Half Light: Album Review

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You should know the name Rostam Batmanglij. Previously the musical brain of Vampire Weekend until leaving in 2014, most recently he’s been making a name for himself producing songs for some of the best pop artists working right now, including Frank Ocean (“Ivy”), Carly Rae Jepson (“Warm Blood”), Solange (“F.U.B.U”), and Charli XCX (“Need Ur Luv”).

Now, Rostam has finally released an album all his own, Half-Light, the production of which has been off-and-on for six years. Listening to Half-Light makes me worry for the new Vampire Weekend album that is reportedly coming soon. I remember listening to one of the early singles (“Gwan,” the best song on the album) and asking my friend, “What do you think the new Vampire Weekend will sound like?” He responded, “I think this is the new Vampire Weekend album.”

When taken out of the context of Vampire Weekend, Rostam’s influence on the band becomes much more pronounced. Within Half-Light can be found the same bright, restless strings, dusty, sharp drums and a piano that sound like it’s being played underwater. However, one of Rostam’s talents that we didn’t see much of in Vampire Weekend and one of the most pleasant surprises on the album, is his singing voice, which always sounds like it’s being delivered with a smile on his face. This warmth permeates Half-Light, an album that I would live in if I could.

The illustrative lyrics also do work in this regard, like in the blissful single, “Bike Dream,” a song destined to be a popular favorite. On Genius, Rostam annotated the lyric, “orange swimming through the trees,” saying that he liked it because it can “refer to the leaves changing, and to fall – and in doing so set the song in a specific time of year.” This attention to specificity is largely what makes Half-Light succeed in creating its own world, a world sewn together by lyrical themes that run through the album, such as seeing the ocean, light, autumn, and being known by another.

Distinctive, instrumental flourishes such as the sampled Shaker hymn and sleigh-bells on the opener, “Sumer,” and the Christmas-y strings on “Thatch Snow” crafts a pop album that pulls together familiar, nostalgic sounds to make a collection of songs that simultaneously feel like both everything and nothing you’ve heard before. Just about every song does something different from the last, making each one, at the very least, easily memorable. The jittery, electronic, R&B song “Hold You (feat. Angel Deradoorian)” is like a sister-song to Frank Ocean’s “Close To You,” and the excellent use of sitar in “Wood” will bring The Beatles to mind (though it should be mentioned that Rostam has said that the title of the song is a nod Bollywood).

Rostam came out as gay in 2010, and while he claims that not being “out” during his time with Vampire Weekend never stifled his ability to write lyrics, the breezy joy in his voice when he sings on “Bike Dream,” “Two boys, one to kiss your neck/And one to bring you breakfast,” is palpable. But to pigeonhole the perspective of Half-Light would be an active move of contrarianism against the theme of the album, identity, a fact that Rostam revealed in a recent interview with The New Yorker. Many songs are about how we see ourselves via other people, like how light appears when it refracts through the surface of water. Half-Light resembles that refraction in that you’ll be enamored with its presence for as long as it lasts. Listen if you’d like!

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