After much anticipation and slight skepticism, Vampire Weekend released their newest album, Father of the Bride on May 3. The album boasts 18 songs, clocking in at about an hour, which feels a bit unheard of in the land of short and sweet indie pop. Yet, as Ezra Koenig promised, FOTB emits feelings of springtime and renewal. The worldly influences and familiar “baroque pop” still reside within FOTB, even after the departure of respected band member, Rostam Batmanglij.
Before the official release, Vampire Weekend put out a premature EP of 6 songs from the record, perhaps to ease decade-long fans into the forthcoming LP. Unlike the lo-fi photography that graced the covers of their previous three albums, Father of the Bride’s cover and its EP/Single predecessors are, pun-intended, unbearably white. After a lengthy hiatus, we’ll call it a clean slate. Yet the Sony Music logo, a marker of signage to a big corporate record label, is a little off-putting amidst the white cover.
I remember dancing to “A-Punk” at a high school drama club party ten years ago. I remember burning “Cousins” on various mix CDs for friends. I forget that Vampire Weekend won a Grammy in 2014, and I forget that Contra and Modern Vampires of the City was #1 on the Billboard Chart. Vampire Weekend are popular and successful, yet the admiration for them comes from their indie appeal. It is an interesting dichotomy and one at the forefront of FOTB.
The opening track “Hold You Now” is one of three songs featuring guest vocals from Danielle Haim. It is beautiful as a stand-alone track and the album’s opener. Lap steel guitar, a chorus of singers, and Haim’s vocals signify a departure from the trilogy of albums preceding FOTB.
“Harmony Hall” and “Bambina” feel like a call to previous form. “Harmony Hall” is most representative of a single; the chorus is bright and bold, a natural progression from Modern Vampires of the City. Intricate guitar work frames the song, which is a new venture.
“Bambina” transitions well into “This Life” which answers serious, melancholy lyrics with their classically cheerful choruses. Koenig asks, “Am I good for nothing?” to a multi-instrumental, whimsical melody. “This Life” is reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland with the influence of world music. The bridge has a section of strange wavering vocals done in production, which seems to be a calculated effort on the album.
“Rich Man” is no “Diplomat’s Son” though it maintains that steady rhythm that familiarly characterizes a Vampire Weekend song. “Rich Man” is just done so in a quieter way.
Again, we hear guest vocals from Danielle Haim in “Married in a Gold Rush.” It’s contemporary and poppy, yet fun to imagine as an indie Johnny Cash & June Carter duet a la “Jackson.” A gold rush or a fever, the track does not feel too deep or revelatory, just pleasant.
Songs such as “Big Blue” are short in duration, but layered with sound. Ephemeral and shortly captivating. Various songs on the record feel again, just pleasant. Others such as “My Mistake” are more moody and introspective. Koenig sings, “I was young then, I made my mistake” but does not waste time dwelling. “Sympathy” follows, launching into a quick paced, energetic number. Koenig does not seem to be resting too much on the past, only lyrically on occasion.
A common theme within a few songs is the experimentation with how vocals can be used sonically in the mix. “2021” is an example where it uniquely works well. “Sunflower” is very start-stop-repeat with Steve Lacy from The Internet as guest vocals, and feels a bit too kitschy. “Flower Moon” is percussive and fun with interesting harmonies.
The last few songs are hard to attach to. “We Belong Together” is sticky and sweet, and feels overbearingly like a Disney song. “Spring Snow” has a strange autotune section that feels a little new-age Kanye. “Stranger” provides some redemption, in which Koenig sings, “things are gonna stay strange.” It feels like a promise—FOTB is a new chapter in the career of Vampire Weekend, and experimentation is an essential pitstop on the road map.
Father of the Bride is the kind of record to put on during a bright, cool spring morning while making English Breakfast tea and reading a lighthearted romance. But are any of us doing that? Unlike old gems such as “Oxford Comma” and “Run”, the songs on FOTB are not Friday night party songs for living room dance parties with beer sloshing on the carpet. This collection of songs does feel more refined, and a little less easy to warm up to. Though, with recent appearances in Washington Square Park, late night shows, and a 7 hour Webster Hall performance, their live shows appear to be vivacious and exciting. It will be interesting to see how Vampire Weekend takes on the test of time.