Call it old-fashioned, call it cliche, but sometimes your memories and loved ones are all that matter. This is the motto of ex-Walkmen member Hamilton Leithauser’s excellent new LP, aptly titled The Loves of Your Life. The former frontman of the acclaimed indie rock band has returned with a storybook-like album, full of lyrical sketches painting a vibrant picture of New York City life through personal memories of the people he sees every day.
The new album, Leithauser’s first solo release in four years, is lovingly filled with the presence of others. Entirely written, recorded and produced in his DIY studio, this record not only features guest spots from a variety of renowned musicians — such as “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” pianist Jon Batiste and Brooklyn saxophonist Stuart Bogie — but also vocals from both of his daughters and their former preschool teacher, as well as his wife, Anna Stumpf.
After the Walkmen went on an indefinite hiatus in 2013, Leithauser released two solo albums, 2014’s Black Hours and 2016’s I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, with former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij. On both albums, Leithauser sticks to his guns, crafting beautiful, starry-eyed tunes with his 1950s-style croon and doo-wop-inspired songwriting. The Loves of Your Life is Leithauser on his own again, this time with a dewy collection of 11 nostalgia-infused Americana songs equivalent to his best work, made even more potent by the world’s current state of isolation.
Every song on the album tells the story of a person in Leithauser’s life, an amalgamation offering an endearing look at the ways in which we hold our moments and people dear. These wildly different perspectives are held together by Leithauser’s signature raspy voice and the thrall of his passionate vocals as he tells each individual story. Characters on the album include a friend hiding from the real world in a movie theater on “Here They Come,” the falling-out of partners on “Wack Jack” and even an unsuccessful singer on “Stars & Rats.” Leithauser’s sense of storytelling evokes that of Bob Dylan, with a tapestry of various experiences providing a rich and refreshing sound over traditional arrangements with jangly keys and resonant drums.
Lyrically, The Loves of Your Life comes together beautifully. Opener “The Garbage Men” finds Leithauser wailing over an array of horns, finding beauty in the most unexpected parts of the city as morning comes. “All the emerald shards on the blacktop/ like stars in the sunshine,” he sings, describing remnants of the past night’s glory in the broken bottles on the street. Elsewhere, such as on the track “Cross-Sound Ferry (Walk-On Ticket),” Leithauser sings of another person longing for his return as he navigates the familiar. Although brief, these vignettes manage to flesh out Leithauser’s world with undeniable charm, reinvigorating the ordinary with a sense of wonder.
The best tracks on the record find Leithauser perfectly inhabiting his subjects. Standout song “Isabella” is about a girl running from the responsibilities of newfound adulthood. “Gonna rock till dawn/ Isabella sings/ She did a year of college around here/ But she never left and she never will,” he sings as the song’s melody soars upward. Leithauser doesn’t pass judgment, instead empathizing with Isabella. “And I wonder where you are/ Till they all go riding home,” he sings before the song’s glorious outro. Leithauser’s knack for blending old-school melodies with captivating characters results in songs like “Isabella,” which radiates warmth and compassion.
On The Loves of Your Life, Leithauser has once again proved that sometimes the old ways are the best. Presenting a beautiful, compelling collection of stories, all happening around the same time, the album makes up a symphony of different perspectives; it fleshes out a New York City full of life and color through its memories, even when the streets sit quiet. The album feels comforting and lived-in, with Leithauser taking great pleasure in creating an extraordinary celebration of the ordinary.