Song of the Day: Hamilton Leithauser & Paul Maroon – My Reward

photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

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 Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “My Reward” by Hamilton Leithauser & Paul Maroon from the 2015 self-released album Dear God.

Hamilton Leithauser & Paul Maroon – My Reward (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 last year, retaining much of the gritty charisma and heartfelt, but never sappy, tone from his former band. Recorded in California 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, found 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. Leithauser was frequently joined by Maroon on tour, and the pair continued their longstanding tradition of sending songs to each other in order to workshop them. Leithauser and Maroon decided to release the best songs from the past year as an LP, which resulted earlier this year in the LP Dear God.

Thematically speaking, the floating, pensive “My Reward” continues in the direction Leithauser began moving in on Black Hours, but Maroon’s shining, textural guitar playing makes the song unmistakably in the vein of their prior group. Moving along at a solid midtempo, Leithauser shouts “leave us peacefully” like a pastor urging his congregation to follow him in rapture before switching to a more conversational request to “come with me”, as Maroon’s guitar shifts up and down with Leithauser’s emotional tide, tempering the wild swings of his partner with tasteful restraint. It’s hard not to hear shades of the Walkmen’s brilliant final three albums in “My Reward”, but rather than point out what the pair sound like without their former bandmates, it underscores the consistency that the New York quintet had in their twilight years and how brightly the creative spark between Leithauser and Maroon is still shining.

Leithauser and Maroon haven’t announced any plans to extensively tour Dear God, but Leithauser (along with Joseph Arthur, Kevin Devine, and Søren Juul) will play City Winery in New York City on October 19 as a benefit for KEXP’s New Home. Get tickets for that show here, keep up with Leithauser and Maroon’s work at Leithauser’s Facebook and website and The Walkmen’s Facebook, and revisit Leithauser’s performance of “Alexandra” (where he was joined by Maroon) for KEXP at the Triple Door last year.

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