A Complex and Daring Album from Rostam
Half-Light, the new album from artist Rostam, is an imaginative and colorful piece of work. Rostam Batmanglij is the former member of the very influential indie rock band Vampire Weekend, where he produced their first two albums and co-wrote a lot of the material. Finally, after releasing songs from this album as far back as 2011, he’s given us this collection of his solo work.
Half-Light is a combination of electro-indie pop songs, exotic sounds and honest, confessional storytelling. Certain sounds on this album are very reminiscent of ones that Rostam so ingeniously brought to Vampire Weekend, mainly their 2013 work Modern Vampires of the City. He has created every song as an emotional journey, full of fluid musical ideas. Somewhat repetitively, Rostam works around the same 3 major chords and some songs could benefit from a break from that normal pattern.
Beginning with the track “Sumer,” Rostam introduces his ability to create complex, layered songs with emotional intensity. His lyrics have a stream of consciousness style and can be very poetic at times. The vocals on “Sumer” are dripping with reverb and the song builds to a cacophony of percussion and a punchy harpsichord-like instrument.
Right after, Rostam keeps the energy up with “Bike Dream,” a feel-good indie pop jam that pushes the limits of any speakers it is played on. It’s sonically filled to the brim with crunchy, distorted guitar and raucous, massive drums. His light and airy melodies fill the space between the steady strings that hold the chord progression. The slight “talk-singing” approach on the verses gives a whimsical feeling to the song about love and boys.
“Wood” is the most world music influenced track. It features shimmery strings, traditional Indian instrument, the sitar, and exotic percussion sounds. It’s a more than 5-minute song with a big focus on its solely instrumental sections.
A refreshing switch in the atmosphere is the song “Hold You” featuring Angel Deradoorian. Slow electronic drums, almost dragging behind the beat and mellow auto tuned melodies create an escape from the blasts of acoustic textures that make up many of the other songs on the album.
Rostam saved the best for the second to last track on Half-Light. “Gwan” starts with a beautiful string and brass arrangement that his vocal melody complements perfectly. What is most endearing about the song is the way Rostam delivers the confident opening lines, “don’t listen to me I only believe myself.” You can almost imagine a smile on his face as he is singing. The strikingly poetic lyrics show Rostam’s thoughts looking back on his life so far. He sings, “wisdom comes to your heart/down a shaft from afar/pulls you out of bed and into the noise.” After an instrumental section with harmonizing string parts, the outro of the song transports listeners to another place. Over powerful strings and piano chords, he sings from a new perspective, “and when I woke up from that dream/I was sleeping in a basement/leaves were falling on the pavement/I was happy in the city.”
This album puts a lot of focus on the instrumentation and complicated arrangements, which Rostam uniquely crafts. Overall, it’s evident how much work went into this long awaited solo debut from Rostam and it’s exciting hearing the inventive, new sounds he brings to the music world.