Many bands from the early '00s Lower East Side explosion have released disappointing follow-ups--studio-slick, but the polish hasn't masked mediocre songwriting. With A Hundred Miles Off, the Walkmen have followed suit, if only because it's their warmest and most commercially accessible record to date. Unlike the latest from their Gotham peers, however, the band's third album is their rawest yet, peeling back layers of noise and texture to reveal their most fully realized songs. Much of the creeping, ethereal feedback and dark organ sound that once dominated have been replaced with straightforward, guitar-driven songs reminiscent of Basement Tapes Dylan, '60s guitar pop and D.C. punk with touches of the band's signature hazy reverb. Opener and first single "Louisiana" immediately sets the tone with jangly Sterling Morrison guitars and crisp mariachi horns that highlight the relative lightness of the material. The band clearly sounds more confident in the core elements of their songs--"Lost in Boston" embraces Leonard Cohen over bold power chords, "Brandy Alexander" reduces their formula to an effectively minimal guitar-vocals-drums format, and the lost highway heartache of the Mazarin cover "Another One Goes By" closes the album with an emotive and off-kilter pop masterpiece. As the sun sets on many of the New York bands that turned Urban Outfitters into an empire, A Hundred Miles Off soundly proves that the Walkmen have become the best of that bunch.
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