Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride
By Montserrat Vazquez-Posada
After six years, it’s finally here. Vampire Weekend’s fourth studio album Father of the Bride is the grand sigh after holding a long, long, long breath of air. With Father, the band has ushered in a new era of Vampire Weekend that is reminiscent of the holy trinity of albums that preceded this one, but also proof that the group has used these six years to grow and redefine alternative music.
Vampire Weekend’s albums have always been twofold. On their self-titled debut, for instance, they nodded at their own East Coast, Ivy League privilege - singing about oxford commas and Cape Cod, boat shoes and tied sweaters - while also criticizing it, examining colonial imperialism on songs like “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” and “Mansard Roof.” This duality made it difficult to hate VW; sure, the OG bunch attended one of the best private universities in the world, but they also denounced capitalism and its enduring effects on the innocent. Damn.
Questioning religious practices and God in general has been another staple of VW’s music. Frontman Ezra Koenig takes on God headfirst, exploring the aspects of religion that many fail to acknowledge: melancholy, judgement and fear. Through a Jewish lens, he meditates on his own skepticism of God, and at the same time recognizes him as a forgiver and redeemer. In an interview with Pitchfork, Koenig agreed with the phrase “millennial unease” to describe how the band grappled with life’s toughest issues in Modern Vampires of the City. Vampire Weekend has always chosen light and heavy topics and discussed them brilliantly, all the while blending genres and shopping from other cultures’ array of sounds.
All of these aspects prevail in Father of the Bride, but in a more-than-nuanced way. I mean, how could things possibly be the same? Ezra Koenig – now, 35 years old, settled down in Los Angeles, father to Rashida Jones’ baby – is no longer the poster child for Columbia University graduates wandering the streets of New York. One thing, though, has not changed: Vampire Weekend was brilliant then, and they’re still brilliant now.
An Appreciation For Mother Earth
Father of the Bride’s cover art is a bit underwhelming compared to its cool, hipster-esque photographed counterparts. Regardless, the message it sends is far from underwhelming. The cover portrays earth in a way foreign to today’s generation: the water is a deep blue, and the land is piercingly green. Images of our earth don’t quite look like this anymore. The vibrant colors emphasize Father’s hopeful undertone that triumphs over Koenig’s sorrowful examination of the earth’s current state (see: “How long ‘till we sink to the bottom of the sea?”). “Big Blue,” for example, is about finding peace through and with nature. This ode to the ocean is proof that the band has dialed back on its cynicism of the manmade world, opting for a more optimistic naturalism. The duality behind simple lines like “There’s an avalanche coming, don’t cover your eyes” – which comments on both a relationship and the environment – is what gives Father of the Bride the clear complexity Koenig was aiming for.
Not-So-Silly Love Songs
By welcoming Danielle Haim (singer and guitarist of sister trio Haim) onto the album, the lone singer allows for a dialogue; Koenig appears less egocentric and cynical than he often did on past albums. He gets out of his head and works through issues alongside someone, which is something never-before-heard in Vampire Weekend’s music.
“Hold You Now” is the first track on the album and a perfect introduction to the new direction the band is heading. The song tells the story of an ex-lover attempting to show one last sign of affection before his counterpart marries someone else. The soft strumming of the acoustic guitar heard in the verses contrasts with the upbeat electricity heard in older VW songs like “A-Punk” and “Diane Young.” However, it’s the chorus that brings life to the song and reminds listeners of how flawlessly the band can incorporate samples of other songs. Here, they use “God Yu Tekem Laef Blong Mi,” a Melanesian choral song performed by the Choir of All Saints from Honiara and featured on Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack to The Thin Red Line. The exultant song emphasizes the sacredness of marriage, which makes Danielle’s verses all the more heartbreaking. The narrators have no future together; they only have right now.
The back-and-forth between Danielle Haim and Koenig is something I didn’t know I needed until I heard it. Danielle features on three tracks, and they all have a country twang distinct from the rest of the album. Vampire Weekend has never discussed issues of love and relationships so explicitly as they do in these songs, which is why the tracks are so refreshing compared to Koenig’s usual one-sided introspection.
Exploration of Religion
Vampire Weekend would not be Vampire weekend without their religious allusions and skepticism of the man upstairs. One of the most beautiful songs off the album, “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” is an homage to three places crucial to Jewish identity. It questions what it means to be part of something so much bigger than yourself. Jerusalem, the holiest land in Jewish history and a disputed area in the perpetual Israeli-Palestinian conflict; New York, the place many Jews fled to during the diaspora; and Berlin, a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. Koenig explores how these places built an unshakeable Jewish identity, and even begs “Just think what could have been,” questioning what would have become of Jews in these spaces without the atrocities brought about by anti semitism. Accompanied by Danielle’s harmonizing backing vocals and a delicate piano, “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” closes the album perfectly, and reminds listeners of the melodramatic Vampire Weekend album-closing tracks “Young Lion” and “I Think Ur A Contra.”
Father of the Bride certainly doesn’t interrogate God and acknowledge his fury the same way Modern Vampires of the City does, but the album’s overarching brightness doesn’t take away from its profound conversations about religion.
Power Behind Words
What I have personally found with Father of the Bride is that there is nothing wrong with easy listening, especially since this is exactly what Koenig intended. In an interview with Coup De Main Magazine, he says, “the lyrics that brought me the most joy on this album as opposed to previous ones, were not necessarily the most clever ones.” The distinction between what he calls “expensive words” and simple ones is clear in any VW song. Steve Lacy sets the tone for the album at the beginning of the flamenco-fueled song “Sympathy” when he says, “I think I take myself too serious / It’s not that serious.” Koenig has written some deep, elaborate lyrics in the past, but the ones most memorable from Father of the Bride are the ones that do not require listeners to venture to genius.com.
One question I had after listening to this album, and then listening again, and again, and again, was this: does Father of the Bride see the glass as being half-full, or half-empty? Vampire Weekend’s ability to sing melancholy lyrics over happy, playful tunes is amazing, but confusing. The earth is dying, relationships are tricky, and religion is difficult to understand, and yet these songs make me want to dance in the middle of a field at the peak of spring. I don’t know. Maybe this mess is what the talented array of writers and producers wanted. Regardless, the album is easy to love. If you listen and wish for the old Vampire Weekend, take another listen. I promise they’re there.