If there were one lyric that defined the attitude of the Walkmen's 2002 debut album, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, it was "I've heard it all before."
Crooned by Hamilton Leithauser during one of the album's defining tracks, "Revenge Wears No Wristwatch," it sets a generally impatient but brilliant tone that fully keys in listeners to what they're in for.
First coming to notice during the height of New York's early 2000's garage-rock/post-punk craze, NYC natives the Walkmen set themselves apart by escaping any sub-genre, bending rock music to fit for themselves. The guitars on this record, mostly from lead player Paul Maroon, are evasive and sneaky, generally weaving in and out of the song's rhythms, in some cases seemingly ignoring them entirely.
On "Wake Up," the guitars begin the song with an almost boorish intensity, constantly carving themselves through the track's driving percussion. Just as the song approaches its second chorus, Leithauser and the guitars drop entirely out of the picture, leaving a zany instrumental transition of nothing but the rhythm section and piano. Just as the song seems to be falling into disrepair, Maroon announces his presence once again, dramatically interrupting the interlude with a cutting riff.
On the aforementioned "Revenge Wears No Wristwatch," the multiple tracks of guitar seem to be practically falling over each other. Leithauser and Maroon seem to be engaged in an almost childish fight for superiority in the mix, but they're frantic, one-chord hammering makes the track a truly cathartic experience.
On the title track's verse, you can barely understand a word Leithauser is saying. He's buried under an ominous keyboard, and restless drumming. But the chorus suddenly brings both Maroon and Leithauser out of the cave, with Maroon decorating Leithauser's cry of "I made the best of it" with a confetti shower of ringing notes.
On the album's longest track, the introspective "It Should Take Awhile," Maroon almost sounds defeated. His chords are anguished, on the cusp of being arrhythmic but not quite reaching that point of lost control. As Leithuaser sings "I don't care that much right now / I'm a mess, I can't get out," Maroon boldly interacts with the song's disjointed, waltz-like feel.
Standing out in a city where bands like the Strokes and Interpol were on the rise wasn't easy, but the Walkmen did it by taking rock and throwing it into a black hole. Beats dropped away, guitars never seemed to be satisfied with their riffs for more than a few measures, choruses hid desperately in the shadow of the verses that preceded them. It was a record that broke all the rules but didn't make a point of it.
On their debut album, no less, the Walkmen made their way sound like the right way. An album of incredible ambition, audacity and originality, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone is one of the 21st century's landmark underground rock records.