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. Given he produced all three Vampire Weekend albums and was chief in forging their distinctive style, some of this feels instantly familiar, like the huge, romantic single ‘Bike Dream’ with its tearaway rhythm and massive pop hook. But there’s also plenty of experimentation: take the reggae-inflected ‘Rudy’ and the gorgeous strings of closer ‘Gwan’. Occasionally, it goes too far – witness the distorted and mangled vocals on ‘Hold You’ and ‘When’, the latter sounding like an indecipherable message from an alien race.
These songs are rewarding – mostly because they give a much deeper insight into Rostam’s character. It’s not an explicitly political album, he simply writes from his perspective as an American songwriter who just happens to be gay and the son of Iranian immigrant parents. It’s honest, personal and wholly relatable. Rostam may have defined Vampire Weekend’s sound, but with ‘Half-Light’ he begins to define himself.