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August 2018

Rostam - Half-Light

Refreshing, uncynical positivity.
Rostam - Half-Light
Published: 4:19 pm, September 03, 2017
Refreshing, uncynical positivity.

Label: Nonesuch
Released: 8th September 2017
Rating: ★★★★

A lot of time has passed since ‘Modern Vampires of the City’, with little news from the Vampire Weekend camp aside from the departure of Rostam Batmanglij in January 2016. Rostam, on the other hand, couldn’t have been much busier, contributing songs to such big-hitters as ‘Blond’, ‘A Seat at the Table’ and ‘E•MO•TION’ and recording an album with Hamilton Leithauser which gave us at least one song, ‘A 1000 Times’, that sounds something like an all-timer.

While all this was going on, occasional solo singles trickled out, dating as far back as 2011 in some cases and promising something special should an album ever appear. And ‘Half-Light’ doesn't disappoint. Batmanglij obviously revels in the possibilities of the studio, filling every inch of sonic space with ideas. Swirling, celestial choirs and sleigh bells run through ‘Rumer’, while the buoyant, yearning ‘Bike Dream’ couples chamber-pop cellos with fuzzy bass and woozy vocals. Even the spacious ‘EOS’ fills its open sky with sounds, while the fragile, echoing title track finds room for melodic, McCartney-esque bass and a lovely guest spot from Wet’s Kelly Zutrau.

It’s a warm, giving record, elaborately constructed but simple in its pleasures. ‘Wood’ is a perfect example, a song about lying in bed with his first boyfriend, in a tiny room with a huge window which let the sun stream in every morning. Musically, it might be the best thing here, building slowly over samples of tabla and synthesised sitar, with strings weaving in and out of Rostam’s half-asleep but smiling voice.

The album’s feeling of refreshing, uncynical positivity is underlined by the joyous ska-pop of ‘Rudy’ - constantly on the dizzying edge of falling apart - and by the two versions of ‘Don’t Let It Get To You’ (“You're not gonna get it exactly how you want it/But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try”). The first is a joyful, boisterous clutter - built on a Paul Simon sample, because old habits die hard - while the reprise makes a meditative closer.

At 15 tracks, ‘Half-Light’ could be a touch over-generous - ‘Hold You’ under-uses Rostam regular Angel Deradoorian, while ‘When’ is a slight, aimless digression - but there’s so much here to love that we shouldn’t be ungrateful. After all, he’s a busy guy. Rob Mesure

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