Hamilton Leithauser, Rostam toy with their musical identities on new collab project

Chris Duncan

Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij are two veterans of the New York indie scene. With their bands The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend, respectively, they explored rock music and its past by incorporating a variety of influences into their songs. But considering their clout, not much was expected of their first release as a duo entitled I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.

Leithauser’s solo debut in 2014 contained heavy influences from Rostam in the form of both composition efforts and subtle production touches that screamed his name. But this year, the two formed a power group, embarking on new musical horizons with I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.

The complexity behind Leithauser and Rostam’s music is its connection to the past — more specifically, the way it incorporates the past while still managing to sound fresh. The influences dictate each song’s distinct direction, and, more often than not, those directions lead to something charming and beautiful.

In terms of the album’s musical direction, Rostam dominates the track listing, harkening back to some of the baroque pop he used in Vampire Weekend and newer, subtler influences, such as Leonard Cohen on “Sick as a Dog.” The crooning harmonica and classic 60s piano style on “You Ain’t That Young Kid” scream Dylan, and the album’s catchy single “A 1000 Times” capitalizes on pop organs and a classic jangly guitar sound at the end to slowly raise the song’s climax as a defining moment.

It’s unsurprising Rostam manages to create such a unique sound, considering his success with Vampire Weekend. By mashing together starkly different genres such as afropop and classical to create impressive pop music, he established himself within a niche. With this project, he’s breaking out. Every time Rostam approaches a new project, he brings a new kind of charm into the mix, making it difficult to find qualms with his process.

Beyond each song’s composition, Leithauser’s voice bends to what each composition commands. During “In a Black Out,” a beautiful fingerpicked guitar and slow bass line stand out but stick to playing second fiddle to Leithauser’s lyrics. Weaving a poetic tale of nostalgia for his hometown and former love, Leithauser sings, “Midnight where we used to dance, Underneath the ugly halogen lamps, Oh, it all went away so fast, In a black out.”

The storytelling is what stands out in his lyrics. Independent of the music, the majority of songs could stand on their own as prose, showing a true dedication to the balance of a pop song.

Certain moments struggle to make a major impact but for minor reasons. The vocals of “The Morning Stars” are too echoed and are placed too far back in the mix to understand the magnitude of what he’s saying. “When The Truth Is…” feels a bit redundant, considering how its heavy influences of Dylan and Eno are used at some other point in the album in a much more impressive manner.

I Had A Dream That You Were Mine is an impressive and successful venture for these two newly independent singer-songwriters, and as a team, they each bring obvious talent to the table. Whether this collaboration is a long-standing effort or not isn’t evident, but this LP proves that Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam is a duo few should pass up.