Album Review: Rostam – Changephobia


Rostam Changeophobia artwork

Careers don’t come much more impressive, or arguably have less of a need for recapping, than Rostam’s.

A founding member of Vampire Weekend, since producing their first three albums he’s gone on to link up with the likes of HAIM, Frank Ocean and Charli XCX, has done soundtrack work for both TV and film, even trying a little theatre whilst remaining very much collaboration friendly. Days off, it seems, have been somebody else’s problem.

With a schedule like that it’s probably not surprising that solo work has been at a premium, only 2017’s eclectic Half Light and one-off single In The River making it off the drawing board until now.

Despite a life led mainly in the pop world however, the Colombia University alumni is the muso’s muso, a trait underlined by his longstanding obsession with more classicist forms and instruments. On Changeophobia for instance, he majors around the Baritone sax; ‘Inspired by jazz on a deeper level than ever before and wanting to bring those things into my musical world’, he says.

The album’s title is a direct reference to the fear of stasis, of overcoming the inner conversations which bring only entropy. The song itself frames lyrics as ambitious as the dreamy melds which it winds through, not exactly the MTV real estate you might expect: ‘But looking back I didn’t want to stumble on a question/That might upset the structure of the world in which we lived/and I might delay the outcome when/ I thought something should happen’.

With what is clearly a wellspring of ideas, textures and sounds stored up in his mind over time working with others, a producer’s instinct means that shrewdly much of the rest is kept simple. Proof of this is in the choppy rock of opener These Kids We Knew, a global warming revenge fantasy written whilst in recovery after suffering Covid, while 4Runner captures a west coast road trip and the bones of a queer love story played out in sunshine chords and pumped-up beats.

Revitalised globally as a movement in recent years, the conscious space found for jazz here never feels modish; on Unfold You new and old are thrown in together in a love song that ends up being Changeophobia’s most tender and absorbing moment, while closer Starlight’s finger pops and drowsy lines are soothingly underplayed.

There’s also a slightly mischievous diversion or two: Next Thing, for example, was a late addition to the tracklist which has been allowed to bloom without much production wangling, giving it the odd characterful bump, while Kinney begins at a frantic tempo with the patter of Aphex Twin-like programming and a hooting sax, the words tumbling out across what eventually becomes a sweet oddity.

Finally, if that hinted at looking across to his former band, those seeking to draw dots will be pleased to hear From The Back of Cab’s familiar clean piano lines, although the Afropop stylings have been pared back and a wall of programming often threatens to stage a takeover.

That era, it seems, belongs rightly in the past. Changeophobia instead is far more than isolated fragments left on sticky notes in Rostam Batmanglij’s always-on mind, more a pooling of ideas around a theme any workaholic would choose as their nemesis.

Meanwhile, there’s another missed call…

Andy Peterson
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