Rostam Batmanglij is a man of many talents. If you’re not already aware of his track record as an artist, I’ll give you a rundown. Not only was he a founding member of the insanely successful indie-pop band Vampire Weekend, but has released music under the projects Discovery, collaborated with Hamilton Leithauser and produced and co-wrote music for superstars like HAIM, Carly Rae Jepsen, Declan Mckenna, Frank Ocean, Solange and Charli XCX.
After Rostam announced that he was departing Vampire Weekend in January 2016, many Vampire Weekend fans (including myself) wondered with worry where Vampire Weekend’s sound would be headed sans Rostam – whose Middle Eastern background heavily influenced the sounds that gave Vampire Weekend a unique approach on pop music. Consequence of Sound notes his role in the group, commenting that “the importance of Batmanglij’s role cannot be understated, in the emotional weight of the melodies or the lush, baroque production that interwove disparate elements to craft lovely art-rock.”
While we’re still anxiously awaiting new music from Vampire Weekend (hopefully coming this spring), Rostam released his debut solo album Half-Light, in September 2017 – and received positive responses across the board. The same article from Consequence of Sound praises his perspective that has influenced the industry:
After a decade of shaping the musical world in various supporting roles, Batmanglij’s first proper solo record is a quiet revelation that places his talents front and center, the key to unlocking just how instrumental he’s always been, and will hopefully remain, for years to come.
Pitchfork gave the album a 7.2, complimenting Rostam’s delivery: “Often hushed, quivering and devastatingly intimate.”
Half-Light gave Rostam the platform to showcase himself as a musician in ways that many fans hadn’t heard him before. Sure, it was always evident to Vampire Weekend fans that his experiences from his childhood and cultural background influenced the band’s creative direction, but Rostam’s solo project allowed him to explore new ideas that could “stand on their own” (as he said in his Twitter announcement). His influence as a producer has been evident in contemporary pop for years, much like the way that Jack Antonoff has been influencing pop music with his own edge. Antonoff was able to showcase his own style for years – performing with Steel Train and now as the frontman for Bleachers (after the band fun. took an indefinite hiatus). Half-Light was Rostam’s “I Wanna Get Better”moment.
Lincoln Hall is my favorite venue in Chicago, so seeing this album performed in my favorite space for live music was really special. The show was a late one – Rostam graced the stage at 11pm (I was trying very hard to refrain from yawning). The stage was draped with a large drop down projector – which would later be used as visuals that complimented each song. A string section of four musicians as well as a drummer accompanied Rostam during the performance – a live string section!!! It was seriously one of the coolest live music experiences I’ve ever gotten to be apart of. They began the opening performance of “Don’t Let It Get To You (Reprise)” as Rostam appeared from behind the stage.
Seemingly confident and comfortable taking on the role as a lead singer, there was something very shy about his demeanor, but it in no way inhibited his performance. He quickly continued with performances of “Sumer” and “Never Going to Catch Me,” making a note in between songs that this show was the first one to sell out on the tour.
“Wood” was the next performance, which is probably one of my favorites off of the album and is a track that really allows Rostam’s influences to come to life. The song was originally released in 2011 on Tumblr – but the song was rerecorded for the album – and is recorded with a 12-string guitar.
In an interview with NPR, Rostam explains the inspiration behind this song, noting that it “implements melodies from ancient Persian music, specifically the Rast Panjgah, which is one of the modes in Persian music that doesn’t sound sad to western ears. In the West we are constantly hit with music of Middle Eastern descent signifying terror, intrigue or sorrow. I wanted to make a song which did not follow that norm.”
These factors that inspired “Wood” were evident in Rostam’s live performance of the track: it was done with simple, yet concise vocals and allowed the instrumentals to be the focal point of the performance: it was just easy and enjoyable to listen to. I think that this show was different than any other sort of performance I have been to because it encapsulated all elements of the album of equal importance. The lyrics aren’t anything without the instruments. The instruments aren’t anything without lyrics. It all is meant to work together to create and inspire a common theme. I think that this was evident to me in this show over others because of Rostam’s experience working in many realms of music.
Another treat from the show was Rostam’s performance of the song “Young Lion,” which was a track he wrote for Vampire Weekend’s 2013 album Modern Vampires Of The City. It was cool to hear him sing it because you could so clearly hear the way that it could have fit in with the rest of his album and further emphasized his influence on their music.
My favorite moments from the show included the performance of “Bike Dream,” a song that plays with the idea of loving two versions of the same person. I think this is my favorite song off the album and you can see the recent music video for it below.
My next favorite was the beautiful performance of the song “Gwan,” which I once said via Twitter that it was the most sonically beautiful song released in 2017. It felt so beautiful and alive with the live string section and it is definitely a competitor for my favorite song on the album.
Rostam’s tour continues through April and then he’ll be playing some festivals overseas. I’m curious to see if he plays Lollapalooza – they tend to do a really great job at getting people who are on the rise (and of course, he’s been around in the music scene for years). Plus it would be cool if he does end up playing because Vampire Weekend is basically confirmed as a headliner at this point.
Thanks for reading and Happy Valentine’s Day!