Rostam’s “Half-Light” Review
Augie Collins | Friday, September 29, 2017
In January 2016, Rostam Batmanglij announced his departure from Vampire Weekend while the band was at the seeming peak of their popularity, after having disrupted the indie rock scene with three albums marked by global music influences. The split was an amicable one though, with Batmanglij and Ezra Koenig, the lead vocalist of Vampire Weekend, stating that they were still very much open to working together on future material. Koenig is labeled by the media as the “frontman” of the band, but it is impossible to overlook Batmanglij’s influence as he fashioned the gorgeous melodies and lush beats that condensed musical styles from around the world into three pretty little packages for the band to work with.
Batmanglij has worked behind the scenes as a producer for years now, adding his touch to the work of Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepsen, Ra Ra Riot, Frank Ocean and Solange, among others. While he was the man behind the curtain for those projects though, “Half-Light” gives us the first glimpse of Batmanglij’s power as a solo artist under the moniker Rostam. “Half-Light” is a work that has been nurtured by Rostam for quite some time now, with one of the tracks being written more than 10 years ago and several others being originally released in 2011 as downloads on his Tumblr page. The album does not function like a B-sides relic though, as Rostam is able to create a work that showcases his changing influences over the years while still feeling refreshingly different.
During an interview with Rolling Stone, Rostam outlined his goal for “Half-Light” as “trying to write the most complex music that anyone could possibly sing on top of.” While the beats are indeed complex, sometimes to the point of sounding scattered as on the Bon Iver-esque “Warning Intruders,” the themes that the album deals with are not radically different. For Rostam though, these themes are deeply personal. On one of the records leading singles, “Bike Dream,” Rostam’s hushed voice sings the words of a same-sex love song while perhaps the catchiest beat of the album chugs along in the background. This touches upon a deeper note when considering Rostam’s conscious decision to publicly come out in 2010.
While we have all heard plenty of Rostam’s post-production beats over the years, the aspect of “Half-Light” that really stands out is hearing Rostam as the lead vocalist. During his time with Vampire Weekend he was occasionally posited as the primary voice on tracks such as “Diplomat’s Son” and “Young Lion,” but “Half-Life” is nobody’s but his own. Rostam’s voice is soft and wispy, descending more into a mumble at points, but his intimate tone adds a considerable amount of warmth to each track. In a piece of writing from 2016, when he re-released “Wood,” a track that pays homage to his Iranian heritage, Rostam explained that it was recorded “on a sunny morning with the front door of the studio wide open.” “Hopefully you get some of that feeling when you listen to it,” he said. Like King Midas, it seems that every track Rostam touches is left with a palpably warm glow.
“Half-Light” is a promising first effort from an artist that has already proven himself countless times in the music arena. At this point, Rostam is a name that has become synonymous with quality, and his debut came with high expectations. As much as the album deals with elements of the past by reintroducing old tracks, he does an excellent job of producing songs that are uniquely his, with the influences of past projects not dominating the album. The last thing people wanted was a Vampire Weekend imitation that would fall short, but listening to “Half-Life” shows that was never the plan. Rostam Batmanglij will simply flourish in any setting he’s placed in.
Label: Nonesuch Records
Favorite Track: “Gwan,” “Soak,” “Bike Dream”
If you like: Vampire Weekend, Baio, Ra Ra Riot
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5