The Loves Of Your Life
With forays into folk, country, garage rock, and swinging pop, the Walkmen have always managed to sound timeless. So, too, does the band’s singer, Hamilton Leithauser, on his latest solo outing, The Loves of Your Life. Here, he mainly takes cues from Stax artists like Otis Redding: the drums are booming, and his vocals are powerful and filled with emotion.
For three years, Leithauser chipped away at The Loves of Your Life. Recording as he wrote in his cramped home studio in New York, he captured the songs’ immediacy, rough edges and all. He found great excitement in the challenge of doing everything himself, including picking up new instruments like the mandolin.
But he did have a little help. A handful of the songs, including “The Garbage Men” and “The Old King,” sprouted from pieces of music Walkmen bandmate Paul Maroon sent him in as far back as 2012. (Maroon also re-recorded his piano part that wound up on “The Old King.”) And sick of hearing his own voice, Leithauser considered hiring someone to sing all his vocals, but he drew the line on contributors there.
You can hear the fruits of his frustration as he experiments with his voice. At the beginning of desperado theme “Here They Come,” he sings uncharacteristically low, like he’s trying to avoid detection, before the song breaks off into a getaway dash. The cluttered, clattering, offbeat “Til Your Ship Comes In” finds Leithauser muttering in a whisper, singing in his normal voice, and taking his voice to strained heights over a storm of cymbal crashes, harmonies, bells, knotty percussion, and handclaps.
Leithauser also found excitement in writing the lyrics. He wrote each song about real people he’d crossed paths with, friends and strangers alike. They were all people with personal struggles and fire in their belly, people he found himself rooting for. But he played fast and loose with the facts, sprinkling humorous details into the characters and their stories.
Where fact ends and fiction begins is a card Leithauser has kept close to his chest. But he has revealed the inspiration behind some of the songs, whose characters carry the melancholy and bravado of an underdog. Waltzy number “The Stars of Tomorrow” was inspired by a stranger who sat down next to Leithauser and his daughters on a park bench. The woman poured out her life story to him, which involved a fight with her husband and fleeing Poland. She then gave them a jar of pickled beets, kissed him and his daughters on the cheek, and drove off in her truck.
Despite the downtrodden melancholy, The Loves of Your Life has an uplifting undercurrent. Maybe it’s the fire in the belly, the bravado, or because Hamilton Leithauser really wants to believe in the characters that gives the songs a sense of hope. Whatever it is, one thing is clear: The Loves of Your Life is a collection of successful character sketches and a successful creative exercise for Hamilton Leithauser.
review by Leslie Chu
The Loves Of Your Life Hamilton Leithauser is out today via Glassnote Records