By Ché Salgado
When Rostam Batmanglij, the mind behind Vampire Weekend announced last January his departure from the band, there was uncertainty, of course, that was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was how much of this uncertainty was focused on Vampire Weekend, as opposed to both artists equally. It could be that Vampire Weekend is just a larger entity, worthy of the sort of buzz that sounds from the tumblrs and twitters of the teenagers of the world whenever anything happens to their faves. Or it could be a hunch that in Rostam Batmanglij, there’s security, an unspoken understanding that whatever this Columbia music graduate has for us, it’ll be good. That hunch was correct.
If there’s anything you could trust Rostam to do, it’s hook up with great voices. Whether it’s Ezra Koenig from his old band or any of the artists he’s done production work for: Frank Ocean, Solange Knowles, Santigold, and Charli XCX. There’s rarely a lackluster voice singing over Rostam’s instrumentation. I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, his first post-Vampire Weekend album carries on that tradition with the voice of Hamilton Leithauser who isn’t just on par with those on Rostam’s list of collaborators. The ex-Walkmen singer might have the best voice that’s ever been put over Rostam’s instrumentation.
The album kicks off with its best song “A 1000 Times”, a structurally simple albeit life-affirming song that showcases Rostam’s talents as a composer and multi-instrumentalist. Despite essentially being a simple verse-prechorus-chorus structure twice through, the track shines anyway under the light of shimmering organs, crisp acoustic guitars, punchy drums, explosive electric guitars, and atmospheric slide guitars all augmented by Leithauser taking his voice to it’s limit as he hits that rewarding high note in the chorus. It’s the album’s most radio ready cut and possibly its best but that doesn’t mean the record runs out of steam after the track ends. Instead, Rostam and Leithauser deliver a plethora of instruments and styles. From the spanish guitars of “Black Out” to the country-tinged, banjo-blessed “Peaceful Morning” to the Dylan-esque harmonicas of “You Ain’t that Young Kid”to the western-style slide guitars of “The Morning Stars” to the chamber pop of closing song, “1959”, (another standout track which features backing vocals from Angel Deradoorian formerly of Dirty Projectors) this record touches on all sorts of genres and you can’t help but be in awe of Rostam’s talent. The contrast from the hard-hitting opener to gentle closer, is astonishing and you almost want to pause the track to consider everything you’ve heard in these forty minutes, and if Vampire Weekend might really have lost their secret weapon.
It’s true not every song is as much of an obvious hit as “A 1000 Times” or “1959” but there’s not a bad song on here. At worst some of these tracks just feel forgettable like “Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)” or “The Bride’s Dad” but nothing is ever offensive to the ear, nothing ever really makes you want to skip to the next track instead of riding it out. On the whole, Rostam and Hamilton Leithauser have delivered to us a stellar record full of remarkable moments that will no doubt be remembered by many critics when best-of list season comes.