Pre-Walkmen Bands // See Me Age 19
The Recoys named their only album, a posthumously released clearing house of the best things they’d written, Rekoys, which led to me spending a decade of never being sure whether the actual band name was the one with the “c” or the “k.” If I start calling them “The Rekoys” halfway through this essay, that’s why—they’re messing with me from beyond the grave. Oh, and they’re the band Hamilton Leithauser and Peter Bauer were in before The Walkmen.
The Recoys are very much a rough draft of certain aspects of the Walkmen—there’s a reason the band the other half of the Walkmen had been in killed all their songs when that band ended while a few Recoys songs reappeared later (that reason is not that they are underdeveloped songs at all! I mostly like them!). Hamilton and Peter learned the ropes here, and the band was enough of a “feeling things out” experiment that they didn’t feel bad rerecording four of their album’s ten original songs with The Walkmen (“That’s the Punchline” and “The Blizzard of ‘93” appear on the first Walkmen LP, “Look Out Your Window” was released on a split EP with Calla, and “Over Your Shoulder” eventually showed up in an iTunes session). The eleventh song on Rekoys is a tribute by Walter Martin (then in Jonathan Fire*Eater, but recording with his side project The Lil’ Fighters) about how much he liked The Recoys despite his belief that “no one understands” them.
It’s the kind of album you buy when you see a really promising act open for a band that you’re surprised is even big enough to have an opening act—everything isn’t ironed out yet, but what’s there is a really solid foundation for whatever’s coming. And there are some great songs on this album! The first track, “Song of the Paper Dolls,” is as great as anything on the first Walkmen record and it has a sloppiness that you’d never hear in The Walkmen; the vocal melody at the beginning gets stuck in my head all the time and Peter’s guitar work, which always reminds me of Link Wray here, is gorgeous.
I hear a lot of Jonathan Fire*Eater’s Stewart Lupton in the way Hamilton goes for it and pushes his voice past where he was fully prepared to take it. It’s like he knows he can do great things but doesn’t quite know how to develop toward those things yet. Their drummer, who would spend five minutes in The French Kicks before disappearing from music and eventually resurfacing with Lupton’s band Childballads, sounds like he’s having a lot of fun, and it’s fascinating to hear somebody other than Matt Barrick play Walkmen songs. Listening to The Recoys is like listening to everybody in The Walkmen get drunk and try to play their fastest songs for friends.
Jonathan Fire*Eater is a band with a more concrete legacy.
Walter Martin, Paul Maroon and Matt Barrick released two albums, an EP and a few singles as the organist, guitarist and drummer in this band, respectively. That’s a band whose discography has a clear beginning, middle and end.
Everything you read about JF*E now is how hyped they were at the time, that they were supposed to be the biggest thing in New York but only ended up inspiring the people lucky enough to see them. Those people would later form bands like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills, but that didn’t do anything to raise JF*E’s post-death profile. I’ll talk more about them later in the week, but for now I’ll just say that “When the Curtain Calls For You,” the lead track and single from their major label debut/flop Wolf Songs for Lambs, could have been a defining track of that era if enough people had heard it. (As long as I’m saying things like that, I’ll acknowledge that I wasn’t hip to Jonathan Fire*Eater when they were active, mainly because I was eight when Wolf Songs came out in 1997 and was more interested in Weird Al and the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack than I was in post-punk. There’s no snobbery here when I talk about how people didn’t appreciate this band at the time.)
“When the Curtain Calls For You” is the kind of ominously badass title that singer Stewart Lupton came up with regularly, but even in a catalog with songs called “The Public Hanging of a Movie Star” and “Inpatient Talent Show,” it stands out as a name you (read: I) think of time and again as something you wish you had been smart enough to come up with.
Lupton can be funny—not just clever, but legitimately funny— but the lyrics in this one are vaguely unsettling, and his delivery gives everything an extra sting. He sings about children with nothing real in their faces, he kind of breezily tosses off the line “I’ll be hanging from the rafters, I’ll be swinging from the rafters for you” like he just decided to to hang himself a few seconds ago.
But all of that is after Paul starts the song with a riff that could have come off a Morricone soundtrack, Matt starts playing a marching band beat and Walter gets his organ sounding shriller than it had or would sound otherwise. It’s an uneasy, threatening song. Eventually the bass kicks in and Lupton starts singing and it becomes hard to tell the guitar sounds from the organ ones. “When the Curtain Calls For You” is catchy, but it’s also a mass of sound that pounds away at you while you wonder if the rest of the album is going to be as intense. And the song’s coda is, by contrast, as cheery as the Doublemint gum jingle.
But seriously, that opening riff. It’s like Les Savy Fav’s “The Sweat Descends” in that the first time I heard it, I had to start the song over a hundred times because all I could think was “this is music I need.”