Courtesy of Nonesuch Records

October 11, 2017

TEST SPIN | Rostam — Half-Light

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Don’t act like you weren’t even just a little bit sad when Rostam Batmanglij announced over twitter in 2016 that he was leaving Vampire Weekend.  The New York based indie band who had brought hits like “A-Punk” and “Holiday,” as well as released one of the most compelling coming of age albums of the 21st century, Modern Vampires of the City, had lost their production mastermind, and to us fans who knew how critical his talents were on tracks like “Diane Young,” perhaps they had lost their essence, too. I was devastated, to say the least.

Lucky for us though, not only has the frontman Ezra Koenig been gracing us with consistent social media updates for a new Vampire Weekend LP — working title Mitsubishi Macchiato — but Rostam Batmanglij is also confirmed to be collaborating with Koenig on parts of the new album. What’s more, Rostam has found enough free time to release an effort of his own: Half-Light, his first solo record.

Batmanglij has been dipping into many different pots over the past few years, lending his skills to the likes of anyone from Diplo to Declan McKenna, and considering so much of what he’s gotten his hands on recently has turned to gold (think Frank Ocean’s “Ivy”), it’s no wonder there’s been considerable anticipation for this album. While Batmanglij certainly demonstrates on this record that he can hold his own as a solo artist, Half-Light ultimately comes off as just a bit too disjointed to be as satisfying as I had hoped.

I definitely enjoyed listening to Half-Light — it is a sonically glittering record that corroborates Rostam’s reputation as an eclectic producer. However, this is a compliment that can easily become a complaint: Half-Light is a pretty album that all too often feels spread too thin, and sometimes a little bit too diverse.

Throughout the record, Batmanglij draws on a myriad of influences while remaining true to his 21st century pop sensibilities, which would be impressive had he the vocal gumption to tie it all together.  However, Half-Light is scattered with loose melodies and lyrics that do not do enough to give the record a clear direction. For example, the rambling verse and unambiguously catchy chorus of single “Bike Dream” each have a standalone appeal, but as a whole are too disparate to not make the song feel forced. Moreover, the whimsical chamberlain strings that appear on Half-Light and became Batmangelij’s hallmark during his time with Vampire Weekend simply do not stay on the ground without the lyrical savvy of singer Ezra Koenig. As a result, the chamber-pop orchestral arrangements present in songs like “Thatch Snow” and “Gwan” certainly float gracefully, but the songs themselves feel inconclusive.

It’s not that I’m particularly against heterogeneity, it’s just that Rostam’s stylistic decisions seem to be made all too frivolously to provide anything substantial to the listener in the greater context of this fifteen track record. As a result, Half-Light ultimately listens more like a compilation of all of the art-pop avenues Batmanglij has explored over the years than it does a cohesive album.  This is in part due to Batmanglij’s choice to include on this album songs that were previously released as standalone singles, including “EOS” and “Wood.” While the eastern-influenced latter song is a particularly enjoyable listen, it’s difficult to love Half-Light when the freshest track on the album was first heard in 2011.

Rostam shuffles from folk, to R&B, to world music, and back to R&B on Half-Light without any true direction, ruminating and reminiscing pleasantly but not with any resolve. It’s not to say this album is bad by any stretch — there’s just not too much to hold on to. It’s easy to get behind the Ratatat-esq guitars on the eponymous track or the lightsaber-y synths on “Warning Intruders,” and at face value Rostam has created some very pleasing sounds. But refrains like “all my life, I only wanted to hold you” do little to add depth to otherwise hazy love songs.

By the end of this record, the musings you’ve journeyed through have probably left you either calmed by their airiness or frustrated by their lack of palpability. If you’re feeling the latter, let’s hope Rostam’s final plea on the record, “don’t let it get to you,” doesn’t go in vain.

Jesse Martens is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].