Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Walkmen's "In the New Year" and How Its Seven-Note Melody Has Been Stuck in My Head For Days...

Days later and I'm still thinking about the Walkmen show. The flux of new material they played was overwhelming. It's ballsy to play as many unfamiliar songs as they did on Thursday night. The first song, "In the New Year" was breathtakingly brilliant. I seem to remember lyrics along the lines of "Last year Christmas was black and blue, this year's Christmas is white." Such a strong lyric and in the context of only hearing it once I can't help but conjure meaning behind the words that's comparisons between Stones and Beatles albums. Singer Hamilton Leithauser's lyrics are more-often-than-not disarmingly simple. A song like "Thinking of a Dream I Had", when viewed on paper, is nothing, as shown below:

I'm waiting on a subway line
I'm waiting for a train to arrive
I'm thinking of a dream I had
Maybe your right

Hammy pumps those words so full of feeling, of emotion…full of raw, unadulterated UMPH that the song jumps with vigor. Nevermind that the lyrics of the song never address the dream that he's thinking of. No. He's simply thinking of the dream. None more need be divulged. I fucking love it.

(photo by the author, soundcheck at 9:30 Club, DC 2004)

But this song, "In the New Year" is already unforgettable. I've heard the thing only once, but randomly and without provocation, the chorus melody struck me again today. Just popped into my head when I thought I'd forgot it.

It's a simple string of six ascending notes with a decrescendo for a final seventh note, with accents placed on the second through sixth notes. The first and last notes are both held twice as long as the others. I understand this description may be getting a little over-the-top, but with nothing else to refer to, I'm kinda hostage to my memory.

There's an undeniable cohesion that the Walkmen lock on all the time. Particularly Paul Maroon's guitar coupled with the Farfisa Fast Three organ. It becomes bigger than the moment, the sound fills the space and takes on a presence that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Maroon's guitar is overly reverbed, to the point of sounding behind the beat…as if it's constantly fading in late. The effect is soothing and seems to slow everything around it. Joined with the thin, whirring Farfisa, the pairing wraps atmospheric swaths of orchestral magnitude throughout the room.

In some respect, I would like to hear Maroon's guitar by itself, unaccompanied by any other instrumentation. He's underappreciated almost to a fault, but the scenery he's able to conjure with his Gretsch and Twin Reverb moves me to moments unparalleled in music appreciation.

And "In the New Year" is another one of these brilliant Farfisa/Gretsch moments. Who knows when I'll hear this song again and hope someone out there can find a live bootleg for me The band has 9 of these new songs recorded and are hoping to get a total of 16 down, but right now, it takes all I can give to NOT think about it. This song and its melody remind me of buried-in-the-subconscious church hymns with its instantly familiar feel. The Germans should have a word for it. Nevertheless, with one listen the song feels a part of me and that is the highest compliment I can pay an artist.

The ended with another new song, not equally as memorable but still striking, called "On the Water." I love this band and want everyone else to too. There's no witty, clever or smart ending here. The Walkmen are under-the-radar and in some ways it's nice…to have this unparalleled band be like a best-kept secret. But you wouldn't find me complaining if everyone understood the greatness they behold.


Anonymous said...

Caught them in Pittsburgh on Wed. night. They were, for lack of more sophisticated phraseology, real good.

I can't find a setlist, but I don't remember hearing the song that haunts you. I hope to soon.

Anonymous said...

i've got a real nice soundboard recording of the new years song from one of their recent shows. good tune.

Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that when you have that weird kind of internal recognition of a song even though you've never heard it before, it's your brain responding to a particular prosody of the music/lyric depending on what kind of books you read or had read to you as a child. Like your brain processes spondic heptameter (or whatever) in a way that sends warm, familiar fuzzies to the rest of your body.

Alek said...


Anonymous said...

go to pitchfork and find the studio version of the song. not as good as the live one.

China said...

Commenting long after your post, but having had several good listens to the new record, I can say that I love and agree with your opinions here. Paul is so ridiculously underappreciated as a guitarist, and his Gretsch is half the reason this band sounds so perfect. Your explanation of the sound was spot on.

Prince Roy said...

good version of the song here:

I heard it today on 3WK for the first time. It's been playing in my head for the rest of the day.

Ant said...

great description of the song. i've been playing it everyday for weeks... amazing track.