PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had a Dream That You Were Mine

Photo: Josh Goleman

On their first collaborative album, Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij linger in unrequited love.


Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam

I Had a Dream That You Were Mine

Label: Glassnote
US Release Date: 2016-09-23
UK Release Date: 2016-09-23
Amazon
iTunes

We listen to music for many reasons, but one of the most mysterious is the pursuit of feelings we don’t like to experience -- heartbreak, loneliness, regret. We listen to songs that remind us of how it feels to hurt, even when pain is the last thing we need.

This sounds strange out of context, but what we’re doing is not quite creating a feeling, but looking at it from the outside, seeing its shape and the force of its impact without bearing its weight. Sure, this is a form emotional voyeurism, but there’s something else going on. We seek understanding and communion, and by experiencing simulated emotion, we’re better able to brace for the real thing when it arrives; we learn that we’re not alone.

Hamilton Leithauser made a career singing songs that sound like fading memories with his former band, the Walkmen. Rostam Batmanglij, who uses his first name as his stage name, pushed Vampire Weekend, the band for which he served as a songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist for almost ten years, in a similar direction. Together with lead singer Ezra Koenig, Rostam moved the band from the wry, winking sensibility of its self-titled debut album to the existential ruminating that colored its most recent, 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City.

So when Rostam and Leithauser teamed up for two songs on Leithauser’s first solo album, 2014’s Black Hours, the collaboration made an intuitive sense. Neither has much interest in the postures of disaffected cool that came to be synonymous with a certain kind of indie rock band in the first decade of the millennium. They’re serious about matters of the heart and soul, and each performs -- or in Rostam’s case, arranges -- without irony. They mean what they say.

Their first collaborative album, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, fixates upon lost or unrequited love. In aggregate, you get the sense Leithauser’s narrators are the kinds of people who are most comfortable longing for an idealized version of love that exists only in its absence. They don’t seem like they can handle the work a serious relationship requires. This is not an admirable trait, and it proves that Leithauser is a great vocalist, because his characters only seem like emotionally-stunted romantics when his lyrics are detached from his interpretations. When sung, his characters attain a tragic dignity. They are not fighting for themselves, but for everyone who’s ever wanted something he can’t have. They are spokesmen, martyrs.

On “1000 Times", the album’s opening track, he takes a flimsy premise -- dreaming of unreturned love -- and gives it stakes. This happens when Leithauser’s tenor reaches toward its upper register, tightening and revealing its coarse texture. Obsessive longing is an intensely private experience, but through Leithauser, it is exploded and filtered through unexamined self-pity. It is ugly to look at, but comforting to know it exists outside yourself. Leithauser sings most of the album from this place, and he creates a magnetic pull toward his perspective. His former bandmates in the Walkmen seemed to recognize this, and built their arrangements around his voice. Their movements tended to converge on his, concentrating a song’s emotional content on a fixed point.

Rostam works from a different space. In his compositions, you hear a little curiosity, a little chaos. His music arrives in discrete pieces, more interested in contrast than overtones. It is sculpted, not found. Sometimes, this is too much. A singer with as much elemental force as Leithauser demands a larger share of the spotlight. He is the sort of artist who pulls a song into his orbit and cuts away the frills. In Rostam, there is a desire to test sounds against each other, to find just the right frequency to change a song’s center of gravity.

There are moments on I Had a Dream when their perspectives lock together and strike you in the gut. One of these moments comes during “When the Truth Is…” as the chorus arrives and Leithauser clashes against the squall of a saxophone and processed drums. In this collision, there is the sound of self-doubt, the rush of embarrassment and regret that comes with the return of a humiliating memory. There is a pang of recognition, a moment of analysis, and relief that it is not your burden to bear. Not yet, at least.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.