The Walkmen open their new album with a quietly picked acoustic guitar and the song "We Can't Be Beat." It's a bold move, boasting while simultaneously going a bit against their established style. But even with their mellowest album, the Walkmen have cemented their place on the A-list of American rock music.
Heaven, produced by Phil Ek, is the band's most irresistibly melodic batch of songs, with the band's most expansive sound. Perhaps it's Ek's guidance, or perhaps it's simply a natural move for a confident, veteran band, but as a whole, Heaven's chief accomplishment is a stronger focus on song craft that overtakes the haziness that the band relied upon—sometimes too much—in the past.
Being so direct is a boon for the band, even on the contemplative, searching songs. The band's most urgent and compelling song—2004's "The Rat"—sounds more distant than ever, but that's not a drawback. Angst has its time, but there's plenty more to life, and there are so many more subtle ways to express feelings of love, friendship, family, disappointment and, especially here, endurance.
All that, and the album still brings powerhouse songs like "Heartbreaker," "Song for Leigh" and "Heaven."
Is Heaven the band's best album? Tough to say, though Heaven does spark thoughts about the Walkmen's progression and favorite songs from the past. Credit the band's remarkable consistency (an 8- or 9-rated album every two years for a decade) for the difficulty in sorting out any type of a definitive ranking of Walkmen albums.