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Peter Matthew Bauer
Liberation! Nick Hutchings , July 9th, 2014 11:29

I used to be a big fan of The Walkmen, in particular their song 'The Rat' from Bows & Arrows with its pained refrain "you've got a nerve to be asking a favour". Their plaintive yelps and needling guitar lines felt like they should be a secret, listened to with the lights down low. It didn't do them any harm, but it didn't change them – remaining cult they continued their straining melancholy and affecting lyrics on a couple of great albums, A Hundred Miles Off and Lisbon. Singer Hamilton Leithauser's gruff vocals led the way often teetering on the edge between being melodious and being totally out of tune, like Stephen Malkmus after hundreds of Marlboros. The Walkmen announced they were on "extreme hiatus" in November last year. A split in all but name.

They've obviously all been straining at the bit to go their own ways. Leithauser, it turns out from his album Black Hours, wanted to be a crooner in the spirit of Dean Martin, but sounds more like Rod Stewart doing the American Songbook. When it was announced that Peter Matthew Bauer, bassist of The Walkmen was releasing a solo record, one might presume that he had kept his former band's spirit of sinister intent alive. The album title Liberation! was certainly a clue that this was a man unleashed. It's disappointing however, that the themes of the album are listed to be of a spiritual, quasi-religious nature. The Walkmen always had soul, but a bout of pious religious bombast wasn't to be expected.

Musically there are moments on Liberation! that aren't a hundred miles off The Killers' once ubiquitous anthem 'All These Things That I've Done', with its vocal hook "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier", which was hard to ever take seriously, especially after hearing Bill Bailey lampoon it with his approximation "I've got ham but I'm not a hamster". With an album full of songs with titles that sound like an A to Z of religious tourism, ranging from 'I Was Born In An Ashram' via 'Philadelphia Raga' to 'Scientology Airplane Conventions', 'Istanbul Field Recording' and an 'Irish Wake In Varansi' there's a possibility of never being able to take Liberation! seriously. Does this emancipation of Bauer, a literal and metaphorical retreat from the urban tensions of his former band to a more cerebral place be the ultimate in self indulgence, become an extreme test for a cynical city dwelling atheist?

As it turns out, worrying is unnecessary. I could have also let the Communiqué-era track 'Latin American Ficciones' put me off. But there is something joyous and childlike about this album. It doesn't demand to be taken too seriously. It doesn't care if it's in the slightest bit cool. Bauer's voice on the aforementioned track does sound like Adam Granduciel from The War On Drugs, but this is as testy as it gets. And it's not just a flight of fancy. Bauer genuinely did spend his formative years in an Ashram in upstate New York, so he can quite legitimately let rip with the shambolic percussion of his summer soundtracks. They say write about what you know, and he has used this as his spiritual springboard to explore areas he doesn't yet truly know.

Mantras build and collapse on themselves, choruses rise and fall, and enveloping you with a rich seam of guitar pop, none more so on calling card, emphatic title track 'Liberation!'. By the end of a beguiling journey the insidious and yet triumphant album closer 'You Are The Chapel' is an undeniable banging of the Bauer drum and his anthemic credentials. Like Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire or the gospel incarnations of The Polyphonic Spree or cultish weird tweeness like I'm From Barcelona, you could quite easily swap your denim for hessian and follow Bauer into the light.

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