Late last year, Rostam, formerly Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, unveiled “Unfold You” along with a statement that contained a small piece of advice: “Change is good. Go with it.” That advice, given to him by a stranger on a park bench, neatly sums up his approach to his sophomore release, preoccupied as it is with the ambiguities and uncertainties of a world in tumult.
Given his embrace of change, it seems appropriate that Rostam points to jazz as an inspiration in creating the sound of Changephobia (★★★★☆), leaning heavily on tenor sax and the hypnotic complexity of ’50s bebop, rather than the classical and baroque arrangements that marked his solo debut.
Despite that, his gentle delivery, with echoing vocals and warm, spare percussion, remains true to the sound he began to cultivate in earnest with Half-Light.
Changephobia is frontloaded with two incredibly solid singles. “These Kids We Knew” paints an optimistic picture of youth-led rebellion and renewal, while “From the Back of a Cab” is a gut-wrenchingly heartwarming image of a brief yet intimate encounter.
With its big pop hooks and beachy guitars, the standout single “4Runner” plays to Rostam’s strength for capturing the bittersweetness of the almosts and could-have-beens, wrapping them in a warm, hazy feeling of not-quite-nostalgia.
Already a gifted and prolific producer, Rostam blends jazz with neo-psych and art-pop influences to great effect. The album’s second act takes some unexpected, almost improvisational turns, echoing the feelings of uncertainty and ephemerality that pervade it.
In “Kinney” he evokes a sense of forward-motion with saxophones and frantic drumming creating a hypnotic and all-consuming electronic buzz by the end. “Bio18” delivers a heartfelt confession over hand-drums, snaps, and soft piano lines that meanders towards an uncertain end.
The penultimate track, “Next Thing,” is the most unpredictable, metamorphosing seamlessly through a couple major shifts over its four and a half minutes. It’s no surprise that a song that has change woven into its DNA finds Rostam fixated on that concept, tossing off sagely lines like, “I hope I don’t get caught in the rain/Even if I do it won’t be so bad.” He leaves off on that ambivalent note, closing the track with what we have to imagine is a shrug, intoning, “Some pain is okay.”
Changephobia is full of these brief moments, when Rostam seems to suddenly blink back into the bigger picture. Tellingly, he leaves the album on one of these notes, singing sadly on the closer “Starlight,” “I wanna slow it down, but I can’t.”
Changephobia may find its most obvious throughline in the notion of change, but in Rostam’s hands, change is an ambiguous and slippery concept, perhaps by design. Transformation is always in the back of his mind, but he uses it more as a background for his more immediate preoccupation with the quiet, intimate thrills that we share with one another, whether that’s a long road trip with a loved one, or falling asleep in a cab with a near-stranger.
Change may be a frightening inevitability, but Changephobia is a gentle reminder that if we can shake our fear of it, there is room to stumble into moments of pure joy and relief.
Changephobia is available everywhere on June 4th.
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