Six years is a mighty long time in the music industry; and in the case of Vampire Weekend it has brought about a dawning of maturity and sombre reflection, as can be seen on their new album Father of the Bride. Ezra Koenig has always been an artistically abstract songwriter, but his latest batch of tracks here have seen him take the spiritual journey of life, death and everything in between.
My first introduction to Vampire Weekend was much like many other people’s: I heard A-Punk in 2008 and thought it absolutely slapped. It was and still is an indie anthem for the ages, utilising youthful energy to piece together a frantic thrill-ride of guitars and vocals that can still be heard on indie-rock playlists to this day. The path they’ve gone down since then has been rather remarkable.
From the self-titled debut to Contra to 2013’s masterful display of world music influences Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend have never been ones to shy away from eclectic flavours of art pop while also maintaining a strong sense of introspection in the lyrics of lead singer Ezra Koenig’s lyrics. In that three album run the band became one of the most hailed and well-respected bands of their generation, but change was on the horizon.
In 2016, multi-instrumentalist and right-hand man to Ezra in the band’s production and songwriting capacities Rostam Batmanglij left the band to pursue other ventures. This prompted questions as to where Vampire Weekend would go from here; and three years later we finally have our answer.
Ezra Koenig wanted our attention from the very first moment he introduced his band back into the scene, mainly through his throwback lyricism on comeback lead single Harmony Hall, where he professes to not wanting to “live like this, but I don’t wanna die”. Now you’ve probably heard that lyric before as a Vampire Weekend fan, it’s a direct grab from the bridge of Finger Back from Modern Vampires of the City but it serves as a beacon for this new album; a stamp point as to how we can expect to approach the new direction of the band’s music.
Father of the Bride is subtle, it’s sweet and it’s serene. On previous efforts the band shot from the hip with intense, fast-paced anthems; this time they’re looking through the scope and picking their targets in a calculated manner. This may not be to everyone’s liking, that much is obvious from the fact that Vampire Weekend’s biggest songs to date are all high-tempo danceable tracks (A-Punk, Diane Young, Holiday) and while they teased this avenue on many cuts throughout the years (Hannah Hunt, I Stand Corrected, I Think Ur A Contra), this album went the extra mile in terms of delicacy.
Thematically, it can be very difficult to keep 18 songs tied into similar narratives, but Father of the Bride sticks the conceptual landing with style and grace. It’s no secret that Ezra has reservations about the meanings of life and his fear of death is plentiful; it is something that has made him a relatable figure in a world that seems so scared to talk about higher powers. What he does here is use his divine gift of wordplay and a keen musical ear to spill his insecurities but also his passion into an album.
In typical Ezra Koenig fashion the lyrics are artsy and kaleidoscopic, particularly on songs like This Life where he uses the juxtaposed beauty of the instrumental to lay his cards on the table in relation to the topics of death, love and suffering. “And darling our disease is the same one as the trees, unaware that we’ve been living in a forest” he sings as a message of nature and humanity being as one, but also metaphorically speaking of the uncertainty of existence and what comes before or after it. If anything, the album feels like Ezra questioning our purpose but not in a cynical way, simply to grasp knowledge and to understand himself more.
The inclusion of Danielle Haim on three songs, one third of all sibling pop group HAIM was somewhat of an ingenious one; allowing for the songs in which she is involved to sound that extra bit more romantic and bubbly. Themes of marriage and love are on the agenda for these songs and I especially love the back and forth on Hold You Now; with Danielle’s name drop of the album title marking especially poignant as the project’s opener. It takes a lot for bands to collaborate these days, but this one was used in the ideal way.
This album isn’t all slow jams and plain sailing, though, there are the occasional moments of gloriously organised musical chaos. The rattling and slick Sympathy is a sure to be classic of the group’s discography, whether that be from the choir samples and loud production in the verses or the isolated guitar strings and whispers in the chorus; not to mention the two tracks that follow it. Sunflower and Flower Moon both feature The Internet’s Steve Lacy and follow suit with indescribable levels of swagger and personality in the instrumentals; using the quirky guitar sounds that Vampire Weekend are famed for and giving them a welcomed polish.
So what can be said of Father of the Bride as a whole? Well, first and foremost it is just absolutely brilliant to have Vampire Weekend back. Whether you’re a fan of their sound or not it becomes nearly impossible to deny their importance to modern bands and pushing the genre forward; with their latest work being another leap forward in their progression. My instant take is simply that Modern Vampires of the City was the end of a trilogy, a fabled time in bedroom indie-rock that will be looked back at with incredibly fond memories; but Father of the Bride is something different entirely. It is a firm handshake to bid farewell to youth, and a warm embrace for change and evolution over time.