Unless you’re a self-proclaimed super fan of Vampire Weekend (like many of us are), you’d be forgiven for not attributing Rostam Batmanglij a place in the abstract, dearly held niche of those who are considered to be ‘household names’. A radically talented, multifaceted artist, but one who has up until this point remained in the shadows of the limelight, Rostam has allowed himself to take up centre stage in his debut album. Half-Light is fresh and full of life, but has a warm, nostalgic feel, due in part to our ears being subconsciously accustomed to his unique sound within the productions of Vampire Weekend and Discovery, and through his influential collaborations with Frank Ocean, Charlie XCX and Declan McKenna.
The opening track, titled ‘Summer’, ironically plays out like a Christmas carol, with choir singers doing rounds over bells, and a harpsichord outro that sounds like it’s been taken straight out of Modern Vampires Of The City. This runs effortlessly into ‘Bike Dream’, a thoughtful retrospective track, where Rostam’s smile can be heard as he endearingly croons about “two boys, one to kiss your neck and one to bring you breakfast”; the two boys being two different versions of himself, depending on fluctuating states of self-confidence. ‘Bike Dream’ displays Rostam’s talent for lyricism; he recreates an atmospheric setting as he recalls the memory, describing the “orange swimming through the trees” in Central Park, while also inviting us to see him in a more vulnerable light, as he confesses his insecurities, desires and day dreams.
The title track, ‘Half-Light’, is a soft, sleepy song about the confusion felt in a half-finished relationship. The composition of the song itself echoes the conflicting feelings of hesitation and anticipation he describes; it begins timidly, with just a piano and Rostam’s pondering vocals, then rapidly builds with drums and 70’s style guitar to a crescendo, falling back just as quickly to only a few piano chords, and then fading away to an apparent close, until we get an unexpected response in the form of Kelly Zutrau’s final chorus.
Rostam’s versatility as a composer is showcased in ‘Wood’, which flawlessly combines an exotic sounding sitar with elegant string arrangements and the syncopated, tribal beat of hand drums. This tribal style beat is also echoed in the intro of ‘Don’t Let It Get To You’, in an energetic rush of carnival-style percussion.
Other highlights from the record include ‘Rudy’, a reggae influenced ode to The Specials with roots in both Jamaica and Iran, and ‘EOS’ which is captivatingly spiritual and almost hypnotising in its tranquillity. Half-Light is a breath of fresh air, a beautiful cluster of creativity bursting at the seams. Rostam has finally taken the reins of artistic control, and he runs free with it.