The Walkmen have grown up and found both confidence and happiness, while Craft Spells have taken a misstep on their journey after a solid debut. All that in another dose of Listen to This!
Craft Spells – Gallery
Release date: May 22
Bursting onto the scene in 2009 with Idle Labour, California based Craft Spells quickly won over a niche group of ears and hearts with their catchy synth filled tracks that harken back to acts like New Order or The Smiths.
Craft Spells started off in the bedroom of band leader Justin Paul Vallesteros and grew into something much more fleshed out for their debut album, Gallery however brings things back to a more intimate atmosphere. That intimacy also breeds a bit of cautiousness, the band rarely ventures down any new or interesting paths.
Normally that would be a death knell for any recording, especially a brief six song EP, but Craft Spells manage to deliver enough catchy hooks and memorable lyrics here to save the album from being a throwaway entirely. Being just shy of a throwaway is a detriment to an EP, a band freed of the expectations of an LP can test out new sounds or even reimagine old ones, Gallery however does neither.
However, if synth-pop is your thing, you will find some fun tracks here, starting right off the bat with the very catchy and propulsive opener ‘Still Left With Me’. The drum machines are on overdrive for all of this song’s 4:32 and remain that way throughout the entire EP.
Another highlight comes just two tracks later with ‘Burst’, possibly the sunniest of the band’s many jovial tracks, ‘Burst’ is also one of the few moments of novelty on the EP, beginning with off-tempo broken synths. Second to last track ‘Sun Trails’ produces a catchy riff, and veers down a darker path, but the song feels almost unfinished.
All in all Gallery will not make or break Craft Spells’ career, the band stands to be one of the best of the synth-pop revivialists, and this small collection will likely not be remembered by many.
The Walkmen – Heaven
Release date: May 29
The Walkmen have always been a band of immediacy, their tracks often boiling over with anger, drums, screaming and emotion. Somewhere along the line that changed, beginning with A Hundred Miles Off, the band started dabbling in slow burners that grew on you with repeated listens. As the title, and delightful album artwork, suggest, Heaven does not contain much fire, but the coals here are still hot and can barbecue a nice little steak or two.
The men now manning the grill are adults, fathers (as various press photos cleverly show), no longer angry about the nerve of a girl asking a favour as they did on their defining hit The Rat, instead telling you to ‘Remember, remember/All we fight for‘ on this album’s title track. Lyrics have never been The Walkmen’s strength, with impeccable drumming and music usually taking that crown, but a confident Hamilton Leithauser(vocals) often rises above the rest here.
Those lyrics are revealing from the very start, as the first words sung on this album are ‘I was the Duke of Earl, but it couldn’t last/ I was the pony express, but I ran out of gas.’ With lyrics like that you might expect this album to be a downer, but it is anything but, it speaks to a group of men happy to look back at some moments of anger from a position of peace. That personal absolution manifests itself in the music time and again.
‘Heartbreaker’ in particular stands as a highlight, with Leithauser astutely talking about the progress the band has experienced throughout their 10 years in the business, proclaiming ‘you think I’m hopeless, it’s not the singer, it’s the song‘. Time and time again Leithauser and company prove that to be true, you wouldn’t think The Walkmen could pull off a slower album like this, but they do so well.
‘The Witch’ is a moody track which has moments that harken back to earlier days, but this is a more languid band then we are used to encountering. Where in the past the band may have burned out in a brief 10 tracks, here they push on to a fuller thirteen. Thanks to a slower middle section which, thanks to the afforementioned good lyrics, is worth listening to.
‘Song for Leigh’ breaks out of that slow-burner path, but even then the band is hardly rocking, taking a six-shooter stride down the road, the band shows its confidence here, sounding not too far off from contemporaries War on Drugs who borrow heavily from American icons like Big Star, Bob Dylan and even Tom Petty.
While the drumsticks of Matt Barrick never turn on their highbeams on this album, later tracks like ‘Nightinggales’ allow them to be turned on without blinding the rest of the band with their light. The same can be said for ‘The Love You Love’, a track which wouldn’t be entirely out of place on one of the band’s first three albums (if not for all the positive views of love).
The term ‘grower’ gets thrown around a lot in music, but I will use it without fear here. Fans of The Walkmen may be surprised by this album, especially if they haven’t listened to them much beyond the first three albums, but the band that rocked out so well can seemingly do very little wrong.