Release Date: Sep 15, 2017
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
After putting in work on Frank Ocean's Blonde ("Seigfried," "Ivy"), Solange Knowles' A Seat at the Table ("F.U.B.U.") and various collaborative projects, ex-Vampire Weekend MVP Rostam Batmanglij has finally gotten around to releasing a proper solo LP of his own. And, admirably, he's refused to choose between his former group's Ivy League-aesthete indie rock and modern vernacular electro-pop, opting instead to cherry-pick the best of both worlds. The resulting 15 tracks are, fittingly, all over the place.
In just three years’ time, when we begin to look back and reflect on the music of the ‘10s, one of the most significant moments may very well be in January 2016, when Rostam Batmanglij announced his split from Vampire Weekend at their peak, both in terms of popularity and creativity. Though Ezra Koenig was the “frontman,” 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. In his role as a producer, Batmanglij has frequently brought out the best in other musicians, whether it was pop stars like Carly Rae Jepsen or Charli XCX, rock bands like HAIM, close friends in Ra Ra Riot, or reclusive visionaries like Frank Ocean.
Long before he formally departed Vampire Weekend early last year, Rostam Batmanglij was working his own material. Even as he and his bandmates soared with the success of three stellar albums, the last being 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, Rostam quietly had plans beyond his longtime collaborators. Going back more than a decade, he has scored or written music for film and television, including several projects directed by his brother, Zal Batmanglij. On his Tumblr page, he shared the sitar and string-driven “Wood” and the machine-gun electronica of “Don’t Let It Get to You” — both of which were departures from the band’s sound.
While still in college, Rostam Batmanglij was experimenting with the pop and R&B possibilities of Auto-Tune—this was before T-Pain blew up, before 808s and Heartbreak, and way before Bon Iver’s dalliances with the vocal smearing effect. As the producer and musical leader behind Vampire Weekend, he spearheaded a nobrow sound that cheerfully destroyed barriers between genres and borders. Working behind the scenes with chart toppers like Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen over the last few years, he added some idiosyncratic warmth to their songs, further collapsing bygone concepts of mainstream and underground.
It's hard to believe Rostam Batmanglij is only now releasing his debut solo album. A vital cog in Vampire Weekend until recently, he also collaborated with Hamilton Leithauser on last year's excellent I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, and scored The OA, a stylish and baffling Netflix sci-fi show co-written and directed by his brother. But believe it or not, Half-Light is the first time he's ventured out on his own.
At least, that’s the conclusion you’d have to draw if you believe frontman Ezra Koenig, who last week claimed that their fourth record is “80% done”. It’s been interesting to observe how the four members of the New York outfit have gone about busying themselves since wrapping touring for 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City. Koenig himself has hosted a Beats 1 radio show, Time Crisis, since 2015, and is involved in the imminent Netflix anime series Neo Yokio.
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.
When Rostam Batmanglij shared an iPhone note in early 2016 saying that he’d left Vampire Weekend, it had been coming. For years he’d been active outside the New York band he co-founded – sharing the odd track, and producing for the likes of Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen. “My identity as a songwriter and producer,” he wrote, “needs to stand on its own.” So here it is: his debut solo album – a collection of songs that sees Rostam in complete control.
Departing seminal pop group Vampire Weekend may have been Rostam Batmanglij’s boldest and wisest career move. With his breathtaking debut solo album, Half-Light, the producer and singer delves into his new creative freedom to create a record that is at once challenging and familiar. Half-Light hears Batmanglij draw from a number of diverse sources—from traditional Persian sounds to the lush string arrangements characteristic of Vampire Weekend’s baroque pop.