Hamilton Leithauser’s voice is a yowl from another era, one where sea shanties and back-of-the-bar sing-alongs were the popular music of the day. As frontman for the beloved New York indie rockers the Walkmen, his grizzled gravitas set him apart from his peers, his hoarse yelp betraying hard-won knowledge of what happened once the seemingly endless party stopped.
The Walkmen dissolved in 2013 after seven albums, going on indefinite hiatus. In 2014, Leithauser released the full-length “Black Hours,” which allowed him to collaborate with other titans of 2000s indie. One of those guests was multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, then of Vampire Weekend, who produced two tracks that were notable for their detailed, thoughtful production and willingness to borrow from chamber pop and doo-wop. Their first collaborative album as Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, “I Had a Dream That You Were Mine,” expands on those two songs’ ideas and takes them even further, using different idioms of popular music in a way that proves the timelessness of Leithauser’s voice.
“Dream,” as its title might indicate, is a record marked by restlessness. Even when he’s singing in a whisper, as he does on the verses of the galloping “Sick As a Dog,” there’s an urgency about Leithauser’s voice that gives his words an extra punch. He can lay down imagistic lyrics, as he does on the gauzy, regret-filled “In a Black Out,” and he can command the center of the stage as a monologuist, as he does on the swaying “The Bride’s Dad,” with equal fervor. With a light touch, Batmanglij as a producer borrows from across American popular music, letting small details like the burbling bassline on “A 1000 Times” or the “shoo-wop shoo-wop”s (echoing the Flamingos’ definitive performance of “I Only Have Eyes for You”) on “When the Truth Is . . . ” enhance Leithauser’s rasp.
“Dream” closes with “1959,” a gently bothered track that features guest vocals from Dirty Projectors keyboard-vocalist Angel Deradoorian. “One day I’ll stop to listen,” she trills in a manner that’s hopeful and soothing, even if the empathy it promises could very well be empty. Deradoorian’s faded-out refrain closes the record, an appropriate ending for an album inspired by the stretching of boundaries.
ESSENTIAL: “Sick As a Dog”Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.