By Victoria Roxanne Hill
Label: Nonesuch Records
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Every ending is a new beginning. January 27, 2018 marked the two year anniversary of Rostam Batmanglij’s unfortunate announcement of his departure from Vampire Weekend… I’m still crying. Since then, he has been working tirelessly to create a name for himself as a solo artist. His work includes, but is not limited to, collaborations with Wet, RAC and Hamilton Leithauser. When he broke up the greatest male band of this generation (in my never to be humble opinion), I wrote a very long letter in a fit of rage that to this day remains unsent. Despite my angst toward him for a break-up that I have taken far too personally, I tried to keep an open ear to his first solo album, Half-Light.
Each song on the album contributes to the story being told. It is a love story, a story of forgiveness and a story of rebirth. The majority of his debut album is light and upbeat. It is opened with the rejuvenating sounds of “Sumer” which suggests (and also literally states) the feeling of rebirth. According to an interview with NPR, the chorus at the beginning came from a sample of the 13th-century piece from England “Sumer Is Icumen In” which translates to “Summer is a-Coming in.” Then there are more somber sounds like the title track “Half-Light” and “EOS”.
There is about a half and half split between an electronic synthesized and a more traditional sound in Rostam’s music. Periodically you will catch a hint of Rast Panjgah and other string influences integrated as well. One who is familiar with his previous work with Discovery could pick out similarities in “Don’t Let It Get To You” with the dream-like electronic sequence. As for his vocals, there is something unique. The best way I can think of describing it is it’s like you can hear a smile in his voice. Then it becomes this chain reaction where you hear him smile and it makes you want to smile too.
The lyrics composed show the progression and regression stages of any typical relationship, making it easy to relate with. When I first heard “Half-Light” it felt somewhat like an ode to leaving Vampire Weekend. I felt personally attacked when I heard the lyrics “I get it, there’s no future but can’t see it through the cracks.” Everyone has that one person they go back to even though deep down you know there will be no progression. Something about the songs, particularly this one, evokes a sense of familiarity.
Six years ago Rostam released his single “Don’t Let it Get to You” on Soundcloud. The song was later added to Half-Light along with a reprise which contrasted the loud upbeat tune with a soothing piano intro. “Rudy” is another heavily influenced song that stands out to older audiences. The melody and lyrics are reminiscent of The Specialists’ “A Message to You Rudy” which was released in 1979. Incorporating this familiar tune has helped attract a wider range of listeners. After pointing out the similarities to a family member of mine, I got them hooked on this album. Without this song, they probably would not have even given his music the time of day.
I’ll admit I was reluctant to open up to new music from Rostam. At the end of the day, his move away from Vampire Weekend was essential to his personal growth as an artist. This album was not a rush into starting a career or making a quick buck. There was obviously a substantial amount of time and effort poured into each individual song on the album. Two songs waited for over six years to find their place into an album. One other (“Thatch Snow”) was in the works since 2006. Those songs found their place and slowly but surely, Rostam is doing so as well.