In a recent interview with Pitchfork, The Walkmen’s frontman Hamilton Leithauser mentioned that they had considered using a photo of the band standing behind their bassist’s son as the album cover. In fact, a number of promo shots of the band that came around with this album have involved their families. The Walkmen are ten years old now, and all of their members have young children. They sound pretty content on Heaven, and they seem to be embracing that. This is what happens when an indie rock band grows up.
Throughout the entire album, Leithauser’s vocals are the focus. They’re loud, honest, and clear. “It’s been so long, but I made it through,” he sings. The album opens on plucked acoustic guitar and Leithauser’s vocals right in front of us. The track is largely a matter of his vocals and the guitar growing louder. Behind him, Robin Pecknold provides guest “ooo”-ing. As the song truly breaks out, there’s a thumping beside him that creates an impressively physical feel. The “ooo”s rise in some glory. In the end, Leithauser himself joins in, and leaves us with one final excited cry.
Largely, Heaven is filled with mellower songs. The album continues into Love is Luck, with bright winding Honolulu guitar sounds and strong drums behind it. Southern Heart finds Leithauser alone at first with echoey vocals and only a quiet strumming along with him. Line by Line is a stand out piece of this style, with guitar played like piano, stepping along as if up stairs. Near the song’s end, we can hear the thick wires vibrating into the guitar’s belly, and strings seem to rise as if from within it.
The title track might best articulate where The Walkmen are now. It’s still a solid piece of indie rock with big chugging drums and twinkling guitar, but the tone is not of discontent or perversity, it’s of a found joy and some desire to share or express it. “Our children will always hear a romantic tale of distant years,” he sings, which may even be more true for the children of rock stars whose lively younger years were catalogued across many albums. “I’m croaking dreams that always glow.” On other tracks, the sentiments aren’t always groundbreaking, but they’re never saccharine. The band seems so darn genuine it’s hard to fault them.
There’s a refrain on Line By Line that seems to summarize The Walkmen’s journey and perhaps how this album feels to them. Above the clear and warm plucked guitar, we can hear the vibration in Leithauser’s throat as he sings. “How do you know it? I just know it.” It’s telling. Perhaps he can’t explain it, but he’s been through these events time and time again. Things are right for him, and he’s sure of that. Perhaps most interesting is seeing a band age so gracefully - not that the members of The Walkmen are all that old, only old in the context of a rock band, something that thrives on youthful discontent. They’re writing with the same expressiveness, and that’s all that matters. Even if this time around, on the surface, everything seems a little less grand and pressing, they convey exactly what’s on their mind - to them, it’s still just as important.