Saturday, 31 May 2014

Recommended music: 'Black Hours' by Hamilton Leithauser

'Black Hours' is the first solo album by Leithauser, who's also the lead singer of The 'currently on hiatus' Walkmen. At this point I should declare that I've never (not knowingly at least) listened to a track by The Walkmen, so there'll be no comparisons between their output and his solo stuff in this review.

This is a rare record (for many reasons), and a singularly brilliant one. What's rare about it? For a start, you can get a really good sense of the atmosphere of the album just by looking at the cover. If you saw it in isolation in the rack in the record store you might think that it was something from the late 50s or early 60s, and some of the songs here easily match that description. Take a listen to 'I Retired' which best fits that bill, and try to remember the last time you heard a brand new do-wop record.

Musically you sense that it's one of those albums that sounds exactly like its creator imagined it would. The production is crisp and clear, but not so sharp as to destroy the atmosphere. There are some great touches throughout, including some great congas in the background and some soaring string flourishes. '11 O'clock Friday Night' is one of my favourites on the record - again it doesn't sound much like anything else that's around at the moment and is all the better for that.

By the way, while we're talking about production and atmosphere, this a record that cries out to be listened to on vinyl. The pops and crackles add to the whole 'aged' feel of the thing, not to mention the inner sleeves with full lyrics and, if you get the deluxe version, a second disc with four bonus tracks that all live up to the standard of the main album. And what of the lyrics themselves? Songs about love and heartbreak, about giving up but not giving in, about making it on your own but having people to turn to when you need to, all delivered in Leithauser's beautifully strong voice, which croons and cajoles the melodies through your ears and into your heart. If you've heard a more brutally honest line than "Do you ever wonder why I song these love songs, when I have no love at all" this year I'll be surprised.

To summarise, buy the vinyl, dim the lights, pour yourself a glass of bourbon and lose yourself in these Black Hours. You'll thank me and Mr Leithauser later.

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