Three years after Vampire Weekend’s magnum opus, “Modern Vampires of the City,” the band’s guitarist, keyboardist, and producer Rostam Batmanglij announced he was leaving the group to pursue his own ventures. After producing other people’s songs for years, Rostam finally released a solo album that shows who he really is. While “Half-Light” has its flaws, it succeeds in showing exactly how valuable Rostam is as a producer and instrumentalist, as well as in highlighting his songwriting craft.
As one might expect given Rostam’s background, “Half-Light”’s biggest strength is its production. Rostam plays almost all of the instruments on every song, and as a result, it sounds a lot like his work in Vampire Weekend. The sound is far more subdued than the baroque-indie-pop Vampire Weekend is known for, but nonetheless it’s strikingly similar. Songs like “Don’t Let It Get to You” sound a lot like previous Vampire Weekend songs but with a more electronic bend. Rostam’s more recent production credits are diverse, from Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX to Frank Ocean and Solange, so it wasn’t clear how he’d sound on his solo debut. Apparently the answer was a superior Perfume Genius. Rostam’s voice glides along the beat in a similar manner, but he has the sensibilities to make the instrumentation fascinating. On every song, there’s a glowing, warm backing that fills “Half-Light” with a cheerful tone reminiscent of groups like The Magnetic Fields, although with less depressing lyrics. Songs like “Woods” buzz and compliment the wistful and ethereal quality of Rostam’s voice. The ensuing mesh makes the album texturally vibrant.
One of Vampire Weekend’s most unique traits was how happy they sounded. Rostam continues this effect on “Half-Light” with songs that are joyous, wistful, or curious. His voice is light and airy and creates a general feeling of comfort. Rostam sounds far less assertive than Ezra Koenig does, however; he sounds like Taylor Swift on “1989.” This isn’t a problem at all, actually. Instead, it makes “Half-Light” a romantic exploration of youth, an avenue that Vampire Weekend never ventured down. Rostam uses many of these songs, especially “Don’t Let It Get to You” and its reprise, as motivational pieces to emphasize these emotions. Even the saddest songs express a general longing more than anything else. “Half-Light” is an exploratory album in this sense.
While his voice suits the material, however, Rostam can’t quite vocally perform on the level the album needs. Lacking Koenig’s vocal chops, Rostam often sounds submerged within his bright production. While the instrumentation is of high enough quality to make up for this, it still is a problem on songs like “When” and “Warning Intruders,” on which he sounds nearly incomprehensible. While Rostam’s voice isn’t bad per se, it’s so deemphasized that he always sounds like he’s singing background vocals without a lead.
Despite this shortcoming, Rostam’s production and cheeriness carry the album. Every song is a delightful listen, and it’s in large part because of the way Rostam has masterfully arranged his instruments. The way he vocally glides along the album reminiscing about New York and his love life is hypnotic and heart-warming. “Half-Light” is a delightful electropop album, and even though it was such a departure from much of Rostam’s previous work, somehow it puts all his strengths on display. Throughout “Half-Light,” Rostam showed what he really brought to Vampire Weekend. Even though he doesn’t stand out as a singer, his songwriting craft and the fact that he’s one of the best multi-instrumentalists of the century shine through and help make “Half-Light” a great listen.
—Crimson staff writer Edward M. Litwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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