Rostam At Amoeba, Thursday September 14th 2017
Rostam Batmanglij had brought a string quartet with him at Amoeba, the ex-Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist did an in-store on Thursday night to celebrate the release of his new solo album ‘Half-Light’, and I was quite happy to get in the front despite my late arrival… Isn’t Vampire Weekend super famous? I guess people never react the same way when it’s only a member of a band who shows up, and it’s not as if Ezra Koening had been there… However, anyone who would listen to these new songs, would understand right away how important Rostam was to the band’s sound. ‘Wood’, the first song he performed with strings, had all the delicateness and wide-eyed beauty of his ex-band’s music, while incorporating an exotic Eastern music vibe coming from layers he was adding with pre-recorded tracks,… was that a sitar?
As for the next one, I had to listen to the song again once home, because I thought I was imagining the whole thing! The curious and fast drumming during the poignant ‘Don’t Let It Get To You’ sounded so much like the Brazilian drums of Paul Simon’s The Obvious Child’! And it turned out that Rostam really sampled loop of Brazilian batucada drums from the Paul Simon’s song. It doesn’t matter how many times you have said and heard that Vampire Weekend’s first two albums sounded like ‘Graceland’, Rostam doesn’t even bother to hide the most obvious of their numerous inspirations with this revamped ‘Obvious Child’ drums with flutes.
Each song had its own unfolding beauty and a super catchy melody, decorated by Rostam’s emotive vocals, sounding very loud at the top of everything. If he performed ‘Bike Dream’ acoustically with a guitar and an harmonica, so basically very low-key compared to the booming orchestration of the recorded version, the poignancy was there, intact. Nothing sounded predictable but astonishingly, everything sounded familiar, probably because these songs were like some Vampire Weekend’s new finds. From inventive chord progressions to layered puzzling tracks and plenty of strings, the short set was a delight.
And ‘Half-Light’, the title track performed on piano, guitar and strings, was so pretty that it was the type of song to capture all your attention, the type of moment to trigger a chill on your skin,.. well you just know when you are in presence of pure beauty. ‘That’s the first time anyone hears this song live’ he said to us, which made this moment even more special. I wanted to hear more songs, but he just had another one after this, ‘Gwan’, that he called ‘epic’, may be because of all these amazing strings punctuating each one of his lines.
Rostam’s performance at Amoeba looked like a humble sampling of his new album, which seems to be a very rich and complex one. He said he wrote this personal material between Vampire Weekend gigs, and got the participation of Wet’s Kelly Zutrau and Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian on two songs. At the first listening, and as I speak I have barely listened to all the songs, Rostam’s amazing and surprising collages gracefully tiptoe between dreamy states and reality, between western and eastern music, between dawn and dusk, as the title refers to. ‘I think what draws me to dawn and dusk as a songwriter is that those are the moments where we feel change deepest in a day. Those are the moments where I seem to experience the onset of a realization and the strongest feelings of optimism about the future. With this record, I’m trying to share some of those realizations and some of that optimism,’ He explained in an interview.
With its church-choral moments, its numerous harmonies, string arrangements, and complex layers, the album sounds like a kaleidoscopic wide-screen horizon, effortlessly bringing many influences into one unique vision
Don’t Let It Get To You