At the end of the day, the hype surrounding Jonathan Fire*Eater's brief existence probably hurt the New York band more than helped it. Given its press, industry types and potential listeners alike probably expected a grand, radio-friendly album with huge crossover potential, but instead got the stunning but abstruse Wolf Songs For Lambs. Those who listened to the album weren't surprised that it failed to light up the charts, and JFE, crushed under the weight of unfair expectations, dissolved in 1998. Three-fifths of Jonathan Fire*Eater—guitarist Paul Maroon, drummer Matt Barrick, and organist Walter Martin—regrouped and built Marcata Recording, their own little analog studio retreat, in Maroon's Harlem neighborhood. The space inevitably led to a new musical project, and after pilfering a name from Sony and two old friends from The Recoys (bassist Pete Bauer and Martin's cousin, singer Hamilton Leithauser), The Walkmen hatched. Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone is the band's debut album, but most of its songs appeared piecemeal on a pair of vinyl-only releases and a self-titled EP in the past year. Together, they present a cohesive whole, not surprising considering all of the songs were recorded at Marcata and produced by the band members themselves. "They're Winning" shimmies in first, introducing the album's sound: Warm and natural, it's the exceptional sound of instruments and musicians playing off each other, rather than being ProTooled together. The current crop of garage bands that share this affinity for the raw and natural generally fuse it with deliberately uncareful, breakneck songs. Not so The Walkmen, whose songs often meander pleasantly rather than sprint for the finish line. Even the intense title track breaks its gait at the end to make room for a string section. The few traditionally structured songs ("Wake Up," "We've Been Had") sit nicely against more whimsical, atmospheric pieces like "Stop Talking," a Lambchop-goes-to-NYC weeper. At the fore of all these fine songs is Leithauser's slurred but passionate voice, which stands in marked contrast to the aloofness of The Strokes, a band to which The Walkmen has been inevitably but unfairly compared. As its star rises, hopefully at a more manageable pace than Jonathan Fire*Eater's did, The Walkmen should be able to shake facile comparisons and genre-jailing simply by going forward with its ragged, timeless songs.