It remains to be seen just how big of an impact the sudden departure of Rostam Batmanglij will have on a band that found an exceedingly rich vein of form at the third time of asking. Announced in January, his exit from Vampire Weekend provoked both shock and a degree of sorrow, given the strength of 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, a record in which the previously engaging but arguably surface-heavy New Yorkers tapped into quite sublime august songwriting.
A little over two years ago, fellow NYC native Hamilton Leithauser put his Walkmen in storage as he sought to play further with the kind of voice that could tell you that you had mere minutes left to live and you’d probably be cool with it. Black Hours spent in Leithauser’s company proved fruitful, his joie de vivre clear even in the occasional plaintive dalliance as he slipped comfortably into a Sinatra suit and rolled back the years.
Unconcerned with deep soul searching, heavy statements or any real underlying narrative, Black Hours was simply a collection of songs. This is no bad thing and when you put it side by side with Leithauser’s latest batch, it shines a touch brighter. Not every record needs to provoke awe or profound emotion – they can simply be a good time. That’s not to damn I Had A Dream That You Were Mine with faint praise as this is a damn good time.
Having previously handled a rake of instruments and a heavy chunk of the writing on Black Hours, the one-man band that is Rostam Batmanglij enjoys co-billing status here as the pair deliver a follow-up that goes bigger and better in the way that a worthy sequel should. Rostam has claimed he has wanted to make a record like this for at least a decade and in doing so he wished to push Leithauser’s voice ‘outside or any musical context it has lived in before.’ That’s not quite the case here as an already established sonic script is mostly adhered to, but again, it’s a hugely enjoyable one.
Case in point; the really rather glorious ‘A 1000 Times’ (so glorious that you forgive the grammatical irk) is essentially Peter, Paul and Mary’s winsome ‘500 Miles’ with the volume turned all the way up, and in the words of David Letterman when he endorsed Future Islands following that performance; I’ll take all of that ya got. There’s something especially compelling about hearing one of the last great romantic singers just go for it as Leithauser does here, lacing a line like ”If my eyes were open, I’d be kicking the doors in” with a most triumphant menace. And then they hit the chorus and if you’re not singing along almost immediately, something’s definitely broken somewhere.
Moments like that recall the similar cathartic kick-in of ‘Hannah Hunt’ and Ezra Koenig’s masterful ownership therein. Unsurprisingly, Rostam is right at home here, peppering all aspects of I Had A Dream That You Were Mine with the same rich details he gifted his former band. Booming treated drums announce the superb ‘Sick as a Dog’, a song that glides under his guiding hand. Meanwhile, ‘In a Black Out’, the deceptively busy ‘Peaceful Morning’ and the country-flavoured ‘You Ain’t That Young Kid’ all come with a very specific cinematic quality, both perfectly suited to accompany the end credits of a wistful indie film.
‘You Ain’t That Young Kid’ in particular illustrates the grand compliment both men offer one another. Even with tones this dulcet, lines about letters written but never sent and hearts that hold ash in place of fire can be a hard sell, but Rostam understands how to dance in even the gravest of scenarios. Minutes later on ‘The Bride’s Dad’, the pair tell a heartbreaking short story in which a major event culminates in a minor fleeting victory. Leithauser, fittingly, lands the killer blow with a smile.
”I use the same voice I always have”, he observes at one point. If you sounded like this, you would too.
8Dave Hanratty's Score