Ask Pete Bauer of the Walkmen how the band tried to make its latest release, “Lisbon,” different from its four earlier albums, and he says it comes down to minutia.
“I think the big difference was probably [guitarist] Paul [Maroon] turned down his reverb a lot,” Bauer, the band’s bassist, said in a recent phone interview. “It seems like a boring thing, probably, but I think for him at least it was like the biggest difference in the world. It just forces you to play completely different. And therefore I turned down my reverb, too.
“And then I think Ham [singer Hamilton Leithauser] is constantly trying to sing in a more relaxed way, in a lower register and stuff like that,” he said.
But the changes didn’t alter the basic character of the Walkmen’s sound, which remains one of the most distinctive in all of rock, built around angular melodies created by the chiming guitars of Maroon and Leithauser’s tangy wail of a voice.
And “Lisbon” has a solid set of songs, including “Angela Surf City,” a frisky rocker which indeed has a bit of a surf rock feel; “Blue As Your Blood,” a fast-paced yet low-key tune with a dreamy vocal melody; and “Stranded,” which gets considerable grandeur from the emphasis on its fragile and pretty melody.
Coming up with ways to freshen the group’s sound has often been a challenge for the Walkmen, formed in 2000 in the Washington area and including members of two notable previous bands -- Maroon, bassist-keyboardist Walter Martin and drummer Matt Barrick from Jonathan Fire Eater and Leithauser and Bauer from the Recoys.
Work on the new album stretched out for nearly two years, with recording sessions first in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later in Dallas.
According to Bauer, when the Walkmen set up shop in Brooklyn with producer Chris Zane, the group quickly came up with several songs that form the core of “Lisbon.”
Unfortunately, as has often been the case, the band struggled to translate its visions for some of the songs onto disc.
“‘Juveniles,’ especially ... we recorded it like 11 times,” Bauer said about one of the cuts. “It just went on and on and on. It had whistling on it, and I had, like, 40 pianos on it, and now there’s one piano that plays for a quarter of the song. ... It was just one of those [songs] that drives you crazy.”
Eventually, the band did several sessions over a six-month span with Zane before moving on to finish the album in Dallas with producer John Congleton.
In all, the Walkmen ended up recording about 30 songs, from which the 11 on “Libson” were chosen.
The band had good reason to make sure it had a strong album with “Lisbon” because the group was set to have a bigger platform. After recording the widely acclaimed “You & Me” on the relatively obscure Gigantic Records, the Walkmen signed with the established indie label Fat Possum for the new album.
The band figures to do its part to get the word out about “Lisbon” by touring a lot. And Bauer said the songs from the new album are translating well to live performance.
“They’re pretty simple,” he said. “It’s not like a big production. So it’s a nice thing to do, kind of bare bones, the five of us, and we have a good time doing it.”
Provided by Last Word Features
The Walkmen. 8 p.m. Jan. 13. $16 in advance, $18 day of show. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave., Atlanta. 404-524-7354, www.variety-playhouse.com.
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