Rostam had a heavy hand in determining indie trends since his professional debut, but he’s evolved into an important hero in modern music. He’s one of the most prolific producers of the era, bringing a new breath to often exhausted genres. On his latest album, Half-Light, Rostam aims for the same fresh take and finds mixed results while showing surprising hesitation.
After becoming a near-instant indie star with Vampire Weekend, Rostam Batmanglij left the group to pursue a career as a solo musician and producer. Working with the likes of Frank Ocean, Ra Ra Riot and Solange to spark magic in their music, Rostam quickly established himself as a jack of all trades and a master of many. Until last Friday, his only major work since leaving Vampire Weekend was I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, a collaborative effort with Hamilton Leithauser that was one of the best albums of last year. However, his solo debut misses the mark, pairing simplistic production and instrumentation with hit-or-miss vocal performances.
Half-Light’s most impressive component is the elegance of its composition. Most tracks are built with simple piano or guitar chords and basic drum beats, but it’s the accoutrement for each individual song that brings the charm. The saxophone on “Rudy” brings the track’s melody to a new height, and the cajon and harpsichord combo on “Sumer” make the song glisten with beauty. Each track has something special, displaying exactly why Rostam is one of the hottest producers and songwriters in music today.
The biggest question mark of this album is not Rostam as a musician or producer, but as a singer. His voice flutters, sometimes missing its mark, resulting in some inconsistencies. With the right song, Rostam’s shaky voice works extremely well; “EOS” shines with melancholic piano chords and emotional vocals, and other songs such as “Gwan” and “I Will See You Again” stand out because of the perceived sensitivity in Rostam’s voice.
Yet, for every moment Rostam’s voice blends well, there’s another time it fails. The instrumentals of “Bike Dream” make it an extremely appealing song, using grimy rock vibes and a pounding drum beat to set the mood. However, paired with wavering vocals, the entire track sounds off-kilter, as if Rostam is about to burst out laughing at any moment. The same instance occurs with Half-Light’s seventh track, “Don’t Let It Get To You,” a song that starts out strong but falls apart after a couple minutes of repetition.
Thematically, Rostam keeps his messages vague. Painting a picture of his life in New York, Rostam pens stories of lost love, the changing seasons and even the sensation of waking up. Read off of paper, most of his songs read like poetry, focusing on the simple and mundane parts of life to encourage the listener to dream. Although some listeners might accept this and put their own spin on the album, others will be left wondering what half of the album even meant.
The uncertainty of Half-Light is startling, especially considering Rostam’s 10+ year experience in music. It’s difficult to dispute the energy of the project’s instrumentals and production, but whether or not Rostam’s singing and lyrics hit their mark will certainly vary depending on the listener’s taste. Art and indie pop fans should give this album a shot, but fans of the more jovial and uppity Vampire Weekend-esque tunes might find themselves a bit lost on this one.
- Album: Half-Light
- Artist: Rostam
- Genre: Alternative/Indie
- Rating: 5/10