The last Vampire Weekend record, Modern Vampires of the City, came out six years ago. Over those six years the world, well, perhaps just the millennial perception of the world, has changed. Us millennials are no longer doe-eyed and fresh-faced. Our days as prepster English majors at Columbia have passed, and our 20s, largely spent finding words that rhyme with “horchata,” have come and gone. Those youthful pastimes can no longer shield us from reality. We have seen the darkness, experienced the chaos, and are struggling to keep afloat. If only Bernie sanders were president – but alas. What is one to do?
An answer, via EZRA KOENIG “I’m teaching myself that if life is meaningless, you could actually have a sense of humour about it.”
Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend’s new record, is Koenig’s musical manifestation of this quest (much like Neo Yokio is his televisual manifestation – check out the Christmas special on Netflix, you will not regret it). The album, a sprawling, eighteen-track affair, takes a lyrical turn from its predecessors. Father of the Bride is a meditation on earthly chaos. Koenig weighs in on failed marriage (“Hold You Now”), anti- Semitism (“Harmony Hall”), border walls (“My Mistake”), and sinking to the bottom of the sea (“How Long”), among other morbid topics.
Vampire Weekend takes a risk veering away from whimsical flirtations towards dark, existential themes. A serious, boring song would defeat the stated goal of finding humor in meaninglessness. Fortunately, Vampire Weekend is incapable of writing boring songs. The crisp pop hooks and eclectic, multicultural production that made them a festival headliner persist in Father of the Bride. Aristocratic strings prance around a “palm wine” African guitar riff. Graceland inspired guitar and choral arrangements, two Vampire Weekend staples, feature prominently on several tracks. A George Harrison-esque slide guitar infiltrates “Big Blue.” In perhaps the album’s most poignant moment, “2021” finds sparse, hip-hop production and a Haruomi Hosono synth sample accenting a melancholy reflection on time’s passing.
As in previous albums, Koenig’s lyrics are engaging, in turns impressionistic, clear, cryptic. Then breezy, tongue-in cheek “How Long” straddles this triad: “What’s the point of human beings? / A sharpie face on tangerines / Why’s it felt like Halloween since Christmas 2017.” And of course, no Vampire Weekend album would be complete without quasi-self-aware intellectual posturing (although rhyming “Keats and Yeats” with “bowls and plates” on the sappy-sweet “We Belong Together” is markedly less obnoxious than the “Robert Smiiiiithson” Vampire-weekend-giant-lyrics shout out on “Giant,” Contra’s bonus track).
Not everything works. The frivolous guitar riff in “Sunflower” is nearly as annoying as the scatting chorus. “Spring Snow” is largely forgettable. And while the three country/folk duets with Danielle Haim add some cohesion to the record, they cannot counterbalance the bloated feel of the meandering, eighteen-track album. Father of the Bride is a less satisfying listening experience than any of the imminently replayable, nearly flawless, Vampire Weekend, Contra, or Modern Vampires of the City. But its best songs reach, perhaps exceed, Vampire Weekend’s previous heights. And, more importantly, it seems like Ezra the existentialist is having fun within the chaos.