Rostam Batmanglij left Vampire Weekend last year, but he didn’t head for the beach to relax: The multi-instrumentalist, producer, and songwriter had already released some solo material, formed a duo with the singer of Ra Ra Riot called Discovery, collaborated with The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser on an excellent album, and helped write and/or produce songs for big hitmakers like Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX, and Frank Ocean. With Half-Light, Rostam—he’s not really using his last name professionally anymore—steps away from the anonymous comfort of band and collab-life for a solo album that crackles with fussy, fantastic energy. It’s close enough to the sound of his best-known band—with whom he still plans to work on occasion—to be familiar, but far enough to get a little weird, which is something he clearly enjoys doing.
Squint a little bit and a few of the songs on Half-Light could belong to Vampire Weekend, though it quickly becomes clear that Rostam’s production is unrestrained by the typical band structure here; he’s free to let the sounds run wherever they’d like to go. The album is front-loaded—almost regrettably so—with big songs like “Sumer,” which actually starts small but ends up with a huge chorus and a harpsichord jam. “Bike Dream” is a little more traditionally poppy, with a fantastic little singalong daydream: “Two boys / One to kiss your neck and one to bring you breakfast.” It’s the most deliberately hooky song on the record, and it’s a perfect late-summer single.
As he gets deeper into Half-Light, Rostam gets a little more indulgent and less direct: “Thatch Snow” starts out like a beautiful car commercial—that’s not a slight, Subaru should pay him for the string hook at some point—but it doesn’t really go anywhere beyond its multi-tracked vocals. “Wood” is similarly fantastical, built around insistent tabla sounds and Rostam’s disaffected vocals. (He spends about half the record really singing, and half sort of moaning affectionately. Both modes work pretty well.)
The album ducks even farther from traditional indie-rock with “Hold You,” which sounds for all the world like Frank Ocean. Angel Deradoorian sings the hook, and Rostam gets minimally electronic, vocoder-ed out, and slinky as hell. It makes almost no sense in the context of the album, which makes it—and the album—that much more engaging. And Half-Light is never less than interesting: It’s tremendously layered and fussy, but also sweet and light. It’s a hell of a start for a guy who’s been doing it forever.