Music Reviews
Black Hours

Hamilton Leithauser Black Hours

(Ribbon Music) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

There’s a certain existential mood that sinks in between the hours of 1 and 4 AM. The bars are closing, objects of desire are departing with other people, lights are growing scarcer in the surrounding high-rises, and subway stops are at least 6 blocks away. As a soundtrack to this semi-inebriated state of wee-hour weariness, the indie rock gods gave young urban-dwellers The Walkmen.

But now, after 6 albums and 13 years, the quintet is on “extreme hiatus” and lead singer Hamilton Leithauser is releasing his (almost) solo LP, Black Hours. The name reads like a Walkmen record, Paul Moore is sticking around on guitar, and that slow-burning opening cut?  It’s titled 5 AM.  Stylistically (and chronologically), we’re picking up right where we left off.

Leithauser’s swooping, strained tenor is idiosyncratic and identifiable no matter who’s standing behind him, and the lyricism is familiar too. “Show me the man who won your whole heart,” he beckons on The Smallest Splinter, “Hit me again ‘cause I’ve been so numb.” It’s an almost apologetic follow-up to Heaven’s Love is Luck, where he confessed “after all the bubble gum, there’s no sweetness left on my tongue.”  The observations skew toward the introspective, and the outpourings are equal parts catharsis and single malt scotch.  In terms of Leithauser’s contribution, the album could well have been The Walkman.

Thankfully, it isn’t. If you can’t change the man, change the men around him, and Black Hours’ list of collaborators reads like a “Who’s Who” of the indie music realm.  Collaborators include Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, The Shins’ Richard Swift, and Fleet Foxes’ Morgan Henderson, to name just a few. Batmanglij’s fingerprints are all over the manic stomp-clap rhythm and rollicking chord changes of lead single Alexandra, which clocks in at a vampiric 2:47. On The Silent Orchestra, Leithauser’s vocals bound atop a galloping orchestral backbeat and meandering marimba riff, with a little slide guitar thrown in for good measure. I Retired even delves unexpectedly from a languid blues progression into some doo-wop style backing vocals evocative of ‘50s proto-rock. 

The instrumental diversity is refreshing, and with 2 of the 5 Walkmen reprising their roles, Black Hours never bids a full farewell to the sound they cultured for over a decade.  It achieves a good and meticulously contrived balance that will continue to satisfy the Brooklyn insomniacs, but rarely does it risk doing more.  What would it have sounded like as a Walkmen record?  We’ll never know.  What would it have sounded like if Leithauser had stepped fully out of their shadow?  That’s a more interesting question, and as he develops as a solo artist, perhaps we’ll see.