Bows + Arrows was released on February 2nd, 2004 via Warner Brothers imprint Record Collection. It was recorded between April–October 2003.

I didn't get acquainted with The Walkmen until the spring of 2006, just before the band released A Hundred Miles Off. At that time I was a sophomore in college and working as a DJ at the student radio station. A fellow student told me I should check out The Walkmen. I picked up Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and gave it a spin.

"Not bad," I thought. The album was a bit ragged and left a little something to be desired, but it showed potential.

Several weeks later I logged on to Amazon and noticed a recommendation for Bows+Arrows. I read several glowing reviews and decided to pick up the album. What I got blew me away.

This was not the same band that gave me Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone. Yes, those jangly guitars were still there. Yes, Hamilton Leithauser was still caterwauling like Bob Dylan in the midst of a coke binge. Yes, it had those vintage tones that set the band apart from their modern contemporaries like The Strokes. But Bows+Arrows was a far more focused and driven collection of songs than anything else in The Walkmen's discography to date. They had trimmed the fat, so to speak, dispensing with some of the more atmospheric meanderings that had a tendency to hold back their previous efforts.

The album opens with 'What's In It For Me', something of a segue from Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone to the revelation that awaits on the other side of said opening track. The ambient, warbling keys and guitarist Paul Maroon's reverb-drenched tremelo picking neath Leithauser inquiring, "What's in it for me?" made me perk up.

"Funny you should say that, Hamilton," I thought. "I'm wondering that very same thing." The band quickly quelled any apprehension I had about Bows+Arrows with the very next track, 'The Rat'.

What a song! From the first bar of Maroon's hyper-speed Strokes-esque guitar riff, to Matt Barrick's pounding drums, to Leithauser sneering, "You've got a nerve to be asking a favour." Any reservations regarding Bows+Arrows was obliterated, and I went on to repeat this song a half a dozen times before proceeding with the rest of the album.

Many consider 'The Rat' the pinnacle of The Walkmen's catalog. I'm inclined to agree. The frantic immediacy with which the band delivered their performance is unmatched. The attitude and swagger it had. It was clear from this one track that the band had spent some time in the woodshed, honing their chops and getting to the meat of their style.

Imagine my relief - a chance to catch my breath - that 'No Christmas While I'm Talking'. The band slowed the tempo and brought back some atmosphere. The song's a wash of organ (I think) and far-away-sounding guitar, but it get's to the point, something The Walkmen struggled to do with previous records. 'No Christmas While I'm Talking' leads to 'Little House of Savages' - a three-minute up-beat opus fuelled by pulsing keyboards and Barrick's erratic drum fills. It's the second best song on the album and another no frills indie rocker in the same vain as 'The Rat'.

At this point I'll dispense with the song-by-song breakdown. However, on the remaining seven tracks, The Walkmen weave a majestic indie rock tapestry that still, nearly a decade later, has nary a rival. This album has everything a good rock album should have: energy, passion, attitude, inventiveness, and uniqueness. It has the ragged charm of a garage with the meticulous detailing of the studio. It's polished yet rough, dark yet uplifting, daring yet familiar.

Some say Bows+Arrows is the pinnacle of the bell curve in The Walkmen's discography. Personally, I thought A Hundred Miles Off was pretty good, and I'm told Heaven is great, but I haven't heard it; I fell off on the band around the time they put out Pussy Cat (maybe I'm missing out. If so please let me know).

But that's not the point of this story, rather it's to celebrate the fact that Bows+Arrows is a landmark album of the noughties. It showed up on many Best of 2004 lists, and 'The Rat' was considered one of the best singles of '04.

Just two months ago The Walkmen announced they were going on a "extreme hiatus" (read: breaking up). They will be missed, but with the 10 year anniversary of Bows+Arrows less than a week away, I encouraged you all, rather than mourning the passing of the band, celebrate one of their greatest achievements and revisit an album which, I assure you, has lost none of its charm, potency or virility.

  • Tracklisting:
  • 1. What's in It for Me
  • 2. The Rat
  • 3. No Christmas While I'm Talking
  • 4. Little House of Savages
  • 5. My Old Man
  • 6. 138th Street
  • 7. The North Pole
  • 8. Hang On, Siobhan
  • 9. New Year's Eve
  • 10. Thinking of a Dream I Had
  • 11. Bows + Arrows