Image courtesy of Hamilton Leithauser
Review by Daven McQueen
Had a Dream That You Were Mine, with its wistful title and heartfelt tracks, brings together two well-respected names in the alternative rock scene. But vocalist Hamilton Leithauser and producer/instrumentalist Rostam have more in common than their musical genre of choice: both artists are former members of New York alt-rock bands. While Leithauser left his role as frontman of the Walkmen in 2013, Rostam’s split from Vampire Weekend is more recent, with his announcement coming earlier this year.
This album, then, brings together two talented musicians-turned-wanderers whose paths have crossed in the most fortunate of ways. Maybe as a result of their searches for solo voices, or maybe because of a shared love for a variety of sounds, it features a track list of unique songs that will take hold of listeners from the very beginning.
“A 1000 Times,” the opening track whose lyrics give the album its name, is a sentimental autumn anthem that will fill and break your heart in equal measure. Leithauser’s raw, longing vocals and the almost-tangible beat combine to kick off the album with magnetic intensity. It will take more than a single listen to absorb the complete effect of the song, and perhaps more than a thousand before its spell wears off.
But the reverberations of this dreamy ballad do not define the album. In fact, despite Leithauser’s rough tenor and the clean drum beats that run throughout, each song tells its own story with a unique sound. “Rough Going (I Don’t Let Up),” with its snaps, horn solos, and bouncy “shoo-be-doo-wops,” calls to mind images of jukeboxes and checker-floored malt shops. Meanwhile, the previously-released single “In a Black Out” features intricate guitar strums and haunting murmurs that are reminiscent of bands like Mumford and Sons. And then there’s “1959,” which scales back on instrumentals and enhances the breathy vocals of Leithauser and guest Angel Deradoorian with soft chimes and violins.
Altogether, Leithauser and Rostam have presented an experimental album with nods to country, blues, and classic rock, among other genres. There is no common sound, no running theme―and this is both an asset and a testament to the artists’ songwriting process. Despite the recent release date, the pair began laying the groundwork for this album years ago. In an interview with DIY Mag, Leithauser discusses their creative routine, explaining that their songs are born out of “intense creative moment[s]” followed by “stepping back [and] taking a little break” rather than working regularly for long periods of time. As he describes it, they were able to approach each song with “fresh eyes and a new spontaneous excitement.”
Spontaneous, certainly, is an accurate way to describe this album. Each song offers listeners a chance to appreciate the versatile duo from a different perspective. At the same time, though, there is something recognizable in every track. After all, we can’t forget that both artists have a songwriting history with other musical acts. Even with the variety of sounds in this album, there are hints of Rostam’s contributions to Vampire Weekend in the orchestral blends of simple piano chords and low drum beats. And, as Leithauser croons truthfully in “Sick as a Dog,” he continues to “use the same voice [he] always had.”
Which is not to say that this album is simply a combination of Vampire Weekend and the Walkmen; Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam have resurrected and combined their signature sounds in a decidedly individual way. There are echoes of the past, to be sure, but they linger as a sense of comforting familiarity on the edges of every track. Like a childhood home, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine carries the undeniable feeling of “I have been here before.” But while the rooms are familiar, the furniture has been rearranged―and between the nostalgic and the new, you will find in this album a welcoming place to stay.