Online Music Editor Stephen Ong reviews Vampire Weekend’s comeback album
It’s 2017. It has been a year since Rostam Batmanglij left Vampire Weekend after their most successful album yet, Chris Baio is releasing his second solo record, while Chris Tomson has just released his first. Ezra Koenig is a radio host, and his show Neo Yokio is about to premiere on Netflix. The only hope for the band comes in the form of an update on Koenig’s Instagram, of the upcoming album Mitsubishi Macchiato. A year later, Vampire Weekend have reunited to play a short series of summer gigs, but there is no sign of the album until early 2019, with the announcement of the inscrutable FOTB.
But after six years, it finally arrives in the form of Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend’s fourth long play, and with eighteen songs, it’s nearly twice the length of their debut. It’s a fair trade for the wait, and it represents a new beginning of the band. Modern Vampires of the City was written to be the finale of the band’s initial trilogy of albums, being darker, more haunting, and deliberately obtuse. Father of the Bride changes all of that, musically and aesthetically. The band have traded their New York, Ivy League prep for the ease of California; polos and boat shoes for floral shirts and sandals. And at its core, Father of the Bride symbolises spring-time, nature, and rebirth.
at its core, Father of the Bride symbolises spring-time, nature, and rebirth
While Father of the Bride is not distinctly split into two halves like many double records are, it’s still a leviathan of music to digest. Sure, half the songs are under three minutes, but each song brings something new to their discography; though much of the album is rooted in folk rock, each song is an idea that grows in a different direction, absorbing influences from country, flamenco, orchestral, and jazz music. Like the rest of their records, Vampire Weekend borrow musically from various cultures, but whereas before African and Caribbean rhythms signalled the exotic outside of the monotony of New York, they now evoke the global scale of the issues Koenig sings about; race, climate change, religion and wealth.
Despite the genre-hopping of Father of the Bride, there is an intense lyrical and aesthetic unity that ties the album together. Take closing track ‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’, a ballad about returning to Zion that ties all corners of the world together, intrinsically wrapped in the context of the Balfour Declaration and the cruel impact that politicians have on people on the other side of the globe. Add to that the vocals from Danielle Haim and production from Buddy Ross and BloodPop, and it shows the collaborative effort that the record has inspired, compositionally and thematically.
each song brings something new to their discography
Of course, not every track is a masterpiece and vital to the album. While they all fit the album and I would have difficulty culling the tracklist myself, there is a sense that not all the songs are fully realised; some songs feel as though they are built on a sketch of a refrain or melody. Three songs are less than two minutes long, and even longer songs such as ‘Flower Moon’ stretch two verses and a guitar lick into four minutes of warbly, distorted vocals and Latin jazz. Yet the songs revel in their structural simplicity; ‘Flower Moon’ is hypnotic, and the repeated refrain of ‘Big Blue’ feels more impactful each time. Could the album have done without these songs? Possibly, but they are entirely unique to the band’s oeuvre, and don’t feel a single bit out of place. While Father of the Bride is every bit as diverse as The Beatles’ White Album, each song seems to belong to the overarching grand scheme of the album, something that records of this length often fail to achieve (a more apt comparison of Father of the Bride would be Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk or Frank Ocean’s Blonde).
the songs revel in their structural simplicity
Though Father of the Bride is Vampire Weekend’s most grandiose achievement, it is still deeply personal; Koenig appears to be the ‘father of the bride’, becoming a father in 2018. “You just watch your mouth when talking about the father of the bride,” sings Danielle Haim on the opening track ‘Hold You Now’. But is this ironic, or a subtle jab at the uncomfortably patriarchal world we live in? Or is the father of the bride God? The sample of ‘God Yu Tekem Laef Blong Mi’ from The Thin Red Line certainly gives weight to that interpretation. Koenig makes a conscious attempt on the record to simplify his lyrics (many of their songs have been ridiculously wordy, over-reliant on allusions that went over listener’s heads, and generally quite indecipherable), and ‘Hold You Now’ is an example of what Koenig terms to be ‘elegant song writing’. The songs still have complex meanings and are open to interpretation, but the characters and setting are much clearer. ‘Hold You Now’, and many other songs on the album, focus on a theme not usually covered by the band – love. Sure, there were the adolescent fantasies of ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ and the heartbreak of ‘Hannah Hunt’, but the characters that Koenig sang about had no future. In contrast, the other Haim duets, ‘Married in a Gold Rush’ and ‘We Belong Together’, the latter of which features Batmanglij’s sole writing credit, present a positive outlook on love. There is hope the dissolving marriage in ‘Married in a Gold Rush’ can be repaired if the characters take the symbolic midnight train together, and Koenig puts his faith in determinism on ‘We Belong Together’, singing “If there’s not some grand design / How’d this pair of stars align?” Then, there’s the jaunty ‘Stranger’ written to Rashida Jones and her sister, which brings to life the beauty of family. The simplicity that lies amidst the ‘big problems’ the record tackles makes Father of the Bride an immensely compelling listen.
Though Father of the Bride is Vampire Weekend’s most grandiose achievement, it is still deeply personal
Embodying all of Father of the Bride’s love, religion, and conflict is ‘This Life’, which may well be Vampire Weekend’s best song. Based off an interpolation of iLoveMakonnen’s hook of “You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me / I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you”, Koenig muses on faith (“Oh Christ, am I good for nothing?”), intimacy (“There’s a time when every man draws a line down in the sand”), and colonialism (“I was told that war is how we landed on these shores”), eventually concluding that “our disease is the same one as the trees / Unaware that they’ve been living in a forest”. Despite all humans are capable of, we remain unable to think, or care enough about the big picture. On a global scale, there are the pressing matters of climate change and the Israel-Palestine conflict, but for the individual, the big picture may be as simple as considering our relationships with people, and finding a purpose to “this life, and all its suffering”.