Folks leave bands all the time. It happens. Billy Corgan and James Mercer are the only remaining founding members of the Smashing Pumpkins and the Shins. Chris Walla made a high-profile departure from Death Cab For Cutie. There's almost no chance that we'll see another Beach Boys tour that actually has all of the original living members of the band in it. But sometimes a bandmate departs and there's little reason for the band to keep on going on. Led Zeppelin knew they weren't Zeppelin without John Bonham. The remaining members of Motorhead knew they couldn't go on without Lemmy. And now Rostam Batmanglij has left Vampire Weekend, and I'm not really sure how the band continues without him.
Rostam shared a tweet today
announcing his departure from the band. To dampen my apocalyptic fears for everybody's favorite smart pop trio, he reassured fans that he would continue to collaborate with Ezra Koenig and the band for new music without officially being in the group. And let's hope that's true because as much as Ezra Koenig's razor sharp lyrical wordplay and Paul Simon-esque vocals sell that band, Rostam's production and guitar playing were nearly as important.
Take Modern Vampires of the City
(the band's best album). Ezra Koenig showed a remarkable maturation as a lyricist and storyteller on that album. Gone were the days when the band laced every ounce of their songwriting with about twenty different layers of irony. There was no "Horchata" (which, admittedly, is one of the band's best tracks) actively trolling their critics who saw them as the definition of privileged, WASP-y indie. It was tracks like "Hannah Hunt," which was an unvarnished (but still clever) love story. There were tracks like "Unbeliever" which find the band coming to terms with spirituality (or the lack thereof). There's the uplift of "Everlasting Arms." But despite Ezra's remarkable growth as a songwriter, that was very much Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij's record.
The shuffling keys of "Obvious Bicycle" or the textured effects of "Diane Young" are all production which was handled by Rostam and Rechtshaid on that record. And it was fitting that an album as thematically complex as Modern Vampires
had...modern production to match. That record captured both lyrically and sonically contemporary millennial angst about everyone who is desperately trying to find an anchor in our hectic and fractured world. But if you remove either part of that equation, does the album work?
We may not have to actually answer that question. If Rostam sticks around to produce the inevitable follow-up to Modern Vampires
(which, if historical trends for Vampire Weekend records holds, we should be seeing this year or next year), maybe this will all be moot. His production on Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion
was one of the highlights of last year. But what happens when Ezra and Rostam eventually part ways? I don't doubt that whatever Ezra puts out will be great; he's one of those people that is so effortlessly clever that it's a little frustrating. He named a track about his concerns about mortality "Diane Young" (think about it for a second). But will it still be Vampire Weekend? Will it be that perfect mix of world music, folk-pop, and intimate storytelling? Who knows. All we know for sure is that we're certainly sad to see one of the most talented producers in music today leaving one of the most important bands of the last eight years.