The Walkmen

    Sometime in the early part of the century, something happened in New York City, spawning wave after wave of Camel-smoking, Velvet Underground-evoking, analog equipment-using, Heineken-boozing, Joy Division-worshipping, hipster-tailored, apathetic (but intense) and undeniably excellent-sounding bands. Progenitors of this mass exodus to the promised land of the airwaves were the fab-five Strokes, but catching the draft behind them were such acts as Interpol, Radio 4, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, French Kicks and, yes, the Walkmen. Given the ‘in’ by the Strokes, the comparative fates of these NYC babies read like the line-up for the Wu-Tang Clan: A few have maintained their indie status while others have become superstars. I don’t think any of them are dead yet. (R.I.P. Dirt McGirt ODB.) The Walkmen have taken the superstar (well, almost) route and inevitably, since their live gig on “The OC,” have turned to the business of cell phone ringtones and mainstream media exposure.

    Courtesy of http://bighassle.com

    The Walkmen aren’t opportunistic sellouts, however. They were once two bands, the Recoys and Jonathan Fire Eater, the latter of which were signed to Dreamworks in the late ’90s, fetching critical success and, as always, commercial failure. The remnants of the band bought and fixed up a studio, called Marcata Recording, with the leftover money from the Dreamworks days. The studio features a distinct acoustic signature, aided by the vintage analog equipment they keep lying around to impress visitors. With studio in hand, the next step was to put together a new band, formed by tight-knit childhood friends, the band that would become the Walkmen. From Jonathan Fire Eater came Matt Barrick (drums), Paul Maroon (guitar) and Walter Martin (organs/vocals), and from the Recoys came Peter Bauer (bass) and Hamilton Leithauser (vocals).

    In 2002, the Walkmen released their debut LP, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone, to critical praise. The album is the winter dream of the city, groggily warm and understanding but bitterly cold and lonely. Its atmosphere perfectly complements the band’s spare and cozy sound, helped by the distinctive Marcata studio. Their second LP, 2004’s Bows and Arrows, signaled their major label debut for Warner Bros. Record Collection. It is not quite as perfectly imperfect as their debut, but it maintains the same sound, something romantic and furious, masked by the sewer fog of the city, fully creative and uncompromising despite the major-label representation.

    Music of wintry New York City may not seem to have a place in the sunny landscape of Orange County filtered through Fox’s sensational lens, but the band’s performance in the episode marked a new level of exposure for … well, not really. It seems you can lead all the OC cows to water, but you can’t make them drink — or listen to good music, either. Regardless, playing on a primetime soap opera has indubitably induced “sellout” disorder in many fans, to which Hamilton Leithauser responds, “I’m not sure what I’d say… maybe ‘fuck you.’” And he’s right; playing on a crap show does not make a crap band.

    Let’s see if these boys can entertain the droves of UCSD just like they did the crowd at the Bait Shop (who were all faking it), or if the Walkmen playing live is a proposition only for the screen.

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