Rostam's 'Changephobia' Proves He's Actually Pretty Good at Switching Things Up
Published May 31, 2021Change is hard. If there's anything the past few years have proven, it's that even the threat of upheaval can send anyone into an anxious fit.
Rostam Batmanglij is no stranger to change. As a member of Vampire Weekend, he was once a poster child for late-aughts indie rock and the hipsterfication of Brooklyn. Now, the multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter is a Los Angeles-based free agent, collaborating with anyone that suits his artistic muse, a transition roughly the equivalent of ditching your family and starting a new business. By all accounts, the change did him well and he still sees the kids on weekends.
In-between, Batmanglij will also occasionally dip his toe into his solo career, the latest installment of which puts change front and centre. "Is it just changephobia that makes you scared of the future in front of ya?" he sings on the album's title track and emotional core. "Is it just changephobia that makes us scared of doing what we should?"
As with many of the album's tracks, it catches the protagonist in moments in which choices need to be made: do they accept stasis or make a move? Whether the decision in question concerns something as small as a personal relationship or as big as climate change, Batmanglij's message seems to be the same: lean in and hold on.
2017's Half-Life was Batmanglij's official debut under his own name, but next to Changephobia, it feels like a tentative half-step. Musically, the new record is a low-key flex, with Batmanglij showcasing both his production and songwriting skills. He's not a flashy producer. Like his work on HAIM's Women in Music Pt. III last year (Danielle Haim pays him back by playing drums on "These Kids We Knew"), the arrangements never get too busy, with plenty of space given for the instruments — almost all of which are played by Batmanglij — to breathe. "Bio18," one of the record's highlights, is driven by a palette of keys, hand drums and baritone sax courtesy of unsung MVP Henry Solomon, whose dulcet runs fill the spaces once occupied by Batmanglij's beloved harpsichord.
A big part of Vampire Weekend's initial appeal was how out of step their songs were with indie music at-large. Batmanglij can take at least partial credit for that, and in the 13 years since, he's only sharpened his style. His languid vocal delivery is often at odds with the bright, uptempo songs he writes, like the anxious garage beat that drives "Kinney." But the juxtaposition is never jarring. He grounds any left-of-centre production or writing choice he makes, like the sudden tempo shifts in "Next Thing."
Whether in his work with other artists (such as Charli XCX, Clairo, Carly Rae Jepsen) or his short-lived Discovery project with Ra Ra Riot's Wesley Miles, there is an ineffable quality to Batmanglij's songs that make them feel uniquely his. Changephobia might not necessarily win over skeptics, but it's the most coherent vision — lyrically and sonically — of Rostam as a solo artist so far. (Nonesuch)