Review | Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam’s Dream is glorious fun

Hamilton Leithauser + RostamHad A Dream

I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

[Glassnote Records]

With the blow of multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij’s departure from Vampire Weekend still fresh comes his collaboration with former Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser.
I Had A Dream That You Were Mine is everything a collaboration should be; it highlights the individual virtuosity of both parties while also reinforcing a relationship outside of the music, one which makes it almost impossible to imagine that the pair have never produced a full scale musical project together until now.

Leithauser’s tenacious voice sounds better than it ever has, and it is through the collaboration with Rostam that the best of his abilities are realised. Rostam’s consistent presence on the record is felt from the delicate piano of the opening seconds through mid-century folk and Americana genres. His partner’s vocal dynamics are foregrounded right from the get-go with the stunning earworm ‘A 1000 times’, a lament for imagined love delivered with the kind of urgency and desperation that would straight up break your heart. Juxtaposed with Rostam’s ghostly piano and organ themes, the track explores light and dark, and works to introduce musical themes and ideas explored later on the record.

Though one would be hard pressed to defend this record as something with any overarching concept, save for perhaps themes of freedom and self-determination, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine maintains a consistent sense of experimentation, indulgence, and an impression of a true musical partnership. From the doo-wop of ‘Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)’ to the delta blues almost Dylan-esque ‘You Ain’t That Young Kid’, every genre is tried on with style, highlighting Rostam’s penchant and talent in getting the very best out of the musicians he works with.

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Speaking before the release of the album, Rostam’s excitement about experimenting with Leithauser’s voice was palpable. He had ‘been wanting to capture [his voice] in ways it hadn’t been captured before – to make songs with him that placed the crooner right beside the howler, the screamer besides the whisperer – to try to leave no stone unturned in terms of how we should approach the delivery of a song’. These tones hit hard on tracks like ‘Sick as a Dog’, where Leithauser controls the lower register of his voice impeccably, before exploding into a cathartic and wrenching finale, the sound of gravel working off clamorous guitars and a forte harmonic conclusion.

The record is dotted with some truly fantastic pop hooks which have Rostam’s name all over them. ‘The Morning Stars’ syncopated piano in double time is as Vampire Weekend as proceedings get, though somewhat offset by retro-evoking glissando electric guitar and supporting organ block chords. Aforementioned opener ‘A 1000 Times’ introduces and develops a simple yet thoroughly effective melody that will spin in your head for days. ‘Peaceful Morning’ boasts some of the best harmonies on the record, with Leithauser’s delicate “I wish I could hear it / ‘cause I still feel the spirit” climbing steadily and confidently upwards, before once again delivering frantic and impeccably controlled grainy vocals.

Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam have gotten the best out of each other with this collaboration. At times, their individual styles are recognised as easter eggs for fans of The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend, charmingly typical and unapologetic. On other occasions, genres and styles skip around in such a frenzy that a discernible style is almost impossible to identify. What is most engaging about this record is the confidence with which the two artists toy with styles, instrumentation, and eras. A more conceptual work would certainly be welcome from this pair, but for now we have a collection of excellent folk pop tracks which, above all, sound like two very talented people just having fun for a change.