Last Tuesday, I wrote about Rostam Batmanglij’s musical midas touch, which turns every composition he touches to gold. Well in the eight days between then and now (Can we call eight days a Beatles week? Kinda like a baker’s dozen? Anyone?), I found out that he’s connected to an album that I was already enjoying immensely, The Orchard by Ra Ra Riot. Though Batmanglij’s participation in the record is limited to “Do You Remember,” a song that he mixed and maybe even co-wrote (I found conflicting information about whether he helped write the song or not), the whole album shares the ornate production and willingness to experiment with instrumentation and mood that have drawn me to Batmanglij’s collaborations in the past. In truth, my first listen of the album was somewhat flukey, as I started playing it while haphazardly testing out MOG’s streaming music service for an article I wrote for the Phonograph, a great UK-based music blog. Even though I moved on to try out other streaming services and websites, I kept the MOG window open so I could keep listening to The Orchard. I just couldn’t turn it off. Maybe it was frontman Wes Miles’ voice, which climbs so gracefully and feels like an estranged best friend, thanks to the fact that I went through a truly obsessive period of listening to the record he did with Batmanglij under the name Discovery. Or maybe it was the string arrangements, which add depth and shape on more than one level, thickening the mix sonically while counterbalancing the gravity of the lyrics, some of which deal with topics as weighty as a former bandmate’s death. For me, that’s Ra Ra Riot’s strength – being light and heavy at the same time, so you’re left with a feeling of pleasant (or as good friend of the blog Trang put it, “pla pla pleasant”) depth. It’s a quality that inspires repeated listening, making them the musical opposite of a movie like There Will Be Blood — an amazing film that I liked very much but never want to sit down and watch again. Ever. Please don’t make me. I will keep listening to The Orchard, and I hope you’ll check out “Do You Remember” below. If you dig it, click here to snag the album from iTunes.
Ra Ra Riot — “Do You Remember“
Every once in a while, you come across an artist who can do no wrong in your eyes. Song after song, album after album, it seems like everything they touch turns to gold, and your brain reflexively clicks on every link within a 70-pixel radius of their name. Not to get all double rainbow guy on you, but I really believe it’s a meaningful connection — finding someone who shares your tastes and is capable of creating music that satisfies them time after time, especially across multiple bands or projects, is extremely rare. Call it having a musical kindred spirit. Such is the case with Rostam Batmanglij. Whether with Vampire Weekend, Discovery, Kid Cudi or Das Racist, I have yet to find a song he’s been involved in that I didn’t like, which is why I was thrilled when I saw he released a song under his own name, stylized as ROSTAM, and even more thrilled once I listened to it. “Wood” is a fascinating composition, and it’s an excellent exemplar of one of Batmanglij’s most laudable traits — one that has served Vampire Weekend and all his other projects very well — like the speedy neutrino, he can travel faster than the speed of light. I’m convinced of it. How else can he be in India playing traditional drums and sitar, in Europe playing classical strings from the 18th century, and at the same time be singing contemporary pop vocals? You can’t explain that! He lives in the space between genres more comfortably than any other artist I know, which has made him a tremendously interesting musical kindred spirit over the past few years. Check out “Wood” below, and if you like it, I beg you to grab Discovery’s album. You’ll go bonkers over it, I promise.
ROSTAM — “Wood“
Life Cycle Week, Stage 2: Vampire Weekend
So… you’re awesome. Everyone loves you. Pitchfork loves you. Peter Gabriel is covering the song you wrote that mentions… Peter Gabriel. Now what? For artists that score a hit with their debut album, the follow-up record must be daunting. The need to balance fans’ expectations, financial success (that gold-plated robot panini press isn’t going to pay for itself) and creative ambition makes this sophomore album a particularly interesting moment in the life cycle of a band, and Vampire Weekend nailed it. Their second album Contra is one of my favorites in recent memory — a work of both savvy continuation and bold departure. I’d heard “Horchata” on the Interweb, but the first time I listened to Contra all the way through, my friend Tex brought it to my house on his iPod. No Dropbox folders, no MediaFire links, he actually came over and played the album. I checked into it, and it looks like the last time someone did that was early on in the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE). The experience was memorable, not just because of the way I first heard the album, but because the songs take the band’s African-influenced chamber pop to a whole new level, and I got to hear their music evolve over the course of those 36 minutes. Keyboardist and songwriter Rostam Batmanglij’s electro-soul side project Discovery seems to have been a dry run for this album, as sequencing and sampling jump to the forefront. I could talk all day about Contra (and probably will end up writing 17 more posts about it), but I’ll stop here so you can check out “Diplomat’s Son,” a fine example of Rostam’s influence on the band. Listen below and grab the album here.