Batmanglij and Leithauser: a nod to the past
Adam Ramos | Tuesday, September 27, 2016
As Duke relentlessly shredded our defense with each drive on Saturday, I couldn’t help but long for the football games of years past. Feet tired and morale exhausted, my mind drifted to happier times, like our 31-0 blow-out against Michigan my freshman year or Kizer’s game winning toss against UVA last season. Yet, when reality finally decided to rear its ugly head, sometime around Duke’s fourth touchdown, I found myself smiling. Be it resignation, or maybe just the escape, after my trip down memory lane I wasn’t so upset anymore — I’m even better now that VanGorder is gone.
Longing for the past is one of life’s simplest diversions, and in Rostam Batmanglij (former multi-instrumentalist of Vampire Weekend) and Hamilton Leithauser’s (former lead singer of The Walkmen) new joint album, “I Had A Dream That You Were Mine,” this diversion has never felt sweeter. After respective careers in two of indie rock’s most treasured groups, both Batmanglij and Leithauser have a lot to look back on.
Fresh off 14 years of ambitiously helping to shape the new millennium’s indie rock landscape, The Walkmen called it quits in 2013, leaving behind six fantastic records. The group’s aggressive but beautifully refined aesthetic — thanks in great part to Leithauser’s tender vocals — remains a fixture in the modern indie rock canon.
Batmanglij boasts an equally impressive repertoire. A leading member of New York’s preeminent indie pop darling Vampire Weekend, Batmanglij used his expertise of musical production to create the experimental and innovative soundscapes behind the group’s uniquely exotic sound. Along the way, Batmanglij also earned a number of production credits on an impressive list of albums, including work from Charli XCX, Santigold, Carly Rae Jepsen and Frank Ocean.
The two met in early 2008, but didn’t actually collaborate until 2012 when Batmanglij reached out with some ideas for Leithauser’s first solo record, “Black Hours.” The relationship grew from there, as the two friends continued to collaborate during the holidays when both returned to their respective homes in Washington, D.C. This camaraderie between Batmanglij and Leithauser is an essential component of “I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.”
“Throw a kiss goodbye to all of that,” Leithauser croons in “In a Black Out,” closing out the fourth track. This moment of fleeting refuge in the face of yearning is at the very center of “I Had A Dream That You Were Mine,” both literally and figuratively. The album is dripping in cathartic nostalgia, and Leithauser is our narrator through it all. Past romances quickly become the source of longing and Leithauser’s vocal range daringly swings from frustrated to harrowed, revealing a wide array of emotions in response. This vocal diversity as well as the theme of longing are both also deeply intertwined into Batmanglij’s production and arrangements.
The album opens with “A 1000 Times,” an energetic track with a bouncy bassline and a traditional rockabilly sheen. Music’s past also becomes a pastiche on “When the Truth is…,” a standout track that artfully recalls ‘50s doo-wop without bringing along any of the cliché typically associated with the genre. Batmanglij’s uncanny ability to capture the essence of a genre serves the album well, providing an eclectic listening experience strung together in a cohesive narrative. The man is even able to land a country song, banjo opening and all, on “Peaceful Morning” — testament to his unmatched production skills.
I have to be honest, hearing Batmanglij’s unique production did trigger some longing in me — probably attributable to my extensive history with Vampire Weekend. Batmanglij and Leithauser’s partnership is certainly a successful one, but alas, I miss Vampy Weeks. That’s just how longing works. Behind the smiles of nostalgia, always lurks the question, “What if?” There may be no more hope for our football season, but a new full-fledged Vampire Weekend record? There could still be a chance.