UPDATE: Watch the video for “Alexandra,” and check out the LP tracklist, here.
Earlier this month, when the Walkmen ended their extreme hiatus with a concert in New Orleans, frontman Hamilton Leithauser announced, “This is the end. This is the last thing that we’ll ever do.” That may or may not be true, but it does look like he’s about to get busy with a solo career. Hamiltonleithauser.com now displays an animated marquee featuring an album title (Black Hours) and release date (5/6, a week before Walkmen bandmate Walter Martin’s LP release). Some googling suggests it’ll be out on Ribbon/Domino. Last summer we learned that Leithauser will be backed on Black Hours by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, Shins multi-instrumentalist Richard Swift, Fleet Foxes/Cave Singers member Morgan Henderson, Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman, and Walkmen guitarist and pianist Paul Maroon, among others. Batmanglij also co-wrote some of the songs.
Here’s what Stereogum’s Ryan Leas wrote about the new music in our Walkmen cover story last fall:
Occasionally, that speaking drawl gets chopped up into much more rapid, excitable bits, as when Leithauser’s discussing his new record. Being the singer and one of the primary songwriters for the Walkmen, Leithauser is at an automatic advantage and disadvantage. His solo debut will easily be the most visible of any of them, but it will also be the most difficult for him to carve out an identity wholly separate from his old gig. It’s still his voice, after all. To that end, he’s made careful decisions as to avoid any chance of if it coming off as Walkman-esque. Two songs were cut because of this, one a guitar-driven rocker and another a “slow waltz with big horns,” that Bauer loved but immediately warned him that he’d soon have to field comparisons to the Walkmen if he included it on his album.
Maroon describes Leithauser’s album as “Half orchestral, half rock ’n’ roll,” a split that’s readily evident in the two songs Leithauser plays me through those studio headphones. The first — which will probably be called “Alexandra,” for the repeated evocation of the name in the chorus — is an uptempo, almost exultantly Wall Of Sound-ish track full of horn blasts and jaunty ’60s pop piano. It travels in brighter territory than most Walkmen material save maybe select tracks off Heaven, and is likely the first single. The other is fully-committed orchestral pop, a slower, atmospheric number based entirely on piano, stand-up bass, and noir-ish string swells. In the lead-up to Heaven, Leithauser had spoken of how Frank Sinatra’s vocal phrasing had lately been an influence for him. Here, that inspiration has fully bloomed. He even used half a year’s salary to purchase the same vintage Neumann U47 mic Sinatra used.
While much of the Walkmen’s music made use of horns and strings, Leithauser’s new music is completely reliant on it, to the point that he has no idea yet how he will be able to take it on the road. What’s more, his band is diffuse — spread out between New York, Portland, and Seattle — and otherwise committed — spread out between the Shins, Fleet Foxes, and Vampire Weekend, who will likely just be finishing their tour as Leithauser’s about ready to get started on his own. Still, none of this seems to be weighing on him at this moment. Each possible roadblock is described through a full grin. He’s excited by the challenge.
And here are some of Richard Swift’s Vines from the recording at Vox Studios in L.A. last summer…