BY CHARLIE C. Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend’s first album in six years, is a double album with 18 tracks spanning 58 minutes. An album of this length is uncharted territory for a band whose three previous LPs all ranged from 10-12 songs and as a result were uniformly consistent and never overstayed their welcome. Although this album is far looser than their previous works, especially considering the vast eclecticism of their back catalog, rarely does it drag on or remind you of its hour-long running time.
Vampire Weekend is notable for their wide array of influences, their first two albums borrow from African music, punk and ska, and there are prominent classical elements on their third outing, Modern Vampires of the City. Considering their reputation for mining trans-continental sounds, it’s surprising to hear Vampire Weekend borrow mostly from American music on this latest album. This shift is instantly recognizable on the opening track, one of three duets between singer-songwriter-guitarist Ezra Koenig and Danielle Haim (the first appearance of a second voice on any Vampire Weekend record), which finds them incorporating country sounds into the mix — a disarming development for anyone even vaguely familiar with the band. With this transition away from their earlier influences, the band is clearly entering a new era signaled by doing away with the signature white-bordered cover art of the first three albums and instead opting for cover art reminiscent of an earnings report for some business conglomerate.
The onset of this new era is also telegraphed by the stark contrast between the new album and 2013’s Modern Vampires. Where the latter was a dark, experimental album exploring the topics of death and mortality in a manner both concise and unyielding, Father of the Bride makes a point of not taking itself too seriously, a strategy that yields a sunny, accessible, and completely laid back set of songs. Although I can see that some fans would be disappointed by their move away from the conciseness and the intellectual nature of earlier efforts, the new album’s charm is not lost on me. It may not be as necessary or as ‘serious’ as their other works, but does it really have to be? This is thoroughly enjoyable music, which is not to say it’s one-dimensional. The instrumentation and arrangements remain as dense and varied as previous outings, and Ezra’s lyrics remain cryptic and open to interpretation, but intentionally simplified and, as a result, more direct.
However, with an album as long and varied as Father of the Bride, there were bound to be misfires. Although in the past autotune elevated tracks such as “California English” from the band’s 2010’s Contra, Ezra’s use of auto tune on “Bambina” and “Spring Snow” comes off as headache-inducing. And songs such like “2021” and “Big Blue” are pleasant but low-impact. Although “Hold You Now” and “Married in a Gold Rush” are great duets between Ezra and Danielle Haim, their final collaboration on the record, “We Belong Together,” features the corniest and most cliched lyrics Ezra has ever penned, with him and Danielle asserting that they go together like day and night and left and right.
Still, the tremendous highs of Father of the Bride outshine these lows. “Flower Moon,” featuring guitarist Steve Lacy from The Internet, is my personal favorite. Ezra’s distorted vocals on the intro of the track are breathtaking and Steve Lacy’s spoken word vocals on the chorus resonate warmly with Koenig’s high yelp. “My Mistake” is another standout, a jazzy and soulful track drenched in beauty and moodiness and the singles “This Life,” “Harmony Hall” and “Sunflower” still shine in the track list. Although it’s sad to see the succinctness and the poetic lyrics of Modern Vampires of the City and Contra go, Father of the Bride is an excellent reinvention of the band that leaves me thoroughly pleased with the result of their hiatus.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charlie C. is 15 and lives across the river