By Satish Reginald, Contributing Writer
Although Half-Light is Rostam Batmanglij’s debut solo-album, the 33-year old songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, has had meaningful impact on high profile records for nearly a decade. With three of his fellow Columbia alums, Batmanglij formed Vampire Weekend and served as the genre-bending band’s primary producer and one of its two foundational songwriters alongside Ezra Koenig. Meanwhile, Batmanglij has collaborated with big name artists including Kid Cudi, Frank Ocean, Diplo, Solange, Charli XCX, and Carly Rae Jepsen.
In 2016 Batmanglij announced his departure from Vampire Weekend to embark on a solo career in which he is simply going by his first name Rostam. Half-Light comes several years in the making as it features multiple tracks first released as singles in 2011. Both the landscape of music and Rostam’s artistry have evolved over the time frame and this reflects as the album spans a vast array of sounds including complex orchestral arrangements like in “Wood”, the R&B “Hold You”, and many of Vampire Weekend’s signature sounds such as ethnic percussion. While some listeners might be delighted by the diverse offering, others may feel a lack of cohesion.
Unfortunately, one cannot listen to the album without noticing Rostam’s voice is simply not good by a conventional understanding of what constitutes pop vocals. Many of the tracks utilize effects to mask his vocal deficiencies including extreme auto-tune and pitch shifting. While there is something chillingly vulnerable about Rostam’s voice which his fans are sure to enjoy, a listener with no context may question why he is singing.
Notably, due to all of the processing on Rostam’s vocals, it is often difficult to decipher the lyrics. But if one listens hard enough, or more likely just looks up the lyrics, what’s found is a mixed bag. Rhetorically, the lyrics are rather linear and non-esoteric which can work both in and against the album’s favor. On one hand, the anecdotal parts feel breathtakingly candid with lines on the title-track such as, “Baby, are you getting cold? My room is just down the hall. And if we stay the night I promise not to call”. On the other hand, when Rostam attempts to divulge his ideologies as he does on “Don’t Let It Get to You”, the straightforwardness comes across as awkwardly unsophisticated with cliches such as “You’re not gonna get it exactly how you want it, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try”.
Whether or not it’s fair, Half-Light will inevitably be judged against Vampire Weekend’s discography and Rostam has done little to prevent that as he brings much of his former band’s sounds to his debut solo-album. While the similarities in instrumentation confirm that Rostam was the band’s sonic architect, perhaps Half-Light’s lack of general cohesion reveals that Ezra Koenig was Vampire Weekend’s creative director. This is likely the area in which Rostam’s next studio effort could most improve.
Half-Light is an impressive album. Rostam wrote and produced every track, played or programmed nearly every instrument, and even mixed most of the album. However, while it is impressive, that does not necessarily mean it sounds good. At its core, the LP is a pop album and in that regard it is rather hit-or-miss. For those following Rostam’s career, Half-Light will likely be a monumental event. For a brand new listener, perhaps the project will just come across as an okay album.