Albums Of The Week

Album of the week: When Vampire Weekend and The Walkmen combine, wondrous pop narratives are the result

Rostam Batmanglij (far left), the former multi-instrumentalist from Vampire Weekend and Hamilton Leithauser, the frontman of now-defunct indie rock band The Walkmen, have come together for album I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.
Rostam Batmanglij (far left), the former multi-instrumentalist from Vampire Weekend and Hamilton Leithauser, the frontman of now-defunct indie rock band The Walkmen, have come together for album I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.PHOTO: GLASSNOTE RECORDS

Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam invoke a piece of cinema with their wondrous pop narratives

The album title, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, is the first line from the opening track A 1,000 Times and alludes to the fairy dust sprinkled all over the tale of unrequited love.

One of those zingers you do not expect, it is reason enough to restore faith in the transformative quality of music.

The song is among 10 wondrous pop narratives whipped up by two kids from Washington, DC - Hamilton Leithauser, the frontman of now-defunct feted indie rockers The Walkmen, and Rostam Batmanglij, the former keyboardist of collegiate-indie darlings Vampire Weekend.

It is an unlikely pairing that plays to each person: Leithauser has a raspy yet limber voice, on the edge of a precipice. It wants to hug you and also executes a bungee jump. Batmanglij is his equal: a wunderkind whose aural soundscapes are magicked from the coffers of 20th- century music.

It is silk and steel, modern and retro, without sounding wink-wink ironic or schmaltzy-touristy. Both artists pour their heart and soul into each song.

  • INDIE ROCK/DOO-WOP

  • I HAD A DREAM THAT YOU WERE MINE

    Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam

    Glassnote Records

    4/5 stars

In these times, when artists such as Beyonce and Frank Ocean are wont to create visual albums, with a stable of expensive videos to accompany the music releases, Leithauser and Batmanglij effortlessly invoke a piece of cinema with just sounds.

Immerse in the Tex-Mex air of wanderlust of In A Black Out: a gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar shading Leithauser's dustbowl confessional about "living in a nameless town" where someone he loves is coming to bid him a final farewell.

This is followed by When The Truth Is…, a bar-room confessional about "drowning out the night with the last of the wine", the doo-wop rhythms jousting with wham-bam, staccato percussion.

You are swept along with Leithauser's voice, which can sound sad, brusque, defiant, vulnerable, depending on his mood swings. He howls and whoops in You Ain't That Young Kid, a tint of wistfulness as he rues a youthful infatuation.

Your heart crumbles when you hear The Bride's Dad, with the singer adopting the point of view of a deadbeat parent giving an awkward speech at his daughter's wedding.

"My teeth are chipped, my beard is grey/Your mother left, she's not impressed," he croaks, accompanied by Batmanglij's caressing ivory plinks.

Just when you think it's going to be a bleary-eyed ode to the sad bag of a father, the song switches to a rousing hoedown as he recalls a glimmer of a smile on his daughter's face when he is dragged away from the stage.

Is this illusion? Who cares, when the music lifts you up and everything seems fine.

Such is the case with the breathtaking closer, 1959. Leithauser and sweet-voiced Angel Deradoorian, formerly of Dirty Projectors, swoon and croon in a symphonic duet. The moon is hung. The stars are dusted across a black canvas of imagination.

"One day I'll stop to listen," Deradoorian exhorts all to trust their inner ear. Sometimes, things are better left unsaid.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Cinematic sounds'. Print Edition | Subscribe