Rostam Batmanglij’s debut solo album is everything but a debut solo album. While Half-Light (2017) may be the musician’s first headlining release, it’s far from being his first work or industry launch. For over a decade, Rostam has been producing songs and collaborating with artists like Frank Ocean, Charli XCX, Hamilton Leithauser, and most famously, with his old band Vampire Weekend. Now, it’s time for Rostam to finally have a title to his own name with the colorful “art-music” that is Half-Light.
Beating drums, magical violins, and airy vocals immediately pull the listener in for a whimsical ride on this full-length adventure. Rostam creates a narrative using only sound and percussion, “trying to write the most complex music that anyone could possibly sing on top of,” as reported by a Rolling Stone article. If a mystical gate into a world of weightless melodies had a sound, it would be “Sumer,” a seamless passage into Rostam’s creativity. “Bike Dream,” a popular single, effortlessly maintains tempo in transition. It’s easy to get lost in the dizzying array of various sounds, but if you listen closely, you’re actually in the middle of an unraveling plotline.
Rostam induces mental whiplash from his quick travels amongst genres, locations, and time. One moment, he’s casually dragging the listener along 14th Street; the next, he’s opening the door to his bedroom during a moment of such intimacy it feels like an intrusion. Rostam describes self-doubt and exploration, developing feelings, and unrequited love, characteristic of an album meant to introduce a behind-the-scene artist to the world. The themes may be slightly cliche, but the delivery is definitely unique. Strings clash with synthesizers along with piano, electric guitar, saxophone, and even a tabla, perhaps in slight homage to his Iranian background. What’s next is always a surprise, as songs and lyrics are chopped into segments of different categories just as fragmented as the timeline Half-Light was created on.
“Wood” was technically the first single for Half-Light. Released on September 27, 2011, it explains how fractured the finished production of Half-Light can sound. While starting strong, the album tends to fizzle about halfway through with “Hold You (feat. Angel Deradoorian),” and “When,” which sounds like nothing more than a trite rant with a heavy synth lazily placed over. The songs themselves may sound shuffled, but surprisingly, not much dates them. Rostam successfully made it hard to differentiate the songs made six years ago with ones made recently, which is either testament to his musical genius or a criticism to his lack of growth. Half-Light certainly picks back up after “Rudy,” along with the album’s plotline and direction. Musically and lyrically, the album resolves itself through “EOS,” Rostam’s enlightenment in “Gwan,” and finally, ties itself to a recurring motif with a reprise of “Don’t Let It Get To You.”
Half-Light lacks the clever ingenuity that Rostam’s collaborative work possessed lyrically. Rostam has possibly vindicated his decision to go solo as an artist who deserved more limelight. However, it is unclear whether Rostam can be a one-man-show, or if his musical complexity needs more depth and structure to balance the wild melodies and eccentric instrument combinations. His work as a producer and bandmate has concocted brilliance alongside others, which may best suit him. Even though it still deserves merit as a quality album, Half-Light already feels like a side project compared to I Had A Dream That You Were Mine (2016) and Modern Vampires of the City (2013), not the other way around.
Written by Delaney Gomen.