For many of us too young to be millennials and too old to be Gen Z, Vampire Weekend was the soundtrack of our adolescence. Frontman Ezra Koenig’s trademark nasality is a reminder of summer concerts with cheap lawn tickets, still-active Tumblr accounts and that one American Apparel tennis skirt everyone seemed to have. The band made us want to buy a sweater vest, perhaps take a sailing lesson. They also made us want to listen to ‘80s African psych-rock, among other niche influences. Vampire Weekend has always been a nostalgic bag of tricks, even on the first listen in our high school bedrooms or college dorms. They are what happens when four Columbia grads decide to make something weird in their tiny New York apartments and take it to the big stage, without losing any of their homemade quirks.
Eleven years since their first studio album and six years since their last release in general, Vampire Weekend could have easily ridden their nostalgia factor into a collection of pop hits. Despite this obvious route, the band has chosen to do something different with their fourth LP Father of the Bride, a colorful frenzy of innovation and collaboration that goes beyond what anyone could have expected. It is a testament to Vampire Weekend’s adaptability to the times we live in and their own personal growth in the past six years. The band is different now, and has grown up, much like the majority of their listenership has.
Koenig had a baby with partner Rashida Jones, bassist Chris Baio has released solo music and so has longtime keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, who, after establishing himself as a sought-out producer for HAIM, Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepsen and the like, left the band officially in 2016. Vampire Weekend has gone through many changes in their period of radio silence, so it was easy to expect something either boring or completely off the rails from this year’s record. But this is not what happened; in fact, their newest work is almost a concentrated version of the band’s sound, a brash embrace of their well-loved idiosyncrasies as the foundation for something new.
The first singles off Father of the Bride signaled these shifts in life for the band, with songs “Harmony Hall,” “Big Blue” and “Sunflower” coming out months ahead of the LP, among others. Among these initial tunes were collaborations with The Internet guitarist and modern psychedelic icon Steve Lacy, who is a consistent contributor to the album’s sound. They sound a lot like the old Vampire Weekend, but with a newfound sense of perspective and joy. By the time the record dropped last week, fans had already gotten a solid taste of what was to come: an upbeat, hook-peppered and narratively dense project full of collaboration and pep.
Father of the Bride is not wildly different from the band’s past work, and, in fact, it uses some older lyrics and motifs woven throughout new material (see: “Harmony Hall”’s repeating “I don’t wanna live like this / But I don’t want to die”). With this in mind, the record isn’t tired at all, building their established niche in indie rock and pop to new heights. Single “2021” is a great example of this, as it merges Vampire Weekend’s traditional pop song structure with innovative and catchy electronic riffs. This may be the influence of former band member Batmanglij, who, despite his departure, came back to produce several songs on the album with his flair for all that digital production can do.
Topping off at 18 songs, the double album is a tour de force within Vampire Weekend’s discography at large, and a heady explanation for the years they took to make it. It would take days to fully pull apart the intricacies of each track, but that’s the magic of Father of the Bride. Every song is a masterfully contained little world of its own, carrying with it a narrative that could be taken a million different ways. This mystery is one of the joys of listening to Vampire Weekend, and it has always puzzled and excited fans from the moment they released their first single in 2007. Their music often makes no sense on a superficial level, but that doesn’t matter once you start to enjoy it. The most important thing that the band has to offer is their supernatural sense for creating impeccable grooves, something that has only improved in Father of the Bride. After all these years, Vampire Weekend still knows what they do best: Make you cry, dance and try out plaid all at the same time.