“I think I take myself too serious / It’s not that serious”, Ezra Koenig croaks approximately halfway through Vampire Weekend’s new album ‘Father Of The Bride’. It arrives at the start of ‘Sympathy’, a meaty track halfway through the 18-track record, which sees the band blend rock and rave for the first time. The song is loose, funky and a reminder that, actually, they’ve not been taking themselves too seriously at all.
Want proof? The band have a long-running connection with a Seinfeld parody account (@Seinfeld2000) and at a recent gig in London they decided to play their 2008 hit ‘A Punk’ not once – not twice – but thrice to bleary-eyed Saturday morning gig-goers, who had been plied with personalised donuts and artisan coffee not long before. See: it’s not that serious.
Likewise, the band’s first three albums – the 2008 self-titled, 2010’s stellar follow-up ‘Contra’ and particularly their astonishing third album, 2013’s ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ – were laden with in-jokes and songs that paired existential crisis with bombastic pop production (‘Diane Young’). If those albums were the set-ups, then ‘Father Of The Bride’ is their killer punchline six-years in the making. It’s fun and familiar and pushes the band into bold new territory. No matter how times you hear it, it’ll still conjure a smile .
Perhaps that comes as standard with making a double-album – yes, you read that right, a double album in 2019 that isn’t a stream-harvesting ploy – because often the only way to fill the expanded run time is to rip it up and start again. There are moments where that seems to have seen the case like the aforementioned ‘Sympathy and the Steve Lacy-featuring ‘Sunflower’ and shuffling psychedelic-pop of ‘Flower Moon’ – grooves that could only come with age and Koenig’s intrigue and passion for jam bands such as The Grateful Dead, Twiddle and more.
That collaborative spirit has informed ‘Father Of The Bride’s conception and tie-dye vibes. Previous albums appear relatively regimented and organised to the extreme, but ‘Father Of The Bride’ sounds like the work of some pals noodling away in the studio and shooting the shit. More often than not it’s a hit, not a miss.
Original member Rostam Batmanglij, who left the band in 2016 to focus on other work, is credited with production on a few songs alongside BloodPop (who has worked with Justin Bieber, Madonna) and Mark Ronson on ‘This Life’. Meanwhile Danielle Haim makes significant vocal contributions throughout, with soul wunderkind Steve Lacy from cult group The Internet adding funky guitar licks and vocals when necessary.
As such, the album has the feel of a scrap-book that’s full of crossings-out and wild ideas, instead of being meticulously planned and overwrought. Koenig himself has already said that the album has plenty of “short story-type songs” and, occasionally, the briefest moments are the most enlightening. The sparkling sub-two minute-‘Bambina’ and soothing ‘Big Blue’ are two examples of the group. doing less with more, while the breezy-yet-brief ‘We Belong Together’ sees Koenig and Haim trade lines about “Keats and Yeats/ Bowls and plates” atop a joyous indie-pop backing.
So it’s largely fun and games, but there are performances by Koenig that’ll stop you in your tracks. ‘Unbearably White’ is one of the band’s most impressive productions to date, while the piano-led ballad ‘Jerusalem New York Berlin’, penned about the Balfour Declaration and the birth of the Israel state – a song that Koenig wants people to listen to before divulging further about its meaning – is a wistful and memorable close to an album of staggering beauty.
Depending on your mood, there’ll be songs you’d happily lop off for a more streamlined listen, but by and large, all of these songs make the patchwork much more vibrant. If there’s another wait this long for album five, we trust that they’ll make use of the time.