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  • Nathan Weakley

Looking Back at The Walkmen’s Bows + Arrows

One of my favorite albums turned twenty years old this month, and I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about it and why you should all check it out. Bows + Arrows, the second album by often-forgotten indie rock group The Walkmen, is perfect for late February in the city. 

Many people only remember it for one song. “The Rat”, the record’s lead single, is an earth-shaking cry of betrayal and loneliness. Over a frantic drumbeat, singer Hamilton Leithauser shifts attitudes from cold indifference to forgiveness and finally desperation as trembling guitars and hazy keys fill the empty spaces. It rips.

But, when the album came out, many fans were disappointed to find “The Rat” alone in a selection of tracks that were largely quieter and more meditative. Bows + Arrows did well with critics, but it was something of a commercial letdown which set the stage for The Walkmen’s subsequent decline into relative obscurity. A band on the rise gradually settled onto the back page of the Rolling Stone.

Those who were searching for the anger of the lead single, though, failed to see what was so great about the rest of the album. From beginning to end, Bows + Arrows cuts elegance with raw power and imbues even stoic dirges like “138th St.” with life and movement. Leithauser takes on the grinning loneliness of somebody who’s just been kicked out of a party he didn’t want to attend in the first place. The metallic ring of the guitar seems to reverberate through a space so massive and boundless and dark that you’re a little stunned to find yourself alone in it.

“No Christmas While I’m Talking” is a funerary ballad that explores, through sparse lyrics and crashing drums, the end of a relationship. “New Year’s Eve” is its lighter counterpart– more romantic, and almost sentimental. The title track combines uneasy melodies with jingle bells and disjointed lyrics to create something that feels as if it’s barely holding together. I mean this as a compliment. 

“Thinking of a Dream I Had” is my personal favorite song on the album, and also the most difficult for me to describe. My head tells me it’s surf rock but my heart just won’t accept that. The vibe is fierce and perfect and metropolitan and if I listen to it too much more I’m worried that my brain will melt like ice cream. 

Anyways, Bows + Arrows is a beautiful album that never gets the love it deserves. So, if you haven’t heard it, there’s no better time than now. Put on some headphones, some warm clothes, and go downtown and look at the tall buildings and let the music bring them to life.



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