Album Review: Rostam – Changephobia

[Matsor Projects; 2021]

Rostam’s song “Bike Dream”, off his first solo record Half-Light, contains the great verse “Two boys: one to kiss your neck / and one to bring you breakfast / Two boys: one to love you sweetly / one does so discreetly / never will he meet me.” It’s a quick sketch of a love triangle, the kind of off the cuff observation that record could’ve used more of. Any Rostam song is a joy to listen to, at least for the instrumental. His solo work has a carefully curated palette of sounds: metallic but not heavy drum machines, noisy but not harsh guitar, reverb-ed but not incomprehensible vocals. It’s a potent mix that continues to dole out strong results. But for his songwriting, Rostam keeps things bleary. His choruses don’t jump out at you so much as slink by, which is not always a bad thing, but maybe not what you want from pop music. Luckily, the tracks on his new record, Changephobia, are a little bit more narcissistic, which is to say, they have hooks that demand attention.

Every song on Changephobia sounds like it has an inch-thick layer of dust on it, but if you take a finger and smear that off, there’s a beautiful ice-cream paint-job below. It’s a record sometimes about nostalgia, but it’s not nostalgic; the title track’s chorus asks “Is it just changephobia that made you scared of the future ahead of you?” Just as our memories of the past are poorly stitched together, Rostam shows off the seams that hold these songs together. Sometimes this is in the clash between a sophistipop sound and the digital smear he likes to apply selectively, sometimes in a furious drum-n-bass rhythm section or some autotune. Other times, different parts of a song feel literally sewn into one.

This is true of “Next Thing”, maybe the farthest that he goes with his aesthetic experimentation. The BPM change from the verses to the choruses is incredibly awkward but also fascinating. And then, in the middle, a guitar solo divides the track and we come out the other end with an entirely new hook to lead us out: “California” hummed over and over again, heavenly voices lifting the song up, and then the whole thing disappears in white noise. It doesn’t all work, but it’s a great risk.

The lyrics throughout are impressionistic, sometimes more memorable than others. The chorus of “4Runner” is delightfully wordy: “Sleeping behind the wheel / Pulled over on the freeway / 4Runner, stolen plates / Long, long gone,” he sings, “Take off a shift for me / I’m waiting down the street / Take all the time you want to come, come, come.” Somehow, even with all the words crammed in there, the hook is still sticky like bubblegum on the bottom of your shoe; you just can’t shake it off. It’s probably the best solo Rostam song so far.

Really, Changephobia is about love. Songs like “Unfold You” and “From The Back of a Cab” are tender and caring paeans to men Rostam loves or has loved. Closer “Starlight” puts it well, as he sings, “It’s starlight whenever you’re around me / Starlight whenever we hangout / Starlight, a hundred sparks surround me / Starlight, I wanna slow it down but I can’t.” The world keeps moving even when you want to sit in the moment. Is that nostalgia or just being alive?