Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride - Album Review

Vampire Weekend’s return after hiatus is an eclectic, brilliant batch of indie-pop.

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Music has always been rooted in context. Creedence Clearwater Revival with the Vietnam War, Tupac with the rise of West Coast rap, Bob Dylan with a burgeoning New York folk scene; Vampire Weekend’s debut arrived in the waning hours of the 2000s indie-rock boom, clad in polo shirts and dress pants, with a batch of songs that laid all their tricks on the table. In a time where The Strokes were putting out their worst records and the imitators were starting to take over, Vampire Weekend hit with music that was exciting; new.

Their follow-ups, Contra and Modern Vampires of the City, tracked a predictable path: Modern Vampires is an indisputable classic of the 2013 indie resurgence, and Contra has its share of bona-fide hits; Father of the Bride arrives six years after Modern Vampires, and in that time, the band has gotten a lot jammier. It’s a roadmap, a collage of the styles and ideas the band picked up on the road to now. Consequently, it’s their most scatterbrain effort yet, with plenty of mini-songs and genres adopted for one or two tunes; but as with every VW before, Father of the Bride is an expertly-crafted album that begs to be listened to over and over again.

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Loose is the name of Father of the Bride. With Danielle Haim on nearly every song, two with The Internet’s Steve Lacy, and various additions from Ludwig Goransson, Hanz Zimmer (!), Mark Ronson, and Haruomi Hosono, it’s also their most firmly rooted in collaboration. For a typically insular band, this is flooding the studio. “Hold You Now” is a duet with Haim, spinning a story of miscommunicated love and name-dropping the album’s title. It recalls the simple stoicism of “Obvious Bicycle,” “Young Lion” and “Taxi Cab,” all VW songs that fit into a niche of low-fi grandeur. It’s a bit of a scene-stealer, and early enough on the record to make a large impression. With finger-picked guitars and a sample of Hans Zimmer’s The Thin Red Line score, it’s the first major synthesis of styles, recalling “Step”’s effortless cool in bringing hip-hop to the VW formula; this time it’s a folk ballad.

Roughly 45 minutes after “Hold You Now,” “Flower Moon” arrives. Despite obvious influences from The Internet and Steve Lacy’s prominent vocals, it retains the Vampire Weekend flavor of “Oxford Comma,” a goofy and slightly-too-emotional pop song. Haim appears again at the tail end to contribute backing vocals, along with a series of horns and jangly percussion from drummer Chris Tomson. “Flower Moon” is an ideal example of a band aging well, incorporating sounds rather than overhauling them; welcoming new voices rather than regulating them. Danielle Haim doesn’t just appear for one song, she becomes co-frontwoman with Ezra Koenig.

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Despite its overflow of sound-effects and piano-backed instrumentation, FOTB is a guitar-heavy album. Noodley affectations land as if recorded at random, spicing up already-strange songs with fluorescent charm. “Sunflower” stands tall on the tracklist as the silliest detour, channeling reggae, The Internet’s chilled-out funk, and scatting from Steve Lacy, and it’s filled with guitar. In all these years of waiting for indie rock to redefine itself, to make the guitar vital again instead of throwing it the way of the bass, Vampire Weekend have done it without a thought. FOTB draws on acoustic rambling as much as clean-tone indie-rock, and it works; between rowdy bass-jams “Sympathy” and the surf-rock influenced “This Life,” it’s hard to imagine one band recording this material, and begins to explain why it might have taken so long to record.

There isn’t a clear flow to FOTB, at least not one that enriches the experience. Vampire Weekend’s debut is one of the best-paced rock albums of the 2000s, so it’s difficult to ignore something so crucial, even on their longest effort. Instead of a traditional 30-45 minutes, FOTB runs like a playlist written and recorded by your favorite khaki boys, sprinkled with duets between Koenig and Danielle Haim to keep a through line. It’s overstuffed, certainly, but not unlike The White Album, therein lies its charm. Koenig has compared it to Bruce Springsteen’s The River, another classic double album with a distinct narrative. In the best way, FOTB combines the “holy crap, how is every song great?” feeling of the Beatles with Springsteen’s storytelling charm, primarily through the duets and lyrical consistency.

FOTB doesn’t hit with the same immediacy of Modern Vampires of the City (the band’s Sgt. Pepper’s, if we’re going with the Beatles comparison), because it was born out of excess, not efficiency. This means a few duds here and there (“How Long”), but a dense and rewarding tracklist nonetheless: “Unbearably White,” “This Life,” “We Belong Together,” “Stranger”; even at their weakest, Vampire Weekend are still writing interesting excursions, little “Honey Pie”’s and “Rocky Racoon”’s. If their debut was a subtle, turtlenecked expression of converging influences, Father of the Bride is the proud displaying of them.