You can’t accuse Rostam Batmanglij of dragging his feet. Since he announced his split from Vampire Weekend at the start of last year, he’s barely stopped – whether it be working with Carly Rae Jepsen and Haim, releasing an album with ex-The Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser or appearing on long awaited records by Frank Ocean and Solange.
Inbetween all these, he’s even found time to drop his last name and record a debut solo record. Half-Light is an intriguing proposition for any Vampire Weekend fans: when Batmanglij left, it was clear that this wasn’t like Tony McCarroll parting ways with Oasis. Batmanglij formed the band and, together with Ezra Koenig, was the chief songwriter.
Therefore, there’s a odd air of familiarity to much of Half-Light – not least because a fair few of the tracks gathered on it had been casually released by Rostam in demo form over the years. A lot of it does sound a bit like Rostam’s former colleagues, albeit it’s in a less polished, more experimental format than many be used to.
There are certainly less hooks on Half-Light than may be expected, but Batmanglij still knows how to write a pretty melody. Nowhere is this more amply displayed than on the gorgeous Bike Dream, a beautifully hazy little number celebrating the joys of “two boys, one to kiss your neck, the other to bring you breakfast”. it’s a song that will float around your head for days on end.
Don’t Let It Get To You grabs you by the scruff of the neck right away by sampling the magnificent drums from Paul Simon‘s The Obvious Child, while opening track Sumer, despite its misspelt titlw, sounds tailor made for cosy nights in over Christmas, with harpsichord, choral vocals and even the odd sleighbell being thrown in. Rostram’s voice is more of a mumble at times, especially on the more experimental songs, but that vulnerability only makes the songs more endearing.
Sometimes, Batmanglij becomes a bit too keen on all the sonic effects at his disposal – Wood seems overlong and has rather too much crammed into its five and a half minutes, and when and Never Going To Catch Me may sound impressively busy but there’s not much of a song lurking underneath the studio trickery. On the other hand, Rostram’s heavily vocodered voice sounds genuinely affecting when duetting with Dirty Projectors‘ Angel Deradoorian on Hold You, and when he decides to go all minimal on the beautiful title track or the brief I Will See You Again, the results are pretty wonderful.
It remains to be seen how Vampire Weekend will deal with the loss of one of their founders. but Half-Light is a good introduction to the solo sound of Rostam Batmanglij. It’s likely to remain more of a cult interest than establish Rostam as a star in his own right, but even when it becomes a bit unfocused it’s clear that Batmanglij remains a major talent.