion, a pattern kicked up with yet another degree of insistence come the barreling "Tenleytown."

Yet for every awesome explosion and delightful exploration, there's a paint by the numbers, mid-paced rocker lacking risk or significant inspiration. "Good For You's Good For Me" is a straight forward grinder that feels like it should explode with a tower of distortion or some sort of daring crescendo, but merely tapers off without a satisfying resolution. On "This Job Is Killing Me," Leithauser turns away from the assertiveness previously presented adapting a whinier disposition, while the band as a whole drops down several volume levels for the drowsy finale "Another One Goes By." It's a shame really that such an explosive beginning to the project had to conclude with mere commonplace, showing that The Walkmen have glimpses of greatness, but not a complete collection of masterpieces, despite what the pop culture trend setters say.

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