“I had a dream that you were mine,” sighs Hamilton Leithauser over twinkling piano; “I’ve had that dream a thousand times”. Then, not for the last time, he hits a desperate high – he’s walked, he’s “changed my crowd, ditched my tie”, but still can’t recapture his long-held memory. A 1000 Times is an opening track as startling as it is oddly timeless, and if, when it debuted in July, it promised great things of this pairing, the resulting album delivers.
Taking time away from their respective bands – suave New York post-punkers The Walkmen and, er, New York’s often unfairly maligned Vampire Weekend, Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij initially worked together on a couple of songs for Leithauser’s solo Black Hours (2014) – the restless Alexandra and the defeatist country-rock of I Retired. A third song, 1959, was shelved, albeit temporarily.
Conceived as a collaborative album, rather than another solo album for Leithauser featuring the writing, production and multi-instrumental skills of Batmanglij, the tone for much of I Had A Dream That You Were Mine is set both musically and lyrically by its opening track – the warm, woody palette and the tinges of loss and regret.
Over briskly walking bass, battered barroom piano and mildly sardonic “sha-doobie sha-doo-wop”s, Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up) layers Hamilton and Rostam’s voices in a production as complex as some of Batmanglij’s arrangements for his previous band, but with all of its ragged edges intact, with a great honking sax solo from Joe Santa Maria.
There’s a change in gears for Peaceful Morning and In A Black Out, the latter stripping away the layers of instruments for a Leonard Cohen-esque rolling classical guitar part, while Sick As A Dog is a wide-eyed and woozy plea (“Tonight, I’m just begging/please don’t shut me out”) underpinned with subtle hints of synth bass.
As the song shifts from sore-headed groove to bluesy crunch to an almighty choral outro, Leithauser moves from weary nightclub crooner to an appealingly cracked wail, all the while swearing “I use the same voice/I always had”. But from the soulful lilt of When The Truth Is… to the half-spoken grumble at the start of You Ain’t That Young Kid – Dylan goes baroque-pop – his voice, apparently worn ragged by the time the Walkmen went on hiatus, proves remarkably versatile.
A tragicomic monologue in waltz time, The Bride’s Dad is a wonderful example, with Leithauser an estranged father speaking at the wedding breakfast – tipsily straining, lapsing into falsetto. “I think I’ve worn out my welcome”, he admits, before howling “But I swear I caught you smile/from the corner of my eye/when they threw me off the stage”.
There’s a lot to admire about Batmanglij’s production, too – dramatic switches as from the loose, live feel of Rough Going to the restrained In A Black Out remain coherent, and the whole thing is coated in an undeniably vintage veneer while avoiding the pitfalls of retro. It all comes to a head on the stunning 1959, the earlier composition hopefully not marking the end of their collaboration.
Angel Deradoorian, formerly of Dirty Projectors, guests, and while there are touches of the uncanny beauty her voice brought to their high watermark Bitte Orca, the result is closer to Disneyfied warmth than arthouse abstraction, as strings glide around beatific celeste. If Hamilton has spent most of the record in search of something he’s lost, there’s hope now at least, if he’d only look in the right places – “Don’t trust the moonbeams/Moonbeams are off the record/Don’t count your heartbeats/Your heart won’t beat forever”.
The last words are left to Deradoorian: “One day I’ll stop to listen”, she sings, fading as if back into a dream; one destined to be lived many times over.