The Walkmen are already responsible for one of the best albums of this half-spent decade: the woozy 2004 disc Bows + Arrows, which focused the atmospheric jangle of the band's debut into a rougher, angrier, but no less lyrical sound. So with that under their belt, The Walkmen can be excused for missing more than they hit on the even rawer follow-up A Hundred Miles Off. As lead singer Hamilton Leithauser continues his Bob-Dylan-circa-1966 mannerisms, and his mates continue their dust-on-the-needle sonic aesthetic, The Walkmen careen through 12 songs that frequently devolve into sound-swallowing echo and boozy bellow, until the whole album becomes one long, moody abstraction.
Albums that pursue this kind of single-minded stylistic approach can work. (Listen to Phoenix's latest, It's Never Been Like That, for an example.) But too much of A Hundred Miles Off sounds enervated, which makes the rare uptempo tracks—like the zippy, shimmering "Good For You's Good For Me" and the raucously polyrhythmic "Emma, Get Me A Lemon"—stand out like mountains at the edge of a flat desert landscape. Even a more restrained song like the brisk "Brandy Alexander" offers only a brief respite from track after track of tribal beats, vibrating guitar strings, and the occasional burst of mariachi horns or saloon piano.
Around the time The Walkmen wrapped this record, they reportedly knocked out a song-by-song cover of Harry Nilsson's 1974 LP-length collaboration with John Lennon, the cult oddity Pussy Cats. Clearly Pussy Cats—with its heavy reverberations and wastrel decadence—inspired the overall tone of A Hundred Miles Off, and like that record, this one has a taste that can be acquired, with patience and repetition. But Lennon and Nilsson came by their chaos honestly, trashing years of pop artistry in a few drunken weekends. The Walkmen were never craftsmen on their idols' level, which means their sloppiness sounds more like, well, slop.