After crossing McGuinness Boulevard into the quieter, more traditionally Polish area, he paused before a bland beige apartment building on Diamond Street. “I feel like I lived here for three weeks, after college,” he said, studying the building before deciding it was the wrong place.
Much like this improvised field trip, his artistic endeavors don’t adhere to any prescribed path. “I don’t think my life conforms to that narrative,” he said with a moody shrug. “Things come out when they come out, but it doesn’t correlate with when decisions were made.”
It’s fitting then, that “Half-Light” is a slippery, elusive album concerned with memory and dreams. It’s elegiac and eclectic, a long way from the erudite indie rock that he helped write, play and produce for Vampire Weekend.
In 2016, he shocked fans when he announced via Twitter that he’d be venturing out on his own. “There is so much amazing music — all of it dear to me — on its way to you,” he wrote then. “It’s an exciting time and I feel lucky to share it with you.”
Mr. Batmanglij made good on his promise. He has produced songs with a wide range of performers since, including Frank Ocean, Solange Knowles, Carly Rae Jepsen and the sisterly trio Haim, making him a sort of consigliere to the slightly hipper edge of the pop music scene.
“A lot of what being a producer is, is giving people space,” he said of his ability to work with such a varied roster. “Like psychologically being there to help them realize what they’re trying to do.”
It also helps to have an outsider’s perspective. The son of Iranian immigrants, he was raised in Washington, D.C., and came out as gay with little fanfare in a 2010 Rolling Stone article. (He was already out to his parents and to his college friends.) All those elements inform, but do not necessarily define, his work.
In that way, he is part of a growing vanguard of artists like Mr. Ocean and Dev Hynes, making music that is, by virtue of its creator, a commentary on race, sexuality and identity.
“I certainly think that my music is a response to my experience as a person who doesn’t identify as straight, as a person who grew up American,” he said. “I’ve always had a complex relationship towards my identity as an American.”
Mr. Batmanglij walked north along Diamond Street, and passed a large building with prewar flourishes on a sleepy stretch of Meserole Avenue, where Halloween skeletons and pumpkins adorned the entrance. He studied it for a moment.
“Maybe it was this building,” he said. “I’m trying to remember the building that I lived in.” After deciding this wasn’t it, he kept walking, looking about. The neighborhood no doubt has changed in the decade since he lived here, but he was surprised by its consistency. “This street’s not different at all,” he said to himself, half-smiling.
Mr. Batmanglij has a tendency to speak slowly and cautiously, and is unafraid to give a succinct answer followed by a inscrutable laugh. He won’t say what model car he drives, whether he is involved with anyone romantically, or who makes his gray jeans. (“They’re French,” he said.)
He thought he had revealed too much as is. “In my next phase I’m not even going to tell people where I live,” he said.
He approached Cafe Grumpy, a coffee shop he lived above many years ago (and the one made famous in the TV show “Girls”). “Ah, it smells the same,” he said, entering. Freelance types pecked away at their laptops.
“What’s the matcha cider like?” he asked the barista.
“Its like cider, with matcha,” the barista replied flatly, before adding, “It’s not my personal favorite.”
Mr. Batmanglij opted for a mint tea before continuing on his way.
His recent sold-out show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg hosted a diverse crowd. “Some people said, ‘I was surprised at how many hetero guys were at your show,’” he said. “And other people said, ‘You were definitely the soundtrack to a lot of gay couples making out.’”
If Mr. Batmanglij wears his sexuality lightly, it’s partly because he recognizes that gay life has been integrated into the larger culture. “The idea of the gay experience, it feels like a relic,” he said. “I felt like in the ’90s when we were watching the gay characters on ‘The Real World,’ there was definitely a gay experience that was distinct from a straight experience. If you talk to high schoolers in 2017, I don’t know that is as much a part of how they experience a social dynamic.”
Still, it’s refreshing to hear Mr. Batmanglij playfully sing about “two boys, one to kiss your neck and one to bring you breakfast,” in the song “Bike Dream.”
As he turned a corner, Mr. Batmanglij put his blue shirt back on and stopped before a two-story beige building on an industrial block.
“That was a pretty good place to live,” he said, pointing to a rather sad-looking window on the second floor. He had furnished that apartment with a rented upright piano, which he ended up buying and bringing to Los Angeles. “Recorded a lot of music there,” he said, before continuing his walk.