In the few short weeks since its release, The Walkmen’s sixth studio album, Lisbon, has been showered with critical praise. For a lot of bands these days, it seems like that elusive breakout record doesn’t hit until well after the first or second try, giving artists time — for better or worse — to tinker with and perfect their sound before larger audiences start tuning in.
Sunday at 10 p.m.
The Magic Stick
Tickets from $12
The New York vets have come close to a breakout a few times, most recently with 2008’s critically lauded You & Me on the back of its single “In the New Year.”
But the band is still a little stunned it hit the jackpot on the sixth try.
“We were incredibly surprised,” organist Peter Bauer said in an interview with the Daily. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a record received this well.”
The band has been putting out records steadily since 2002, back when all things in the rock‘n’roll tent revolved around garage-rock acts like The Strokes, leaving room for little else. But nowadays, when more slow-burning bands like The National can generate a #2 record, it’s not surprising that their New York counterparts aren’t far behind.
“I think, in general, the music that’s semi-popular right now is a lot better than it was like four years ago — that a band like Animal Collective could get so big nowadays is great,” Bauer said. “In 2003 or 2004, it seemed like four-on-the-floor rock was the popular thing, it was almost like anything else was annoying to people.”
This time around, people seem to be catching on. After an enthusiastic reception of their fittingly rainy set at this summer’s Lollapalooza, the band seemed poised. They even made the trek to England last May for the Pavement-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties festival — with a mid-set shout out from Stephen Malkmus, no less.
“I don’t know what happened, but they dissed us in ‘Range Life,’ ” Bauer said. “They put ‘The Walkmen’ in there after we played the first night.” (The original lyrics target the Smashing Pumpkins, resulting in a lot of huffing and puffing from vocalist and guitarist Billy Corgan when the track was first released.)
“You know, they ask us to play this thing and then they diss us like two nights later,” Bauer laughed. “I’m dying to figure out what happened!”
For Lisbon, the band actually spent time in the Portuguese capital — a whole three days — and found enough inspiration there to create the record’s damp mood as well as its namesake.
“There was something in the quality of the city that reflected the music we were making, so we named the record after it,” Bauer explained.
Tracks like “Angela Surf City” and “Victory” contrast Hamilton Leithauser’s scorched vocals with layers of rain-damaged guitars — all delivered with just the right amount of gloomy, room-generated reverb to keep everything foggy.
“The whole time we were there it was raining. When we were standing on the beach and it was raining it kind of seemed similar to what we were doing,” Bauer said. “I was trying to explain it to this guy in Portugal: It’s like guys in pants on the beach, you know? That sort of sounds like our music.”
In making the new record, the band enlisted producers John Congleton (Modest Mouse, Okkervil River) and Chris Zane (Passion Pit, Tokyo Police Club), both alt-rock veterans whose old-school ethic and ear for vintage sounds seemed tailored to The Walkmen’s new material.
“John’s really into these old Soviet microphones,” Bauer smirked. “They look like the Soviet equivalent of what you’re used to.”
Despite its cohesive final mix, the record went through a number of different phases before it reached its plaintive, “dark art-rock” sound. In Lisbon’s early stages, the band drew as much from the brassy bombast dotting its last record as it did from the one-two scuffle of country songwriters like Johnny Cash.
“‘Blue As Your Blood’ actually started as a country song,” Bauer said. “We were playing a lot of minor chords instead of major chords, and with a country beat.”
With all of Lisbon’s (not to mention The Walkmen’s) modesty, you’d be forgiven for not expecting the five Washington, D.C. transplants to pack much of a punch in concert. But make no mistake: the band has a reputation for being one of the louder groups out there, drawing comparisons to the deafening performances of acts like psych-rockers Spacemen 3.
“For years, the only thing we would do was try and be as loud as possible,” he said, before interrupting himself mid-sentence. “And now my wife is shh-ing me because I’m talking so loud. I must be going deaf.”
The Walkmen will be performing at the Magic Stick on Sunday, Oct. 10. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets from $12.