Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Hamilton Leithauser – “Black Hours”

Though The Walkmen announced their indefinite hiatus earlier this year, we are fortunate to not have to wait long for new music from frontman Hamilton Leithauser, whose debut solo album, Black Hours was released today on Ribbon Music.  The album allows Leithauser to be as creative, emotional and personal as ever and he is backed by a host of collaborators including his longtime associate Paul Maroon from The Walkmen along with Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, Richard Swift of The Shins, and Morgan Henderson of Fleet Foxes.  Most of the album was recorded in the legendary Vox studio in Los Angeles where Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby once recorded.  It’s a fitting tribute as Leithauser has fashioned himself as a rock-informed version of a 1950’s jazz crooner on his excellent solo debut.             
The album opens with the Sinatra-styled “5 AM” that comes complete with a full-bodied arrangement of bowed bass, piano, strings and horns but the spotlight shines on Hamilton’s aching and impassioned vocal plea.  “The Silent Orchestra” follows and features a swinging rhythm bolstered by plucky pizzicato and playful marimba along with background vocals from Amber Coffman of The Dirty Projectors who guest on several tracks.  The standout first single, “Alexandra” was co-written by Batmanglij and is a rousing sing-along with pounding piano, harmonica, dreamy harpsichord and drums by Hugh McIntosh, who played with Hamilton in his first band, The Recoys.  ”11 O’Clock Friday Night” opens with bouncy marimba until reverb-rich guitars take over for a full band arrangement that leans more toward the rock side of things.    
With a simpler yet still gorgeous arrangement, “St. Mary’s County” matches his distinct voice with twinkling pianos and buzzing strings.  “Self-Pity” starts slow with ambient strings but builds steam with an off-kilter rhythm, tangled guitar lines and a soaring vocal performance. Another standout, the blues-soaked single, “I Retired” recalls Bob Dylan with sparking harpsichord and woozy doo-wop melodies matched with honky-tonk piano.  Next, “I Don’t Need Anyone” rocks the most like The Walkmen as Hamilton’s voice soars over jangly guitars and a propulsive rhythm.  The album closes out with the nice one-two punch of “Bless Your Heart” with its trembling guitars, swaying melodies and percussion-heavy beat and “The Smallest Splinter” with its forceful guitar strumming and catchy refrain.            
The deluxe edition of the album also includes four additional songs, “Waltz”, “In Our Time (I’ll Always Love You)”, “Utrecht” and “I’ll Never Love Again”.


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