We’ve professed our love for The Walkmen on Rust Is Just Right on several occasions, but even we’re surprised at how much we’re enjoying all the new albums that have been released in the wake of the band’s recent hiatus. A couple of weeks ago, we reviewed the stellar solo debut of frontman Hamilton Leithauser, and now we’re doing the same for bassist/organist/guitarist/etc Peter Matthew Bauer. We had never heard Bauer sing before, but we were at least familiar with his presence–his bouncing form was a trademark sight at any Walkmen show, and his instrumental parts were the key components to several of the band’s best songs. There were high hopes in anticipation of Liberation!, but it was difficult to imagine what the final product would be.
There are still some elements of Bauer’s previous band to be found, most notably the distinctive trebly guitars and the basic but powerful drumbeats (the latter of which can probably be attributed to the presence of Walkmen co-member Matthew Barrick on percussion). These touches don’t overwhelm the song, but fans of the band should be able to pick them out and appreciate them. The shambolic solo guitar intro to “Irish Wake In Varanasi (For Big Pete Devlin)” recalls the great hit “The Rat” before switching gears into solid, driving rocker, and first single “Latin American Ficciones” seemingly could have evolved from a lost Walkmen track, an experiment where the band decided to switch vocal duties along with instrumental ones.
But Bauer mixes in a wide variety of unexpected influences into that basic template, including field recordings, latin touches, and most notably a stream of Eastern Indian instrumentation that runs throughout the album. The integration of these musical influences also mirrors many of the lyrics and narrative themes of the album, as Bauer recounts his unique experiences and encounters stemming from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Hinduism, Christianity, and Scientology. The album doesn’t look only to the past, however; after its delicate instrumental intro, “Philadelphia Raga” shifts into a slightly bouncy but breezy folk, echoing some of the recent work of contemporaries Real Estate and Kurt Vile.
The title Liberation! does seem to fit the album well, even without consulting the lyrics; there is a definite road-trip feel to the album, as if it were a soundtrack to an aimless but fruitful wandering across the country (and not a direct reference to releasing a solo album, considering the presence of Barrick and musical callbacks). Bauer acquits himself just fine as a vocalist, carefully not exceeding his range, and makes use of his flat style to deliver his tales of the road in a convincing manner. Though there are few moments that match the highlights of his previous band, Liberation! is still a nice surprise that’s worth repeated listens.