I’ve been on an accidental movie chanteuse binge lately. Within the span of a little more than a month, I’ve posted about Karen O’s Oscar-nominated (and unfortunately Oscar-denied) “The Moon Song,” dusted off my dad’s copy of Doris Day’s Listen to Day while working from home, listened twice in a row to Leslie Uggams’ What’s an Uggams? (damn good record, right there), and last but certainly not least, fallen head over heels for a familiar recording I’d never given much thought to — Audrey Hepburn’s version of “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
What do backup dancers do? Backup dancers make the frontperson look good. They spice things up, they inject energy, they may display incredible talents, but it’s all done in the service of the star. In the video above, Hamilton Leithauser is the star — he takes the stage with a group of gals behind him, someone offstage tosses him the microphone, and off he goes. Lookin’ good. The video goes even further than that, because the first half has Leithauser hanging out in the dressing room before the dancers have even had a chance to slip on their sparkly outfits. Lookin’ meta good!
Could some of this frontman fourth wall breaking have to do with Leithauser’s situation vis-a-vis The Walkmen? With striking out on his own? Is some existential fat being chewed here? Maybe. But there’s another level I just love, and that level is Rostam Batmanglij.
When you have a trusted point of reference, unfamiliar music seems a lot less daunting. I’m a big fan of Vampire Weekend, partly because they wear their African influences on their collective sleeve, and have made an unfamiliar musical tradition seem approachable. Frontman Ezra Koenig took this idea one step further by collaborating with the Very Best on their full-length debut, Warm Heart of Africa. Koenig’s appearance on the title track gave me a place to start listening, and I was handsomely rewarded for taking the chance. The album is brilliant, pairing Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya’s hypnotic voice with clever European electro-pop production to build a wonderfully diverse collection of songs, some perfect for a crowded dance club, others for an afternoon on the beach. Click below to try out Warm Heart of Africa’s title track, which sounds great, no matter where you enjoy it.