After receiving his gold watch from Vampire Weekend, Rostam Batmanglij has been making the rounds in his own way. Last year, with a little help from his friend Hamilton Leithauser, ‘I Had a Dream That You Were Mine’ was released, an album with some bright ideas, decently polished songwriting, but was lacking quite a lot of colour. ‘Half-Light’ is Rostam’s first solo album, so let’s take a look at it in all its bookish, dorky, arty glory!
Rostam is a talented dude, with his instrumental, compositional and producing talents constantly being used on Vampire Weekend albums. One attribute we only heard here-and-there was his singing, and the first thing you’re bound to notice on ‘Half-Light’ is the guy’s unique approach to performing. Basically, it sounds like he’s laughing while singing, or at least trying to hold back laughter, and not doing the best of jobs. It’s some of the most obnoxious laughing-singing you’ll hear. Songs like ‘Never Going to Catch Me’ and even sombre ballads like ‘Half-Light’ let us see this quite a lot, kind of tossing an unnecessary negative into otherwise decent songs, but it might not always drive you nuts. Rostam’s performance on ‘Bike Dream’, is for some probably the mightiest example of his vocal style, but it’s at least a pretty damn good Ray Davies impersonation, even if it is the worst bike-related song title since ‘Obvious Bicycle’ by Vampire Weekend.
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But surely even if you’re not digging the silly vocals, there are lots of other reasons to get behind this album? If you’re into the kind of arty, geek-pop that Vampire Weekend would make, then you’re in luck. He’s very much so hanging onto his Vampire Weekend roots all over the project, with the world influences and occasional baroque, particularly on the opener ‘Sumer’, which has a ‘baroque for the sake of baroque’ outro section, and on the violin-driven ‘Thatch Snow’ and ‘Wood’, which is quite a pretty piece of music. A few sonic ideas are executed well, even if ‘Half-Light’ isn’t the most organic of albums, sound-wise. Everything’s a bit too mushed up and condensed, kind of taking away the sense of life that most of the songs seem to want.
There are a handful of songs on this record that show off Rostam’s knack for melody and chord progressions, particularly the melodiously impressive ‘Don’t Let It Get to You’, which if it wasn’t for the over-produced nature of the album, would almost border on Neutral Milk Hotel levels of weird distortion. Over the course of the album, there are a few notable riffs and main melodies, like on the aforementioned ‘Wood’ and ‘Thatch Snow’, and the intros of ‘Sumer’ and ‘EOS’ are quite sweetly Christmassy, if that’s a compliment.
After the short but sweet ‘I Will See You Again’, the album takes a bit of a dive, a dive into a big pool of lemon juice, stinging the hell out of your open cuts. ‘When’ is a mess, though it’s probably supposed to sound like a mess, when it turns into its OTT sound collage section. Then we get ‘Rudy’, the worst song on the album, which is unfortunate because there are some bitching horns on the track, but the lyrics and vocals are sneeringly unpleasant.
Despite its outlandish weirdness, ‘Half-Light’ is an album that can be enjoyed with the right amount of patience. It won’t be your guilty pleasure, but it’s far from innocent.
‘Half-Light is out now via Nonesuch Records