Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
A giddy, sprawling fourth record, Father of the Bride heralds the dawn of a new era for Vampire Weekend
Quizzed on why his artists’ records were often so sprawling in length, Simon Cowell once said that "nobody ever complains that you’ve given them too much music."
Obvious points of comparison between Cowell and Ezra Koenig do not spring to mind readily but, as the uncommonly prominent Sony Music logo on the cover of this fourth Vampire Weekend album reminds us, the two are now operating under the same umbrella. Apparently, they also share a dim view of brevity. Father of the Bride spans 18 tracks and 57 minutes and your first instinct is that it’s quite right that the New Yorkers should return with something so substantial after a studio layoff of six years, particularly when it was one that involved no shortage of potential release dates being dangled and then snatched away.
Where to start, then? Hanging heavy over Father of the Bride is the departure, in 2016, of multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij. He always seemed like the group’s quiet mastermind, subtly reining in Koenig’s more flamboyant tendencies and having a sharply intuitive grasp of how much is too much self-indulgence. Predictably, without Batmanglij at the helm, Koenig has giddily careened off into the deeper recesses of his own creative mind to produce a record that is dizzyingly referential, intimidatingly dense and that, in stylistic terms, fluctuates constantly – although perhaps not as wildly as Koenig might think.
Tying everything together is the mood of the whole piece – it’s a pastel kaleidoscope, summery and light on its feet throughout. But broadly, you can hive off Koenig’s songwriting predispositions into one of two categories – 60s-indebted pop, and R'n'B-inflected experimentalism. There are hits and misses on both sides of the divide; Stranger’s irresistibly laid-back groove, slick harmonies and whip-smart instrumental choices, including glorious flickers of saxophone, all add up to one of those moments where you wonder who else melds such disparate influences as masterfully as Vampire Weekend do. That mileage varies, though, as evidenced by the clash of styles on the awkward duet Married in a Gold Rush, one of a clutch of tracks that Danielle Haim lends dull-as-dishwater vocals to.
When Koenig pivots to pop, though, the success rate soars. This Life is a classic blend of light and dark, as he spins a bleak existentialist yarn by way of chirpy, infectious melody, and it’s not just that Unbearably White and Jerusalem, New York, Berlin are so handsome in their sonic construction – it’s that they’re such stark reminders that, behind his meme-saturated online presence and self-satisfied manner in interviews, Koenig remains a witty and affecting storyteller. Every now and then, there’s a sudden flash of off-the-wall brilliance, too; the interpolation of Hans Zimmer’s The Thin Red Line score into opener Hold You Now is an exhilarating scene-setter, whilst ventures into minimalism (2021) and psychedelia (Sunflower) makes you glad Batmanglij wasn’t around to put Koenig back on his lead.
That the two tracks that Batmanglij did contribute to Father of the Bride are a) the closest moments to the Vampire Weekend of old and b) two of the album’s standouts underlines quite neatly what this next era of the band will come to represent. With Koenig less taking a seat in the director’s chair than swapping it out for a trampoline from which to yelp out his own vision, gone are the days of airtight production, measured inflection and unruffled demeanour. Going forwards, Koenig’s Weekend will be a considerably messier proposition. What they won’t be, though – ever – is boring.
Listen to: This Life, Stranger, Jerusalem, New York, Berlin