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Rostam - Changephobia (Album Review)

Wednesday, 09 June 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Jason Stone

Rostam is at the centre of a sound that he himself helped create. As the in-house producer (and co-founder) of Vampire Weekend, the Washington D.C.-born multi-instrumentalist helped to define a wave of American indie music that is cerebral, inventive and often light-spirited, blending cutting-edge production with diverse arrangements and intense musicality.

As such, Rostam’s second solo record is a bit of a producer’s album. It’s loaded with interesting instruments and blends, and a dizzying number of vocal effects. The problem is found in the quality of the songwriting and a sloppy singing style that at best makes tracks surprisingly muzak-y, and at worst feels noticeably affected given the intensity of the producer’s vision.

This intersection of the singing and the arrangement recalls a person who is constantly reminding you how ‘chilled out’ they are when you know damn well they’re about to break down from stress.

Within this dynamic, there are some noteworthy moments. 4Runner is an excellent pop track with a warehouse groove and satisfying guitar strumming, and From the Back of a Cab is a darling techy star-song, seemingly made from audio samples but almost certainly not. 

Could these songs benefit from more conservative production? Maybe. The melodies and chords in From the Back of a Cab feels like they’re at the mercy of the robotic drums, as opposed to being accompanied by them. And is that down to overproduction or bad arrangement? Possibly both, and still the bigger problem is the lack of lyrics and melodies that stay with you once the tracks have ended.

But, even with all that said, it’s such distinctive production and that’s the point here, isn’t it? It’s as though Rostam is using ‘Changephobia’ as a shop window for his particular oeuvre and style behind the board. If so, then it’s a whizz-bang slam-dunk of a producer’s showcase. If not, then probably one for the Rostam purists only.

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