Back in the day, I was a fan of Jonathan Fire Eater. There was something (and still is) about their major-label debut (which they subsequently broke up after releasing) Wolf Songs For Lambs that struck me as both a throwback and a look forward. I lost track of what became of the members after that and was very late in actually hearing the debut album by The Walkmen (Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone). Hearing that release, I felt like they'd taken just about everything that was good about their original group and then tweaked it slightly to make it even better.
And now the group has suddenly dropped their follow-up album on unsuspecting ears and my verdict was one that's been hard to discern. On one hand, this disc contains a couple of the best tracks that I've heard this year (and quite possibly in the past half-year), but in other places it just completely loses me. Hell, I'd better just get things out of the way right now. "The Rat" arrives second on this disc and it's absolutely smoking. Shimmering waves of guitars and organs rise triumphantly over one of the most blistering rhythm sections laid to tape in some time. Singer Hamilton Leithauser wails out vocals like it's the last song he's singing on this physical plain and the whole track basically shreds (to put it simply).
The remainder of the album veers from very good to not nearly as exciting, and perhaps it's the fault of setting such a high bar with a couple tracks that leaves others feeling inadequate. The opener of "What's In It For Me" leads things off with more beautiful waves of guitar and more crackly vocals by Hamilton, and the track sweeps you up like the warm curl of incense smoke. "Little House Of Savages" harks back to their Jonathon Fire Eater days more than any other track on the release with more upfront guitars and another punchy drumline that marches things along perfectly.
The remainder of the album is good, but it fails to capture attention like the first half of the release. "138th Street" is wonderfully subtle, but "Hang On Siobahn" hangs on a piano melody that fails to engage as much as earlier sonics while "New Year's Eve" again rambles along with jangly saloon ivories that shudder along for only a short time but feel like much longer. "Thinking Of A Dream I Had" gives the latter half of the disc a much-needed injection before the whole thing closes down with the more straightforward album-titled track of "Bows And Arrows." All in all, the album is a good one, but still feels a small step away from being great. If you enjoyed previous work by the group (or their previous incarnation), you won't go wrong here, but I think this may be a group whose best work still lies ahead of them.