Aside from the uneven A Hundred Miles Off and the one-off lark of Pussy Cats, the Walkmen have quietly released nearly a decade's worth of excellent music, equal parts truculent and frangible.
The group's laidback, beautiful sixth album, Lisbon, finds the band playing to its strengths. Vocalist Hamilton Leithauser extends his croons to their raspy limits; Paul Maroon's guitar seduces; and the group's unsung hero, drummer Matt Barrick, provides a desirable backbone and pulse to the music.
Despite its exotic title, Lisbon plays a bit like an American songbook. Opener "Juveniles" is a sparkling, '70s AM gem, which builds urgency with its final celebratory and carefree bellows ("You're one of us / or one of them"). "Angela Surf City" is a rollicking, surf-rock rave-up, and the creeping, hallowed baritone guitar of "All My Great Designs" is a sure nod to Sun Records, a band favorite.
Still, the album belongs to the centerpiece "Stranded," a horn-drenched, celestial number. The song is a marvel, transcending its mournful ballad feel through the vaguely Christmas march of its horns and Leithauser's drunkenly triumphant vocal declarations. It's either the saddest funereal ditty or the happiest barroom lament.
Even moments that initially feel like misfires—the slight, tremulous "Follow the Leader" or the stripped-down lullaby "While I Shovel the Snow"—distinguish themselves through repetition. The album's only true flaw is its tendency to lose form in the latter half, with several songs feeling like minor variations of each other. Nevertheless, when the songs are so thrilling, it's hard to shun more of the same.