THE WALKMEN: You & Me [Gigantic]

As an attempt to move beyond the post-punk noisiness of 2006’s A Hundred Miles Off, the fourth proper Walkmen album is a success. Snaking through You & Me is a hard-to-miss blues vibe—part of it was cut in Oxford, Miss., with John Agnello (Hold Steady, Dinosaur Jr)—and even though no one’s going to mistake the Walkmen for old bluesmen tearing up a juke joint, it’s an approach familiar to anyone who’s ever heard the Delta in, say, the Bad Seeds or PJ Harvey. The brooding, waltz-time “Dónde Está La Playa” is powered by a recurring blues guitar riff, while the distant, mournful trumpet of “Red Moon” performs a similar function. Throughout, the band takes a delicate approach to the arrangements, injecting space and light with a jazz-player-like precision. But there’s a lot that’s vexing about You & Me, too. For instance: frontman Hamilton Leithauser, admittedly an acquired taste and often described as having a “raspy croon” by critics. But there’s a difference between “affecting” and “affected,” and in Leithauser’s swooning, operatic tics, Dylanesque flourishes and deliberately off-key moments, you hear someone playing a role, and not all that convincingly. Equally problematic is You & Me‘s production. The bass was sheared off in the mix, thereby rendering the songs annoyingly shrill. Loads of echo and reverb rescue the album from this potentially fatal flaw, but overall, You & Me is a mixed bag. [www.giganticmusic.com]

—Fred Mills