TRACK MARKS 2021: “4Runner” by Rostam

Track Marks is a recurring feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them around the turn of a new year, looking back at the previous year in music.

There was a brief, blink-and-you-missed-it period when it seemed like everything was going to be okay. That we’d pull through this whole COVID mess; the masks could be doffed, the social distance between us closed. It’s hard to believe now as Omicron continues to wreck its havoc on vacation planning and school reopenings, but during the weeks of June and July 2021 when it seemed like this great disaster was about to be in the rearview, Rostam’s swoony “4Runner” was my personal soundtrack.

This isn’t to say I was spending a lot of that period driving around; even two and a half years after moving back to the Midwest I still don’t have a car. But like the titular vehicle, “4Runner” is a track designed for the open road, even if it’s just one you’re riding in your mind. Rostam seemed to anticipate this by releasing the single way back in March of 2021, when most of us were still homebound, in advance of his second solo album Changephobia. Though he hasn’t collaborated with Vampire Weekend in several years now, the song recalls some of their breeziest work, though it’s much less indebted to Paul Simon’s multicultural melange than the self-consciously cinematic sweep of Roxy Music.

Employing a surging mix of 12-string acoustic guitar, drums, and a Moog bass, Rostam constructs a euphoric ode to queer love and the freedom that can be found as much in a lover’s arms as the wind in your hair. The lyrics paint a nostalgic portrait of a couple who could be on the road or on the run: the 4Runner they’re driving has stolen plates, after all. A sense of illicitness, even danger, hangs over the scene; at one point Rostam mentions the knife his partner keeps in the passenger door. The song never boils over into melodrama, though. This isn’t a Thelma & Louise story, doomed to end in tragedy. There are no cars careening into canyons here. Instead there’s an acknowledgment that uncertainty is part of the trade-off of partnership, and might even be one of the rewards. “I’m waiting down the street. Take all the time you want to come,” Rostam sings, the music fading beneath him like a sunset, a daily event that can still feel momentous despite its constancy. It was difficult to be spontaneous this past year, but “4Runner” reminds us what it feels like to throw caution to the wind and take off somewhere unmapped, if only for three-and-a-half minutes at a time.