In early 2016, Rostam Batmanglij announced his departure from the popular indie band Vampire Weekend. Since then, he’s been active in the music scene, working with a number of various other artists. On September 15th, he released his first solo album, Half-Light.
For indie fans, and in particular Vampire Weekend fans, the wait has been met with, if not anxious anticipation, at least acute curiosity.
The danger here, for VW fans, is to want this to be another Vampire Weekend album. Human nature being what it is, there is no good way to completely avoid this. The best way to approach it is to recognize the tenancy up front and make a conscious effort to avoid it as best you can.
So let’s address that elephant right off the bat. Rostam’s solo effort is lacks the fun-filled energy of his former band, but brings a more ethereal, spiritual sound. What becomes clear about the Rostam/VW connection upon listening to Half-Light, is the nature and depth of the musical influence he had on the group. Not so much that the songs sound like Vampire Weekend songs, but rather that those familiar with the band will find plenty of “that sounds just like…” phrases throughout the album.
Baby Boomers, I fear, will have more difficulty accepting Rostam’s first solo work than that of Vampire Weekend. His tendency toward soft vocals and melody lines that are oblivious to the accompanying rhythms make this effort strange to the Boomer’s ear. Becoming accustomed first to Vampire Weekend, with their more upbeat feel and energetic vocals, is a good bridge to understanding and eventually accepting Rostam’s Half-Light.
I would be remiss were I to paint a picture of a completely light and languid effort. On the contrary, the rhythms he employs and to which he sets his melodies are often lively and quick-moving, and originate from a wide variety of sources. The opener – “Sumer” – for example, begins with what sounds all the world like a happy Christmas carol. It is, in fact, a sampling of a choir singing a 13th-century song about summer. “Wood” has a very middle-eastern sounding background, and “Don’t Let it Get to You” samples the South American rhythm from Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child.” It is truly a world smorgasbord of background underpinnings.
Half-Light is an effort that demands your attention. It is complex and creative, and tends to move us to appreciation first, and enjoyment second. Listen with headphones. Creativity often pushes art to new spaces, and new is always a challenge. And there’s a song or two on the album I find a bit too challenging. “Hold You” for example triggers my generationally-inherant that’s-not-real-music response.
Half-Light is a good album for those who know what they’re getting into. Those who are familiar with his previous work, or who are true indie fans will find smooth sailing through the album. For others, it will take some time and effort to acclimatize. As always, I think you’ll find the reward worth the effort.
Here’s Half-Light on Spotify.