Monday, April 03, 2006

America Sleeps on Walkabouts

Some bands are more popular in another part of the world than in their own country. Critics refer to this as the "big in Japan" phenomenon. A perfect example is Magnapop, whose popularity in Scandinavia I wrote about last month. Another American band that seems to be bigger in Europe than here in the States is the Walkabouts. They were an Americana band when the rest of Seattle was grunge. After a number of albums on Sub Pop, their records of the past ten years haven't been released in the US at all. They've made albums both spartan (Ended Up a Stranger) and lush (Nighttown), and something about them seems to appeal to European sensibilities. Their influences include Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and Scott Walker, as well as classic country artists such as George Jones and Hank Williams.

I didn't see the Walkabouts' latest album, Acetylene, on anyone's best of list for 2005. It's a harder-edged record than some of the band's earlier recordings, and some of the songs where Chris and Carla sing in unison sound like a more mature Pixies. The feedback-laden crescendo of the last track made me think of another American band that was well-regarded in Europe, Thin White Rope. Chris Eckman said of writing Acetylene's songs, "I wondered what it would have been like if Neil Young had stopped by Wire's rehearsal space, sometime in 1977?" Acetylene has the taut energy of early Wire (though not the economy or unconventional structures of Wire songs).

Today's songs come from the 1997 Nighttown album, which was only released in Germany. It's an amazing record from start to finish, and was recorded in Europe with the Warsaw Philharmonic. Maybe the Walkabouts' music is too grown up for American listeners. There's a great Walkabouts fan site with an mp3 from Acetylene, and a thoroughly annotated discography. You can buy Acetylene here or from eMusic.

The Walkabouts: Tremble (Goes the Night)


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