Review: Vampire Weekend – “Father of the Bride”

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After a six-year break and the departure of guitarist/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, Vampire Weekend have released their longest album to date, the spellbinding ‘Father of the Bride’.

Ezra Koenig has openly spoken about the change in direction and production for the group, and throughout the LP he works with the likes of Mark Ronson, Steve Lacy of the Internet, and Danielle Haim to name a few. Yet, his creative vigour is again inspired by his personal life, namely the realisation of growing up and the labours of family life.

Flamenco-fuelled club-jazz exploding on the choir-sampling , New Order-esque ‘Sympathy’ contrasts so starkly with the laidback stoner rock of “Flower Moon”

Hence, the album focuses on the relationship between a father and daughter. Three duets between Koenig and Haim intersperse the album (“Hold You Now”, “Married in a Gold Rush”, “We Belong Together”), but the truly glorious moments happen outside of these occasions. Flamenco-fuelled club-jazz exploding on the choir-sampling, New Order-esque ‘Sympathy’ contrasts so starkly with the laidback stoner rock of “Flower Moon”; the same goes with the sleek piano ballad accounting the three central places of modern Judaism of “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” and “This Life”, which channels Springsteen with a dose of bluegrass.

Rostam Batmanglij, who left the group in 2016, co-produced the album’s debut single “Harmony Hall” as well as co-writing “We Belong Together” with Ezra Koenig. Image Credit: Moses via Wikimedia & Creative Commons

There’s also the required comment on our contemporary times, such as the clever “Big Blue” addressing the oceans, climate change etc. Whilst “2021” less subtlety proposes how we shall be received two years from now, but with delicious samples lifted from Jenny Lewis and ambient ad music composed by Haruomi Hosono for a household and consumer goods company.

It’s great to see Vampire Weekend join the exclusive double-album roster.

But is the album too sprawling? Is it simply too much to comprehend in its completeness? For sure, it does set a completely new vibe for the band, now a trio of Koenig, bassist Chris Baio and drummer Chris Tomson, which is set  apart from the wild prep-school rock of their eponymous debut, or even the more matured “Modern Vampires of the City” (2013), which set their three-album cycle to an end. Nonetheless, perhaps we saw a foreshadowing of this radical new direction in cuts such as “White Sky” from Contra (2011), which balanced electronic beats and synths with delicious scat singing, or MVOTC’s opener “Obvious Bicycle”, using a bicycle pump as a core percussive element complementing the relaxed piano chords and some of the most delicate harmonies Koenig composed at that time.

Danielle Haim, who features as co-lead vocals on “Hold You Now”, “Married In A Gold Rush” and “We Belong Together”. Image Credit: Tuomas Vitikainen via Wikimedia & Creative Commons

Adding to the anticipation, fans have waited six long years, during which Ezra has no doubt been sharpening his musical tools; so, a feast of sounds is by no means undeserved. Plus, it’s great to see a band let themselves go and embrace creative chaos, even if it means that a couple of duds, such as “Stranger”, which truthfully never escapes its central choral riff nor makes it as a song. Artists such as Foo Fighters (“In Your Honour”, which broke ground as two contrasting sides of heavy rock and acoustic tracks”), Led Zeppelin (“Physical Graffiti”, most likely their best release) and even the Beatles (with the imaginative “White Album”)  welcomed the imagination that a double album offered, and it’s great to see another band join this exclusive roster.

Another six years have passed but Vampire Weekend still march on strong. A string of UK dates, including two at Alexandra Palace and O2 Victoria Warehouse Manchester, have sold out, and the trio are set to headline a number of festivals across the globe and appear as the sub-headliner on the final day of Glastonbury, bettered only by Robert Smith & co. of the Cure. The album reached number 2 in the UK Charts and topped the Billboard 200, an impressive feat for a rock band. So, embracing the chaos clearly works, and there is truly something for everyone on this stellar 18-track record. 

Photograph: Thomas RX via Wikimedia & Creative Commons

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