Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride (Columbia/Spring Snow) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Vampire Weekend

Father of the Bride

Columbia/Spring Snow

May 14, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Just over 10 years on from their debut, Vampire Weekend already feel like a relic from the Obama era. They emerged during a naively congratulatory moment in American historywhen "post-racial America" seemed a realistic, if not, imminent realityin which the president could be black and privileged Ivy League kids could experiment with highlife and dancehall in a way that felt well-meaning and intellectually honest. But 2019 is not 2008 and the time for complacency is long gone. Now, a band whose breeziness was once an antidote to the achingly serious indie rock of the early 2000s are tasked with finding their place in an era of extreme importance.

However, by choice, Father of the Bride is a record that does not challenge the social moment-although "Harmony Hall" does acknowledge the return of antisemitism. Vampire Weekend has never been a political group, but even the spiritual anxiety of Modern Vampires of the City has faded into the background. Instead, Ezra Koenig's songwriting has turned back to personal anxieties, failing relationships, and subsequent rebirth. Father of the Bride achieves the lofty feat of being the cheeriest Vampire Weekend album to date, but sadness lurks below its surface (sample lyrics include: "I've been cheating through this life and all its suffering"/"How long til we sink to the bottom of the sea?").

So much has been said about the aesthetic and cultural implications of Koenig's songwriting that it's easy to forget that he's an old-fashioned writer at heart. Throughout Father of the Bride, Koenig plays with the mechanics of songwriting, finding joy in the way a second verse can twist a listener's interpretation of the first or how a duet can reveal friction within a relationship. When he titles a song "Unbearably White," he knows the listener will think of the unbearable whiteness of Vampire Weekend. But instead, the phrase refers to a scene etched into the character's mind by heartbreak. Whether you find that tease charming or infuriating is likely to be a deal-breaker for the whole album.

Father of the Bride is also the least concerned Vampire Weekend have sounded with being fashionable. This record bathes in the sonic cues of nostalgic '90s optimism, world peace, and reheated '60s hippie-isms. Some songs sound like campfire jams ("Big Blue," "We Belong Together"), while others sound like updates of '70s soft rock classics"This Life" is Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Sympathy" is The Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Running." Elsewhere, Koenig and The Internet's Steve Lacy scat along to jazz-guitar noodling on "Sunflower" and take on Samba rock on "Flower Moon." It all harks backs to a time before globalization was synonymous with social discontent; when the idea of a world culture meant a melting pot of diversity, rather than the dominance of western ideas via corporations.

If nostalgia and optimism are not your thing, there's a good chance you'll find Father of the Bride to be slight and inessential. Yet, one could say that problem applies to previous Vampire Weekend record as well. Complaining that Koenig says very little about the present is shortsighted, when his goal appears to be writing songs that are at once bigger and smaller than that. The songs on Father of the Bride are about Koenig's attempts to find peace-sometimes in love and sometimes in nature. And less directly, they are about the joy of songwriting and its power as a medium.

The opening line of "This Life" sums up Koenig's talent as a lyricist"Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain/I just thought it didn't rain in California." That's lucid, charming, and deeply sad storytelling, delivered in a carefree manner that catches the listener unguarded. Sure, Father of the Bride is messy and overlongit lacks the sharp brevity of Vampire Weekend's first trilogy of albums. But it is also a smart, witty, comforting listen. Is that enough to stop it feeling unnecessary? Well, it's as necessary as songs of love and rebirth have always been. (www.vampireweekend.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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