REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha
Hamilton Leithauser steps out from the shadows of The Walkmen on a debut that dazzles
Hamilton Leithauser - Black Hours (OUT 2ND JUNE)The album cover of a beaming
Hamilton Leithauser probably gives the game away as
Black Hours unleashes a playful side seemingly hitherto stifled in the admittedly beautiful barroom angst that his former band
Walkmen (aka the thinking man's
The Strokes) had down to a pat. With said band resting their well worn boots on
“extreme hiatus” after seven albums in ten years,
Black Hours marks the latest in a sudden flurry of solo endeavours from the band, this year having already seen mulit-instrumentalist Walter Martin first past the post with guitarist Peter Matthew Bauer to follow shortly. But it's the fabulously christened Hamilton Leithauser (a name surely lifted from the pages of an F Scott Fitzgerald book) the band’s singer who steps into the limelight now and whilst this is no Julian Casablancas-type legacy-undoing radical departure, these ten tracks take many of The Walkmen’s familiar hallmarks and adds in some all together more playful flourishes that make for a richly rewarding first outing that's going to take some topping. Sometimes those flourishes are distinctly grandiose; opener
'5 AM' leads with quivering strings and gentle piano rise and fall that build to full orchestral swell in a sweeping early hours ballad that recalls at both turns
A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night and
Shirley Bassey, and in similar spirit
'St. Mary's County' is a hushed and reverb-heavy piano ballad in the vein of Asylum Records era
Tom Waits (indeed there's a more than passing resemblance to his cover of West Side Story's
'Somewhere' in the song's prevailing wind). Mostly though Leithauser just sounds at ease having fun.
'Alexandra' is a joyful clatter of shuffling drums and layered voices as he moves up the gears of his larynx with familiar passion but with uncharacteristic major key brightness and then there's
'The Silent Orchestra' whose bounce of staccato strings and drum rattle propel things along to acapella lull before the stately tango/ samba resumes. At the even more playful end of things is the joyfully wonky 12 bar honky tonk blues of
'I Retired'. It's idle speculation perhaps to level its words at his former band
("I retired from my fight, I retired from my war") but again there's a real lightness from the submerged
Beach Boys-esque doo-wop backing vocals and sloppily steady handclaps that play the song the out that wasn't a significant part of that endeavour's repertoire.
'The Rat' this most assuredly ain't. Amidst the welcome evolution there are more familiar traits though.
'I Don't Need Anyone' could happily have nestled on 2012’s
Heaven, all scratchy guitar and vocal defiance, and
'11 O'Clock Friday Night' retains some of the driving urgency of
The Walkmen and a familiar lyrical turn of phrase (the repeating refrain "you, me and everybody else") but is chock full of colourful flourishes of percussion that recall a more measured
Dirty Projectors or less somber
'Self Pity' has an almost anthemic
U2 or early
Coldplay lilt (far better than it sounds…) played through the face-saving lens of
The National, Leithauser emerging dignity intact aloft its beautifully optimistic melodic soar and likewise the bright driving fuzz of
'The Smallest Splinter' finds hope in heartache and closes the album with optimistic high. So if nothing else,
Black Hours is proof that all angst and no play evidently makes Hamilton a bored boy, and with a nary a backward glance to the glories of his past, he's confidently delivered a debut that hints at a brighter new furrow to plough.