Review: Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, 'I Had A Dream That You Were Mine'

Sep 15, 2016
Originally published on September 29, 2016 12:06 pm

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"I use the same voice I always have," Hamilton Leithauser sings in the chorus of "Sick As A Dog," and he's got a point: The former Walkmen frontman is instantly identifiable, whether he's singing with his old band, working as a solo artist or, in this case, working with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij under the name Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam. Twenty years into his career, he's let the volume dip a bit, but moments of vein-bulging intensity remain.

That said, on I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, Leithauser and Batmanglij surround the singer's distinctive yowl with an assortment of surprising sounds. At times, the arrangements can be downright jarring, as when the backing vocals let fly with some seriously old-fashioned interjections — the repetition of "sha-doobie sha-doobie sha-doobie sha-doo-wop" throughout "Rough Going (I Won't Let Up)," for example, or the echoes of "shoo-wop shoo-wop" in "When The Truth Is..." Elsewhere, the folksy, banjo- and piano-led "Peaceful Morning" ambles along amiably until it builds to one of Leithauser's best rafter-rattling bellows.

A sense of ramshackle playfulness buoys I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, as if Leithauser and Batmanglij (who co-wrote the record, with Batmanglij producing) had made a decision upfront to leave no genre or pop-music era off-limits in the songwriting and recording process. But this is no mere exercise in unlikely fusion: The two musicians use nods to the past as a means of placing Leithauser's voice at the center of something truly unexpected. He may use the same voice he's always had, but he and his collaborators are still coming up with new ways for people to hear it.

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