Making it as an independent artist after years fronting bands as critically revered as The Walkmen was always going to be a tall order – with many a songwriter struggling to overcome the lingering shadow that such an extensive and well-loved songbook can cast across a career.
Teaming up with Rostam for 2016’s ‘I Had a Dream That You Were Mine’, Leithuaser was quick to dispel this myth a whimsical flick of the wrist, re-imagining himself as a 50s style crooner – waltzing through a sea of neatly blended production, breathing in everything from doo-woop and country to basement bar rock n’ roll. Four years on and having shed the former Vampire Weekend maverick, Hamilton Leithauser wanders back into the spotlight – this time alone – with his latest record, ‘The Loves Of Your Life’.
Created and produced by himself in his own DIY studio, the album takes the form of a series of fully-fleshed vignettes, where grubby sidewalks and the conversations held there are projected to the status of cinematic operas. “Til the garbage men go by, all the playboys dance on the black tiles like a swarm of flies” he observes in his trademark rasp, whilst the next scene finds him “on a sparking subway train breaking through a tunnel underneath Broadway”. Leithauser has always had a unique way of evoking such sensory imagery, as he forms his hazy sketches of a city bustling with life.
In writing ‘The Loves Of Your Life’, Leithuaser has spoken of how all of the songs on the album were written about real people he encountered in his everyday life in New York – people he knows or strangers he’s come across – whether fleeting snapshots or more detailed character studies. Exemplified by ‘Isabella’. A girl whose Manhattan rent is paid for by her parents, a burden which prevents her from fully progressing to adulthood and taking ownership of her life – a successful marriage of that same blend of subtlety and weariness that enriched the tall tales of The Walkmen.
The sounds and ambience of Rostam Batmanglij still permeates the record, from muffled strings and uptight, twinkly piano to sordid sax riffs, that were so ever-present on the pair’s previous record. Sounds that lend themselves perfectly as the soundscape to Leithauser’s bruised and full-bodied croon, continue to come to the fore. This time aiding to provide the record with a fixed sense of place. ‘The Loves Of Your Life’ is so quintessentially New York.
From the late 60s, Dylanesque folk jolt of ‘Here they Come’ complete with its cinematic metaphors to the off-kilter, seedy saunter of ’Til Your Ship Comes In’ and Springsteen-ified bombast of the record’s closer, ‘The Other Half’. Leithauser has dipped these carefully observed tracks in a wonderfully nostalgic hue. So much so that you can almost inhale the pungent smells that drift from the other side of the ‘‘frosted glass of a cocktail lounge”.
Its not only Isabella that “goes to sleep to the rhythm of the passing traffic.” These characters all inhabit the same universe, where pain is papered-over and moments of tender reflection are rare. “I was a fool, I was blind, i kept my eyes shut half the time”, Leithauser sings on ‘Here They Come’ – a song about a man who hides away from his problems in a cinema as the reality of the situation slowly starts to sink in.
A theme similarly explored on ‘Don’t Check the Score’ about a narrator hiding from their own bad news amidst fantastically, breezy Jersey Beat horns. Whilst on another side of the City, Leithauser loosely recollects his encounter with a woman after an argument with her spouse, ready to pack up and head to her sisters for “a brand new start” if he can ‘remember the rest of your story right’.
A series of independent kitchen-sink dramas, happening all at the same time, whilst the city softly meanders on. Sonically ‘The Loves Of Your Life’ is a Wurlitzer whirlwind of nostalgia, however the glimpsed memories that lie at its heart are so charmingly dazzled to life – they are testament to the humanist eye of a songwriter as vividly inspired as he has ever been.
Words: Rory Marcham
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