ALBUM REVIEW: Rostam, Changephobia
Like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs before them, Vampire Weekend was one of the few bands responsible for bringing rock back to the mainstream table in an interesting way. “A-Punk” was such a watershed moment for indie rock, those blazing guitar riffs and Ezra’s wild, rapid storytelling gave the general public the sense that something special was starting. Their first three albums still stand as some of the best records of their time. Something a lot of people usually overlook is just how instrumental to their success that Rostam Batmanglij was. Those odd little pan flutes from the bridge of “A-Punk”? Rostam. All those weird distorted elements from “Diane Young”? All Rostam, in fact, Modern Vampires of The City as a whole was arguably their best record because of all the sonic experiments Rostam decided to engage in.
His solo stuff has generally underwhelmed me in the past, without the vehicle of Ezra’s excellent songwriting, all the flashy production seemed kind of pointless. He served people like HAIM and Hamilton Leithauser well, but Rostam the performer was a different story. I was pleasantly surprised to hear how his newest record, Changephobia, turned out. He makes it a point to use very specific instrumentation here including saxophones, understated acoustic guitars and baroque pianos, all underpinned by bright Fender soloing. This matched with his quirky knack for production leads to a lot of standout moments on the LP. The opener “These Kids We Knew” fades acoustic guitars in and out like a fractured memory, and Rostam actually has some nice vocal lines. “From The Back of the Cab” goes way more loud and proud in comparison. The entire track is built around these cold programmed hi-hats and Time Crisis-style reloading sounds. As the track plods along, Rostam gets bolder with his lead vocals and the background adds all these cool details like riffing guitars and pianos, it’s an auditory feast.
“Kinney” has this really busy breakbeat and sax combo that works well enough, but Rostam’s cluttered songwriting gets in the way a little bit. I feel like his wordiness and lack of catchiness on certain tracks is his biggest weakness. “Changephobia” is probably the biggest offender: his vocals are so faint but there’s all these saxes and drums stacked on top of one another, it just sounds like a colorful mess in my opinion. Moments like the stripped down and conga backed “Bio18” show that less is more for him, it’s a sweet romantic tale with an effective chorus, “I want you and I want to/And I’m happy when you’re near me”. “To Communicate” goes simple but louder, starting right up with peppy Vampire Weekend drums, eventually adding some chugging guitars for good measure. Overall, this project distinguishes Rostam as a solo artist with a clear direction. While I don’t think he entirely succeeds for 38 minutes, he definitely presents enough interesting ideas and good songs to have me looking out for his stuff in the future.