Solo debuts are difficult things. Following last year’s split with his former bandmates of art pop auteurs Vampire Weekend, the anticipation for Rostam’s own, personal, and individual foray into the album format has only been growing and growing. Audiences got a taste of his solo direction on 2016’s collaboration with Hamilton Leithauser, dipping into indie rock ballads on I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, and proving that Rostam was just as capable without his Vampire Weekend companions. Yet Half-Light sees Rostam perhaps finally find himself – it’s one of those debuts where every preconception of an artist needs to be thrown out almost completely, and one of few solo spinoffs that suggests that maybe you’re better off alone.
Half-Light is Rostam carving out new territory, albeit a region so strongly influenced by his contemporaries in arthouse electronica such as James Blake and Bon Iver. It’s not an entire abolition of his Vampire Weekend characteristics either though – it’s still easy to see how the multi-instrumentalist played his part in his former band, but here, the lowkey moments find themselves far more restrained and the forward moments are even more bombastic. Eccentric art pop ballads find themselves tinged with electronic elements and then and topped with booming worldbeat percussion, and while moments like the folksy and bittersweet I Will See You Again might deviate from this formula, Half-Light tends to keep to a concise musical palette bordering on baroque exotica.
Despite Rostam’s ever evolving sonic directions, the tight instrumental backdrops draw this album together and let the singer-songwriter’s deeply personal and introspective musings take centre stage. Whether it’s the rich and layered noise pop of Bike Dream, or his ambient, autotuned duet with Angel Deradoorian on Hold You, Rostam maintains a constant conceptual dichotomy, one which at times laments on love but at the same time manages to evoke feelings of personal empowerment in his listeners. Half-Light is a bittersweet album, but it’s ultimately sweet – the two versions of centrepiece Don’t Let It Get To You and then its closing reprise are starkly different pieces, but they’re both powerful moments that cement Rostam’s inspiring dictums.
And even with all of it’s more desolate moments, Half-Light is one of the most lush and intricate pop records out there. Wood escalates and blooms into a cacophony of worldbeat and arabesque plucks, while the wonky and bouncy Rudy wanders around a circus of strange sounds, both off beat and off key. Moments like opener Sumer or title track Half-Light might appear melancholic, but Rostam quickly transforms his personal sadness into a vessel for individual empowerment, matching the instrumental mood in his lyricism and powerful vocal performances. But it’s really penultimate track Gwan that sums up this album best – within just five minutes, and atop a stirring landscape of baroque strings and booming drums, Rostam cascades through a tide of human emotion, culminating a beautiful and poetic final moment for the album.
Half-Light is the sort of thing that all solo debuts should aspire to be. Not only does Rostam define his own musical identity in contrast to his Vampire Weekend compatriots, he goes beyond and explores rich musical territory beyond even his former band’s best. Rostam is much more than a Vampire Weekend spinoff – Half-Light shows that he’s no longer their backbone, but his own. Rostam’s bound to be a driving force in contemporary art pop, and the only question left is to ask where he’s going to go from here.
88 / 100