by Joseph Purcell
Since his hiatus from The Walkmen, Hamilton Leithauser has continued along the path of high-quality output without the kind of recognition adorned on his peers, and that he deserves. His Sinatra inspired solo debut, Black Hours, highlighted his penchant for softer melodic bursts, before his collaboration with fellow Washington native, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, delivered a gorgeous yet criminally undervalued snap of wistful Americana on I Had A Dream That You Were Mine. This lack of recognition has somewhat confusingly followed Leithauser his entire career.
And it’s that distinctive voice that is at the core of his new record, The Loves of Your Life. But where it was a searing brutality that marked his early work with The Walkmen, here it is the vocal dexterity of Leithauser that shines through – yes, the distinctive bruising howl remains, but it’s offset by a slow charming gravel, evocative of back room speakeasies from years gone by.
Produced and mixed by Leithauser alone in his DIY studio, this is a career high. Initially, Leithauser struggled, but in flux over the inspiration for his songs, he took a boat trip with his daughters between Connecticut and Long Island. During this time, he observed – in his words – an ‘odd dude’ sitting at the bar, regaling anyone that would listen of past misadventures and tall tales. It is this chance meeting that gave Leithauser the spark for the album and directly influenced the charming ode to the ‘odd dude’ at the bar on the track Cross-Sound Ferry. Leithauser began to fill pages of notes with sketches and characters from his own life, both present and past, with each song about ‘individuals’.
Opener, The Garbage Men, leaks with a lo-fi quality. It is a bold statement to open the record: a rueful hark back to a friend of the past who is no longer close, and to a time when Leithauser could party till 6am or as he states, ‘when the garbage men go by’. It is one of two songs that bookend the record on which Leithauser’s wife and daughters feature on backing vocals. The other, The Old King, is a beautiful sentimental voyage of friendship and loss. A melancholic traverse, uplifted beautifully by the contrasting range of Leithauser and his daughters vocal pitch.
The delightful drumbeat of The Stars of Tomorrow allows Leithauser a perfect platform to display his voice scaling – from glorious swathes to quiet spoken words it is immaculate. The flowing arrangements and gentle flickers elevate the song to some of his finest work, as he regales us with a tale of heartbreak on a late-night New York curb side. While Isabella grows with every listen on a gorgeous slice of alt pop.
Here They Come holds a hushed bustling quality. Inspired by a friend running away from problems, it musically fits, propelling you along the subway voyage of the character in question. The track builds in pace to a suffocating reflective crescendo – ‘I was a fool, I was blind, I kept my eyes shut half the time’. The undoubted highlight though is Wack Jack, which has a bustling energy and more than a passing acknowledgement to the snap and snare of Bob Dylan.
The Loves of Your Life is a magical expedition through the hustle of New York City. An opus brimming with the successes and failures of humanity, the songs perfectly reflect characters and the intensity of the city in which they are based. This should be the record that finally pushes the songwriter over to the masses, and although it probably won’t, it definitely proves him to be one of the most consistent artists of the past two decades.
Secret Meeting score: 88
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