Vintage guitars. Upright pianos. A sense of ever-cursed fate. These are the things the Walkmen are made of. Though failing to conjure up some kind of sonic reveal of the Portuguese suggestion its title makes, Lisbon is a beautiful redemptive soundtrack for the wretched, the despondent and the woebegotten.
While that description might sound all doom and gloom, it’s precisely what the American indie rock darlings have been perfecting since 2000. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser sings like a wounded beast—with a sad, romantic desperation about him—but retains a New York City hipster sophistication to him that somehow makes it attractive. Through carefully constructed lyrics, the quintet has been able to cultivate a mastery of the paradoxes they so artfully craft.
“Blue as Your Blood” is delicious. A rolling, stripped-down track that delves into existential heartbreak with lyrics like “Life rolled us over like a town car / Bruised up and busted to the ground.” But Lisbon isn’t entirely self-victimizing. Take “Angela Surf City,” a crunchy, raunchy tune that sounds like it’s caught in some idyllic ‘50s malt-serving rock joint. Unlike their previous effort, You & Me, which was decidedly mellow, the Walkmen’s latest offering is both fiercely declarative and defiantly minimalist.
In fact, the entirety of the album seems to struggle between universal opposites, particularly of notions of winning and losing. With titles like “Follow the Leader,” “Victory” and “All My Great Designs” pitted against tracks like “Stranded,” “While I Shovel the Snow” and “Woe is Me,” the theme is clear, leaving it open to decide which feeling is stronger.