“I use the same voice I always have,” belts out Hamilton Leithauser in “Sick As A Dog” to an Edward Sharpe-esque choral echo. With over a decade of expertly exerting one of indie’s boldest howls it would be senseless to stop, and following his former band The Walkmen’s “extreme hiatus” starting 2014 and a solo release in the same year, he has thankfully found yet another vessel to carry them on I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.
Leithauser is at his best at his most strained, anguished, and raw, and in his pairing with newly departed Vampire Weekender Rostam Batmanglij, the Brooklyn veteran offers no shortcomings of any of his strongest qualities while Rostam does his best to mix up the backdrops to the production. Further enlisting White Rabbits percussionist Stephen Patterson, the result is deftly balanced dynamics and a surprisingly diverse combination of styles resulting in an album that somehow feels equal parts eclectic and whole.
Much of Rostam’s production, not least the Vampire Weekend-reminiscent string arrangements, gives I Had A Dream That You Were Mine the feeling of truly being composed. Whether the medium is meandering harmonica or baroque accentuation, the multi-instrumentalist blossoms in the newfound freedom of realizing a long-standing aspiration to write for a voice he spent the last 15 years admiring from the outside.
First single and opening track ”A 1000 Times" breaks right out of the gate with Leithauser's full register of glorious, pleading yowls. The potential energy is immediately palpable in the delicate opening few seconds that serve only to set the stage for a vocal main course that doesn't really let up once it starts. “Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)” reaffirms their commitment to carrying on while looking back at doo-wop inspiration before “In A Black Out” pauses for finger-picked balladry. Though much of peak Walkmen-era Leithauser vocals are delightfully thrown against a clash of reverb and electric guitar, we have them gently laid over a bed of acoustic here, while a Rostam-procured "Step”-style choir combines to beautifully fill the space.
Banjo-nestled “Peaceful Morning” veers close to saccharine at first before finding its stride in Leithauser’s gentle coos turned cries once more, while "When The Truth Is..." is a swanky blend of bottle slide guitar, steady piano plinks, and a jarringly splendid marriage of his impassioned pipes with those of a saxophone. The latter’s ecstatic barroom brawl of a chorus is a powerful highlight of both the record and their respective careers, flawlessly punctuated with Patterson’s skittering high hat. Submerged in the locomotion of Patterson’s drums, a country twang even pokes through in “The Morning Stars,” and, past the initial confusion of a new voice being introduced just as the credits roll, “1959”’s Angel Deradoorian (Dirty Projectors) feature gives an angelic foil to Leithauser’s lead.
A damn good duo, Leithauser and Rostam are a veritable phoenix rising from indie ashes that wonderfully proves when two doors close sometimes the window that opens lets in more than enough light to fill the bar. To argue that together they’re greater than the sum of their parts would be misleading - this collaboration would have a long way to go before attempting to dethrone either of its member’s past projects - though they at no point rely on reputation to carry the record, leaving us with an album that deserves far more than a footnote when the curtain falls. The dream many of us hold of a Walkmen reunion (and now even a Vampire Weekend one, to some extent) may fade with each passing night, but at least I Had A Dream That You Were Mine can be spun a 1000 times to more than fill the silence.