Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam are a winning combination

By William Plotnick

(Renee Barrera Flickr)
(Renee Barrera Flickr)

The force of love has always had an impact on passionate musicians.

Whether pondering aloud sad memories of an old love or singing a celebratory jubilee over the presence of someone new, the process of bringing intimate emotions to life through a universally-felt sonic experience has made for some of the most poignant and meaningful music released in recent memory.

Romantic poet William Wordsworth once claimed that “Poetry…takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility,” and on their debut LP “I Had a Dream That You Were Mine,” Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam Batmanglij have proven once again that great music can originate from that same source.

“I Had a Dream That You Were Mine” is in many ways a visual album, with each song portraying a story through the perspective of a character whose relationship with love evolves as he experiences its beautiful taste, yet bitter bite.

Leithauser—the former Walkmen frontman who is following up his 2014 solo debut, “Black Hours”—and Rostam, whose multi-instrumental talents helped power Vampire Weekend and have landed him production gigs with some of the best artists around today, each balance the other’s talents with finesse.

The serene tranquility that “I Had a Dream That You Were Mine,” released Sept. 23, possesses is easily recognizable as a result of likeminded individuals.

The album begins on a note of unrequited love with its opening song “A 1000 Times.” “I had a dream that you were mine/I’ve had that dream a thousand times” sings Leithauser, as Rostam dresses his voice with a delicate piano melody that evokes images of lone nights walking down long empty roads.

This song sets the tone for the entire record, as “I Had a Dream That You Were Mine” is filled with unfulfilled love and past lovers whose memory evokes questions of what could have been. “But all that I have is this old dream I must have had,” Leithauser croons as the listener experiences the pangs of isolation and sadness one might feel when they let that perfect someone slip away.

The album’s third song, “Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up),” transitions the album to a more upbeat note. Here, our character has a different vision of a finished relationship. Instead of lamenting about what could have been, Leithauser sings, “You know this ain’t the end/We would laugh as friends again/I won’t let up.”

“Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)” is the record’s catchiest song, with playful doo-wop harmonies and joyful piano and guitar progressions that provide the new-found sense of confidence that this character feels after deciding to never give up on something that was once good.

“In a Black Out” pays homage to those that influenced the record’s folk-pop sound. The nylon-stringed fingerpicking evokes the atmospheric folk songs of artists such as Vashti Bunyan and Leonard Cohen.

“In a Black Out” tries to describe the quick end that a precious love can have: “Oh, it all went away so fast/in a black out.” With its angelic choir of backing vocalists and Leithauser’s aching vocals, this track will send chills down one’s spine.

“1959”, the albums final song, serves as the record’s parting words on its narrative of broken love. Having taken the listener through the many evolving psychological phases of accepting the finality of an ended relationship, Leithauser and Rostam deliver a powerful coda to the album’s story-like narrative.

The song, which features hauntingly beautiful vocals from ex-Dirty Projectors member Angel Deradoorian, might leave the listener in tears as it offers no resolution to a broken hear. Instead it paints a genuine picture of the ongoing emotional battle that ensues between our character and his old lover.

Like with “A 1000 Times,” Rostam begins with a delicate piano progression. Sudden bursts of violin serve as the cue for Deradoorian, who sings out “One day I’ll stop to listen,” to which Leithauser replies, “But I’d rather die.”

In only 10 songs, Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam paint numerous pictures of the emotions of love lost and found. Musically, the album is lush, and filled with dreamlike wonder and ambient folk sounds.

Leithauser’s voice is at the top of its game, and his parting from The Walkmen to explore different sounds and opportunities seems like a wonderful decision. Rostam produces one of his most fully realized projects yet, adding a new depth and style to Leithauser’s vocals that listeners have not heard before. Any album that can transcend the typical album format to portray a genuine story of human emotion is worth listening to. “I Had a Dream That You Were Mine” accomplishes that and much more.

William Plotnick can be reached at [email protected]