“I’m still living at the old address,” Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen proclaims on “In the New Year,” the first single off You & Me. And indeed, his band has maintained a rather stable position compared to other groups that came out of the fertile New York City scene earlier this decade. Maybe the fact that the Walkmen was never the most buzzed-about band has shielded the group from the accusation of diminishing returns, which has been hurled recently the Strokes, Interpol, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. So after an odd excursion into recreating an entire Harry Nilsson album on 2006’s Pussy Cats, Leithauser and company are back with an album of their own material that's very similar to the three that preceded it.
The bass isn’t the instrument most associated with the Walkmen, but it’s what starts off You & Me on “Donde esta la Playa,” rumbling around, sounding drowned in the sea. The song begrudgingly comes to coalesce around a verse-chorus structure, with Leithauser singing of having to return to the work world after a vacation, sand still in his suitcase. A handful of other tunes on You & Me juxtapose a tropical backdrop against a somber tone, creating a maturing-is-no-fun narrative similar to the theme of the National’s Boxer.
“Flamingos (for Colbert)” isn’t all pink giddiness, but instead a dark little instrumental. “Postcards from Tiny Islands,” on the other hand, does live up to its name, with surf-rock rolling drums and revving guitars. On “Red Moon,” Leithauser again seems to be checking in from a vacation destination, although he sounds none too happy about it. Only “Seven Years of Holidays (for Stretch)” sounds upbeat about all the good times, but the lyrics actually lament the life lived out of a suitcase.
The exhausted persona Leithauser gives off begins to transfer to the listener as the album drags on. At fourteen tracks, You & Me is the Walkmen’s longest in a line of albums that have never exactly been concise or easy to get through. Early songs start You & Me off promisingly. “On the Water” has Leithauser sounding like Leonard Cohen as he ambles around the city, taking in the sights of pigeons and tugboats. An appropriate pick for first single, “In the New Year” is definitely the album’s standout, hitting all the hallmarks of the Walkmen sound: chiming guitars, sudden shifts in dynamics, Leithauser’s throaty howl.
But after that, there isn’t much memorable on You & Me. Rich, shiny horns add nice flourishes to “Red Moon” and “Long Time Ahead of Us,” and Leithauser’s voice, always the star of the show, remains engaging throughout. But still, the middle of the album tends to glom together. Thankfully things end well with “If Only It Were True,” an effectively simple little song with a subdued guitar line that sounds like it was culled from a gospel tune.
“Don’t worry about me,” Leithauser croons on “New Country.” And his band really doesn’t have much to worry about. That signature Walkmen sound is here in droves. If You & Me doesn’t do much new, neither does it go wildly off track into poorly thought out experimentalism. The album is another solid (if somewhat too long) set by a band firmly in control of where it is at and what it’s doing.
Things are new and yet the same on the Walkmen's You & Me. The album finds the band returning to original material after 2006's track-by-track remake of Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats. And You & Me is the first Walkmen album for Gigantic, which is also the name of the New York City studio built by Phillip Glass where some of the album was put down. But the hallmarks of the band's signature sound are still here: chiming guitars, slow-burning songs, and Hamilton Leithauser's throaty vocals. Additional work on the album was done with engineer John Agnello (the Hold Steady, Dinosaur Jr.) in the same studio in Oxford, Mississippi, where the Walkmen recorded 2004's Bows + Arrows. Whistfully exotic songs include "Donde Esta la Playa" and "Postcards from Tiny Islands."