Release Date: Jun 3, 2014
Record label: Ribbon Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
There are no splits anymore. People ‘consciously uncouple’ and bands embark on ‘extreme hiatus’. Yet, if we strip away the Orwellian double-speak, the fact remains: there’s no more Chris & Gwynnie, and (rather more upsettingly) there’ll be no more The Walkmen records – at least, until a lucrative headline spot at a big European festival becomes available, at any rate.
One of the advantages a lead singer has after a band breaks up is the voice. So when the Walkmen announced an "extreme hiatus" last year, followed by three members prepping solo albums, it was natural for frontman Hamilton Leithauser to garner more interest than Walter Martin and Peter Matthew Bauer.The good news for Walkmen fans nervous about the band's uncertain future is that Leithauser's debut, Black Hours, will scratch that itch. With fellow Walkman Paul Maroon assisting him on all but two tracks, it's much less a rock'n'roll album than the ones he made for 13 years.
Strings, swooning, good humour. “White collar Americana” from the former Walkmen singer…Three snapshots from the career of The Walkmen provide pertinent background to the first solo collection by their former singer, Hamilton Leithauser. One finds the band in fancy dress to promote their cover of Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats album. Another captures a young couple embracing – having got engaged on stage during a London Walkmen gig in 2006.
In 2004, the Walkmen released one of the best rock songs of the decade, “The Rat,” a relentless, spiteful, venom-spewing anthem cleverly designed to sound like it was tearing itself apart while it was in the process of being played. Afterwards, instead of trying to match or exceed its vitriolic brilliance, the band angled sideways instead, embarking on a series of subdued, smart experiments—trading instruments, recording a faithful recreation of an under-loved Harry Nilsson record, and so on. The band recently went on a “pretty extreme hiatus”, and the first batch of its members’ inevitable solo albums are now starting to appear; for his solo bow, Black Hours, frontman Hamilton Leithauser doesn’t veer far from their established sound, and continues their exploration of old popular music, this time with an emphasis on what was on the pop charts two generations ago.
Albums like Black Hours stump me—do I recommend them or not? It’s not strictly an issue of singles in a post-album musical landscape (When was the golden age of the album? Weren’t they always stripped for parts when they weren’t actively prefabricated?), though that discussion is a relevant tangent. Hamilton Leithauser’s debut solo album since The Walkmen announced an indefinite hiatus last year gets at a more complex problem of how we can listen to music. I’ll begin unambiguously: I enjoy Black Hours, and I join the chorus of critics singling out Rostam Batmanglij for producing—somewhat literally—the finest cut here, which I’ll get to.
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.
Black Hours marks Hamilton Leithauser’s first go as a solo artist after The Walkmen launched “extreme hiatus.” It’s ambitious and covers a lot of feels, championing above all his cobblestone warbling. Although a few cuts hit the joyous pop mark, many others stop just short. It gives a bummer false start with “5 AM,” a number that dismally drags like a Wintertime Boyfriend who doesn’t get that all the snow has thawed.
Hamilton Leithauser wrote a Bond theme. Kinda. '5am', the searching, near-mournful beginning to Black Hours may not have been commissioned by those who hold the keys to the 007 estate, but it's a note-perfect fit for those iconic opening titles. Few wield melancholy and cynicism as well as Leithauser.
Where The Walkmen were often reminiscent of The Walker Brothers, this solo turn from their former singer Hamilton Leithauser sounds more like the solo work of Scott Walker. In fact, it’s when Leithauser’s closest to ripping him off that he’s at his best, on ‘5AM’ or ‘The Silent Orchestra’: moody, lamplit, camper than Christmas in Hawaii, all pianos and plucked violin strings. Only when Leithauser relaxes the template does he start to cock it up; the strings blur from sophisticated lounge towards a lazy session-muso style, and he starts to edge towards the sort of thing U2 might’ve tacked on to ‘No Line On The Horizon’ with an eye on third single potential.Gavin Haynes .
With the Walkmen (currently on "extreme hiatus"), Hamilton Leithauser tied rakish, majestic indie rock to Fifties sounds from doo-wop to Sun Records. That stuff is more present than ever on the singer's solo debut, where he's backed by members of Vampire Weekend, the Shins and Fleet Foxes, plus Walkmen guitarist Paul Maroon. Leithauser's voice has traces of Sam Cooke and Steve Perry of Journey as he stretches out on songs like the lachrymose "Self Pity" or the happy skiff le stomp "Alexandra." If his songwriting can be a bit flabby, the deep palette and intimate musicianship sustain a mood of late-night melodrama stretching toward 5 a.m.
Black Hours, Hamilton Leithauser's solo debut, was recorded shortly after The Walkmen announced an "extreme hiatus.".
Of the three – yes, three – Walkmen solo projects due this summer in the wake of the band’s hiatus, frontman Hamilton Leithauser’s was always going to sound most like the group’s work. After all, his lacerating, turbo-charged howl made The Walkmen; no studio trickery or deviation from their scintillating slow/ fast, soft/hard performance was ever required. Which is lucky, because The Walkmen never meddled with their key super power.
Let’s get this out of the way: The second of this summer’s three solo albums from members of the Walkmen, the debut LP from frontman Hamilton Leithauser does at points sound like a Walkmen record. At other times it sounds as if this had been intended to be a Walkmen album, but became something somewhat altered in order to fit the new reality of the band’s hiatus (a story which appears to be true). This layer of removal and its methods define the record, a sort of glossy, spotlit take on what Leithauser had done so remarkably and consistently well for more than a decade with his band.
Before The Walkmen announced an “extreme hiatus” last year, the New York City-based outfit was six solid albums deep, and had long staked a claim as one of the most consistently great bands of the past decade. The indie-rock mainstay’s last three, 2008’s You & Me, 2010’s Lisbon, and 2012’s Heaven found the band at its peak, with songs like “In The New Year,” “Angela Surf City,” and “Heaven” marking that impressive streak. While The Walkmen parted ways at the top of their game, three of its members wasted no time embarking on their solo careers.
With Black Hours, frontman Hamilton Leithauser became the second member of the Walkmen to surface with new music during the band's "extreme hiatus" (the first being Walter Martin with his charming children's album We're All Young Together). It's often difficult for lead singers to make a break from their previous work since they're such a defining force in a band's sound. Leithauser happens to be one of indie rock's most distinctive vocalists, as well as one of the most versatile; the way he switched from a Dylanesque sneer, a Bono-like wail, or a Sinatra-worthy croon made him an invaluable part of the Walkmen's fiery yet reflective music.
opinion byMATTHEW M. F. MILLER “5AM”, a dark and simmering piano-meets-strings love song might be the closest Hamilton Leithauser will ever come to writing a James Bond theme. It’s a moody, unexpected starting point for his solo career and makes for one doozy of an opening statement on Black Hours, a genre-hopping, solid debut.