Hamilton Leithauser

Black Hours

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AllMusic Review by

With Black Hours, frontman Hamilton Leithauser became the second member of the Walkmen to surface with new music during the band's "extreme hiatus" (the first being Walter Martin with his charming children's album We're All Young Together). It's often difficult for lead singers to make a break from their previous work since they're such a defining force in a band's sound. Leithauser happens to be one of indie rock's most distinctive vocalists, as well as one of the most versatile; the way he switched from a Dylanesque sneer, a Bono-like wail, or a Sinatra-worthy croon made him an invaluable part of the Walkmen's fiery yet reflective music. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that Black Hours feels more like an extension of his work with that band than a drastic departure from it. Leithauser puts the album's biggest surprise first: "5 A.M.," a fabulous ballad inspired by Sinatra classics such as In the Wee Small Hours, dives into throaty, string-laden drama without ever seeming too theatrical. It's a bold start, and a somewhat misleading one; the rest of Black Hours expands on the Walkmen's legacy in more familiar ways. "St. Mary's County," a collaboration with bandmate Paul Maroon (who also provided many of the album's string and horn arrangements), is the kind of dreamy, drifting ballad that populated latter-day albums like You & Me. Conversely, "Alexandra" and "I Don't Need Anyone" are brash, swaggering, and secretly vulnerable standouts that also remain well within the Walkmen's wheelhouse. The older-and-wiser feel of the band's gorgeous maybe-swan song Heaven continues on "The Smallest Splinter," which finds Leithauser just as dramatic and demanding running toward love as running away from it, and on "I Retired," where lyrics like "No one knows what I was fighting for/I don't even know myself anymore" can't help but feel like a response to the fury of songs such as "The Rat." Black Hours' most intriguing moments make the most use of the orchestral touches that set the album apart from Leithauser's previous work, whether it's the marimba on "The Silent Orchestra" or the beautiful "Self-Pity," which combines one of his finest vocal performances yet with graceful strings and moody, Stones-y rock. It would be unfair to call Black Hours a missed opportunity; even if its glimpses at fresher musical territory are tantalizing, Leithauser carries on the Walkmen's tradition in ways that fans will welcome.

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