I thought I hated Vampire Weekend. When they first hit big in 2008, I found them obnoxious. Their self-consciously preppy style wound me up. But worse than this, they seemed to suggest that to make or even enjoy sardonic, witty music you had to fit into a certain preppy image. This in turn fed fuel to the fire for every unreconstructed also-ran who sought to aggressively enforce class purity, limiting what musicians could sing about and play on the basis of what their parents did for a living or where they went to school.
I also just found ‘A-Punk’ a little irritating.
Vampire Weekend’s continued evolution sort of passed me by, then, and I wasn’t even aware that they’d taken an extended hiatus until buzz around ‘Father of the Bride‘ started to pick up. Intrigued, I gave them another chance, and found to my surprise that they weren’t just good, but really good. 2010’s ‘Contra‘ and 2013’s ‘Modern Vampires Of The City‘ give the lie to the notion that the band is some kind of arch-Hipster exercise in irony. They evidence the growth and development of an authentic artistic project, with the band’s genre-spanning cross-cultural playfulness seeming less like winking self-indulgence and more like genuine exploration.
Despite the nearly six-year gap, ‘Father Of The Bride’ is a roaring success, continuing this growth with wit and charm. Its eighteen track length can seem a little intimidating, but the record is perfectly paced, with several songs serving more as short interstitial pieces to ease the transition. While you’re unlikely to choose to listen to many of these songs on their own, none feels superfluous in the context of the album.
While the big secret of Vampire Weekend has always been that they’re a jam band that keep their songs short and fun – think Phish without the stoner self-indulgence – ‘Father of the Bride’ almost feels more like a solo album from lead singer Ezra Koenig. This is due in part to the 2016 departure of longtime co-writer Rostam Batmanglij. Though Batmanglij is credited on several tracks, ‘Father of the Bride’ is more notable for its wealth of collaborators. Danielle Haim is most prominent, lending Johnny-And-June sweetness to a trio of Country-inflected duets, but other such as The Internet guitarist Steve Lacy leave a notable mark.
Not every experiment works, though, and you sometimes feel as though a strong producer could have reined the band in at points and encouraged them to develop ideas further at others. ‘Sunflower’s’ scat-guitar-bass refrain runs a little thin, and Koenig-Haim duet ‘We Belong Together’ is by far the least interesting of the lot.
Still, there’s a lot to explore here, and the band deserve credit for refusing to rest on their laurels, even in a comeback album. The lyrics especially reward a closer look, with Koenig spinning achingly poignant stories of lovers coming apart on ‘Hold You Now’ and ‘Unbearably White’, and even seemingly referencing the climate crisis and the rise of populism.
‘Father Of The Bride’ comes recommended to anyone and everyone – even those who may have earlier written Vampire Weekend off. The band, commendably, hasn’t changed direction or sought to appease its haters, and the wide range of this project ensures every listener is bound to find something to dislike. But the joy of this album is that, if a particular digression doesn’t work for you, you’re almost guaranteed something you’ll love around the next corner.