Category: Indie

Half-Light – Rostam

Generally speaking, genre lines are hints and nodes of flavors that mix well with some and not so much with others. Transcending the lines history defines as dogmatic is certainly ambitious, but Rostam’s release in Half-Light surpasses ambition for a natural medium of instinct, culture, and disposition. Where aspiring endeavors oftentimes flutter in the face of significance, Rostam brings grounded focus to genre-bending ventures. And rather than throwing anything and everything into a conglomerated leap of faith, Half-Light magnifies a sound that is very “Rostam” from beginning to end.

As a founding member of Vampire Weekend and Discovery, it’s no secret that Rostam Batmanglij knows a thing or two about the sounds of the world (perhaps everything?). And with a producing resume that spans from R&B heavyweights like Solange and Frank Ocean to the pop icons of Haim and Charli XCX, Rostam’s rolodex grows deeper still on top of the bedrock production credits for every Vampire Weekend release to-date. Add the seasoned veteran producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Adele, Brandon Flowers, and Madonna) on a handful of tracks, and eclectic suddenly starts humming a different tune, especially if you thought Vampire Weekend were eclectic (granted, they very much are, and for good reason…).

But what sets Half-Light apart from his previous releases and other ambitious attempts at wide-ranging sounds is it’s holistic core. It’s certainly no fools errand to throw in an Indian folk song, Reggae tune, or electro-specific number to create a varied blend of sound (even though Rostam does exactly that), however filling in the empty space is something else entirely. What stands out on Half-Light as the “blended sound” is Rostam’s ability to incorporate all of his experience and knowledge on each song as if his all-inclusive view never gets out of focus. Rather than a blurred mess of mixed genres or sounds intertwining and going in every which direction, Rostam takes a wide-view angle of worldly genres and adds bits and pieces to a very defined foundation. For example, “Rudy” is a very focused Reggae-ish number, and he intertwines electronically modified lyrics and layers in the vein of a vamp. On “EOS”, Rostam builds chant-like vocals and synths on top of a soulful piano ballad that rises and falls with orchestral strings. And on “Bike Dream” he adds fuzz synths to compliment a tried and true pop testimonial in driving percussion and melodic bass. As the sentimental salute to his previous band and its city of origin, “Bike Dream” sits comfortably as both the radio-friendly song and missing link to brings Half-Light full circle as both a universal and unashamed release.

The verdict?

Erase the genre guidelines and definitions that pigeonhole sound. There is no snug slot to compartmentalize Half-Light, other than a genre-bending release by a proven artist that exemplifies a track record of quality in the ability to master countless genres. Rostam created a release that displayed true culture, knowledge, and ability, and Half-Light stands as example to prove exactly that.

Sleep Well Beast – The National

One of the more subtle and obscure aspects of really good acts is sustain in longevity. Some acts can tour for decades on end, some can pump out hits like an assembly line, and others can ride the wave of past successes with brief hints of quality and resonance. But the brotherly duo behind the ingenuity of The National is not that. They are not a massive arena, big festival, or strobe lights and confetti type group. They don’t release an album or hit single every two years and they certainly haven’t relied on their past successes to carry them into the sunset. And that alone is what makes them great.

Now, one thing that needs clarifying is that they do in fact tour, and quite extensively, and they frequently release music (all side projects considered), but all within reason and unparalleled quality. In fact, when the group tours, the assortment of venues, particularly for Sleep Well Beast supporting shows, are of a distinct margin and mystique (see 2017 tour list), and the same peculiarity echoes in side projects (see Day of the Dead, LNZNDRF, and EL VY). It’s a threshold for the group, and Sleep Well Beast is one thread woven into the bigger scheme. The only aspect that sets it apart is its stature.

Art rock is a brand that’s worked well as a badge of honor for years, but it’s outgrown the disposition and become more of an unspoken facet that nearly disservices and diminishes its more artful integrity. With a release like Sleep Well Beast attesting as the group’s most artful endeavor to date, songs like “Guilty Party” or “Born to Beg” naturally fit into a contemporary mold despite a seemingly departure from their old selves. And with salutations to the sound that got them here on songs like “Turtleneck” and the more hit-centric “Day I Die”, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is the perfect medium between progressive undercurrents and the group’s driving core. Paired with hints of crafty spastic guitar riffs and underlying piano parts, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” rises among the rest as a marquee focal point for relevancy both old and new.

Departing at times, Sleep Well Beast incorporates elements that complement a modern endeavor, moreover turning a shoulder with the ambition of creating something entirely new. Piano is one instrument that pokes it’s head above the clouds as a basis for the creative process. Yet on top of this somewhat recent emphasis, songs like “Guilty Party”, “Born to Beg”, and “Empire Line” incorporate the entire original powering ingredients of driving drums, spacey guitar, and ambient/noise. Where Sleep Well Beast is as true to it’s roots as it is outlandishly unique, it undoubtedly magnifies the sheer talent of individual members over its predecessors. While pushing the needle further towards the endless possibilities of sound and composition, Sleep Well Beast doesn’t stray far from the road that got them here. With Berringer’s story-telling vocals laying on top of the backing band, whether ambient synth nodes or the pounding and spastically intricate drum parts from Bryan Devendorf, never has the talent of the band been on display quite like Sleep Well Beast.

The verdict?

A very much solidified and thorough classic from a group of veterans. Few relevant musicians match their talent, and fewer combine for the talent of the group as a whole. Sleep Well Beast sits like the sweeter and delicate reminder on top of a catalog that frankly speaks worlds in and of itself. At least, much more than anyone can put on paper.

Painted Ruins – Grizzly Bear

Time changes, nifty chord progressions, and key changes are all fancy bells and whistles that play nicely in theory, but seamlessly putting them onto an album is the not-so-easy part. What Grizzly Bear achieves on their 2017 release, Painted Ruins is not only a composition feat of ingenuity, Ed Droste and crew expand upon their indie avant-garde roots to create a astonishingly well-rounded masterpiece. And on display in a never-seen-before fashion, Droste’s vocals parse effortlessly with backing band that will remind you more of the “We can literally play everything”-type of band. With virtually every instrument and facet of the group in the limelight in one manner or the other, Painted Ruins is not the single-centric album, moreover a wide-angle shot of refined sound, crafted composition, and sheer talent. After five years in the creative incubator, songs like “Three Rings”, “Wasted Acres”, “Four Cypresses”, and “Mourning Sound” (along with every other track not mentioned) attest to greatness in due time. Luckily for listeners, great things come with time—happy you waited, huh?