Credit: Olivia Bee
by Andrew Bosma Ledger Line Music

Rostam | Changephobia

July 14, 2021

Though showing continued growth after his departure from Vampire Weekend, Rostam’s sophomore effort produces mixed — but still pleasant — results.

Formerly of Vampire Weekend fame, Rostam returns with his sophomore solo record after a massive and successful two years producing and contributing to albums for other artists. Present on Changephobia are the elements that have distinguished his work over the years and made his influence notable, but nearly four years on from his debut, limited growth is demonstrated on his latest. Rostam has always been one to bend genres, dating back to his early Vampire Weekend days where he slid afro-pop sounds into the pro forma indie rock music that was dominating college radio stations at the time. This penchant for noodling is still foregrounded on Changephobia, here opting to blend jazz elements into modern bedroom pop production.

To that end, there’s a lot of saxophone on this record courtesy of Henry Solomon, who also played sax for the Haim single “Summer Girl” (another song that Rostam produced), and in an effort to break free from the comfortable chord progressions and melodies that his earlier records so heavily rely upon, Rostam clearly sources inspiration from his many past collaborators in order to flesh out his vision. And in some ways, this works. On “Next Thing”, one of the record’s standout tracks, there’s a palpable unsteadiness on display, with multiple beat changes and interpolations that sound like they’re warping right in front of you. It’s an intentional gambit, as the song was recorded without the standard production technique of click tracks, and it brings an improvisational feeling to the track, drawing on the jazz traditions of the musicians he has brought on board.

But in other ways, this collaborative mode doesn’t pan out as well. Changephobia is still afflicted by Rostam’s wholesale commitment to track cohesion, an admirable philosophy in a landscape littered with singles albums, but the result here, once again, is that so much here sounds too alike, tracks failing to differentiate themselves from each other. That’s not to say any are notably bad, but just that none of Rostam’s sonic shifts here tackle this most familiar pitfall of his (it’s enough to suggest some unintended irony in the album’s title). Also remaining the same is that the artist is at his best when he hits a groove, which he does so on tracks like “4Runner,” where the muted guitar and loosely produced drums provide something to attach to as listeners ride the track’s sonic waves. Similarly, “Kinney” keeps to the motif of flowing different musical styles into each other, with an incredibly quick drum beat following below Rostam’s soft, auto-tuned vocal. It’s just a shame that the textures so present and successful on these tracks are so lacking elsewhere on the record.

When Rostam left Vampire Weekend, he was setting out to build a unique sound in a direction the band was unlikely to follow. If you listened to 2019’s Father of the Bride, the philosophic differences are easily gleaned, as Vampire Weekend moved to loose guitar jams tilting toward the sounds of the Grateful Dead while Rostam, as a rule, leans heavily into pop production techniques with the distinct sheen of studio creation. On Changephobia, the result of Rostam’s continuation on this path produces mixed results, but it at least remains unique enough so as to never be particularly unpleasant. That’s a pretty uninspired hurdle to clear, however, and if the musician intends to make a great record, it’s going to take more than some jazz influence and incremental progress to fill in his sound’s lack.

Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2021 | Part 2.