Song of the Day: Hamilton Leithauser – Alexandra

photo by Matthew B. Thompson

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on The Morning Show with John Richards, is “Alexandra” by Hamilton Leithauser from the 2014 album Black Hours on Ribbon Records/Domino.

Hamilton Leithauser – Alexandra (MP3)

After spending 14 years as the lead singer of the revered DC-via-NYC rock band The Walkmen, Hamilton Leithauser struck out on his own earlier this year, retaining much of the gritty charisma and heartfelt, but never sappy, tone from his former band. Recorded in California last August with an all-star cast of collaborators including Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman, Richard Swift, and his Walkmen bandmate Paul Maroon, Leithauser’s solo debut Black Hours finds the recent father continuing with the familial and adulthood-related themes of the later Walkmen albums, but returning to the dark barroom settings of their early work, albeit with more orchestral and ’50s crooner influence.

As he pines for the titular woman on the album’s first single, Leithauser turns “Alexandra” into one of the most rollicking, breathless performances of his career. Clocking in at just under three minutes, Leithauser and his partners in crime Rostam Batmanglij and Hugh McIntosh run through a crashing, rickety ode to the challenge of trying to move on from old lovers. Leithauser turned in some of his career-best vocal performances on the Walkmen’s 2012 swan song Heaven, and he adds another one here, where his voice, equal parts exhilarated and exasperated, delivers his lyrics in a way that breathes life into a often-tired theme. As his career has progressed, Leithauser has gone from angry young man at the bar (“We’ve Been Had”) to the guy leaving the bar early to go home to his family (“We Can’t Be Beat”). On “Alexandra”, he takes a new, wildly rewarding role as the savvy bartender, world-weary enough to know firsthand what his patrons are talking about, but spry enough to offer some advice (and a shot) to his regulars.

Hamilton Leithauser is about to hit the road again for another slew of dates behind Black Hours, but he doesn’t have any announced plans to return to the West Coast at the moment. Keep an eye on his website and Facebook for any updates, and below, watch the glitzy, Broadway-style video for “Alexandra”.

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