“Do you wonder why I sing these love songs,” Hamilton Leithauser sings against the wind, “when I have no love at all?” The track, “5 AM,” opens his debut solo album, Black Hours. He coils his doubts around the cool air wave-lengths of haunting strings and sounds like he’s trying to outlast his fatigue.
Black Hours is Leithauser’s first material since the cordial freeze of his last band, The Walkmen. The album is the sound equivalent of it’s namesake–the space in time between one night’s end and the inevitable first crack of morning light. The album is a full inward look at one’s self and situation.
The music on Black Hours is not a far cry from The Walkmen’s blueprint. This isn’t Leithauser’s forray into trap music. He keeps it real with a personal downcast American rock album. It’s more ethereal, looser and loaded with scatter-shot instrumentation. Nine people, including Paul Maroon from The Walkmen, play an array of instruments on it.
Leithauser’s vocals have warmed and buttered since the dry-rasp he spit on the first few Walkmen albums. A rat-scratching still lurks in each bellow, but he’s more capable and willing to allow a single note to rise and fall in one breath.
“The Silent Orchestra” jumps to attention with the staccato hits of a xylophone, an instrument that adds a hint of seasoning throughout the album. The track dips and ascends until it’s overcome by a surge of strings. For “St. Mary’s County,” Leithauser sits at the piano for the casual lament as strings sneak around his pronunciations.
“Self Pity” digs a hole in the center of the record with a long intro of lo-fi smoke. Two minutes in, the track finds its legs with knock-down drums, slack hi-hats and Leithauser making amends with the voices in his head.
“I Retired” wakes the album up with a rumpled drum beat and a rousing shoobey-doo-wop. “Bless Your Heart” washes away with a pattering of bongos and more xylophone while “I Don’t Need Anyone” sounds most like The Walkmen, with heat-rising guitar and a calming tambourine.
For the most part, Black Hours hits all the right marks. Leithauser’s still looking up at The Walkmen as his greatest musical achievement, but as he gets more comfortable at the command, that could soon change.