Nostalgia is a sensation as strong as any drug one could take, but it’s easy to miss out on your own growth if you’re only ever looking behind you. Oftentimes, our desire for the simpler days can lead to us traipsing through life with our heads screwed on backwards, but if carefully and effectively observed, it can serve to inform our future and enrich us in ways otherwise virtually impossible. In comes Changephobia, the latest body of work from former Vampire Weekend member and the teenybopper’s Hans Zimmer, Rostam Batmanglij; known mononymously throughout his solo career as Rostam.
Rostam can be quoted as saying there’s a bit of politics in everything he writes. The opening track “These Kids We Knew” highlights this by focusing on subjects like global warming, late stage capitalism, and the changes in generational thinking regarding these topics. He presents himself as somewhat of an oracle to the newer generation and recognizes his position as somewhat of a transitory one. Speaking in resonance with the youth of today, he evokes the indignance and subtle optimism that prevails with “Ain’t proud of where we’re going/ You say we can’t afford to slow down/ But the skies won’t take it no more/ We’re gonna slowly pull the earth back together.”
There’s something distinctly May about a majority of Rostam’s discography, and to borrow a sentiment from the comments of his “Unfold You” video, it brings about this liminal feeling of being on the threshold of projected euphoria and nostalgia. A warm sax lead over a Nick Hakim sample opens up into an opalescent sky, as Batmanglij waxes romantic about the tender abandon of a new relationship. It also stands as the most in-your-face indication of the influence jazz music, more specifically bebop like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, had on this album. While not particularly dense with lyrics, the song features Henry Solomon’s sax arrangement, providing wings with which to soar the vastness of texture and space the instrumental presents.
With change and the idea of embracing or avoiding it being a focal point, the following tracks, “Changephobia” and “Kinney,“ represent two sides of the same coin. The former is communicated in a more matter of fact, spoken word fashion; iterating on some advice Rostam had received from a stranger that’s as equally straightforward as the lyrics themselves. The first verse reflects on the notion that keeping any sort of catalytic ideas or actions under wraps would keep one focused on what makes them happy (“I might disrupt my own life if it kept a thing in motion/ I never had the chance to tell you what I really felt/ But I figured we’d be okay when the dust had settled”). That by staying within what you know, you’re not wasting time setting yourself up for any kind of failure or rejection or disrupting the trajectory of where you thought your life was going. A thematic iteration on “nothing ventured, nothing gained,“ if you will, on a more personal level than the aphorism is typically used.
“Kinney” comes in to slap you back awake with a blistering drum-n-bass sound that surprisingly only clocks in at 91 BPM. If “Changephobia” was self-reflection, this is the catharsis and expression after said realisation. The sort of windows-down, screaming-your-heart-out-on-the-freeway jubilance of youth spent traversing the unknown. There’s a recklessness in the attitude involved that lends itself to all the flamboyance of a young adult novel or coming-of-age film, and it’s a realm which a large portion of Rostam’s discography calls home.
Overall, while not the most gripping record on the first few listens, Changephobia possesses the boyish charm of someone finally coming to grow into the world as they know it, and finding the beauty of the unknown. Its jazz stylings and intricate production throughout have that familiar Rostam flavour, with enough room for you to move about and reflect.