Release Date: May 3, 2019
Record label: Sony Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Indie/Alternative
During the six years between Modern Vampires of the City and Father of the Bride, things that seemed essential to Vampire Weekend changed drastically. Founding member Rostam Batmanglij left to pursue his solo career, while Ezra Koenig left the East Coast to settle in Los Angeles. These shifts in lineup and location are just a few of the changes Vampire Weekend take in stride on their fourth album.
Just over 10 years on from their debut, Vampire Weekend already feel like a relic from the Obama era. They emerged during a naively congratulatory moment in American history— when "post-racial America" seemed a realistic, if not, imminent reality— in which the president could be black and privileged Ivy League kids could experiment with highlife and dancehall in a way that felt well-meaning and intellectually honest. But 2019 is not 2008 and the time for complacency is long gone.
From the beginning, Vampire Weekend were winners: charming, relatively lighthearted; Columbia students one year, festival headliners the next. They had cute sweaters and smart jokes; they wrote with wit and curiosity about the tapestry of privileged life; they carried themselves with an almost infuriating sparkle. But they were also manic, weird, and provocatively cross-cultural, mixing up digital dancehall and string sections, Latin punk and raga in ways that didn't quite fit.
If we'd have followed the natural trail that Vampire Weekend seemed to have laid in their time away, the follow-up to the impeccable 'Modern Vampires of the City' should have sounded very different to what we get on 'Father of the Bride'. In the years since their last record, frontman Ezra Koenig has (among other things) relocated from New York to Los Angeles to settle down with an A-List actor, collaborated with SBTRKT on a fizzing, leftfield dance song and floated album titles such as 'Mitsubishi Macchiato'. All which could reasonably have led fans to expect an album rife with experimentation and hip hop influences, a tearing up of the band's script.
The first album in nearly six-years is a key reinvention for the indie stalwarts, with a looseness and funkiness that proves, thankfully, they've not overthought the comeback. It's just load of fun, you know? "I think I take myself too serious / It's not that serious", Ezra Koenig croaks approximately halfway through Vampire Weekend's new album 'Father Of The Bride'. It arrives at the start of 'Sympathy', a meaty track halfway through the 18-track record, which sees the band blend rock and rave for the first time.
The Lowdown: In an interview with GQ this past January, Ezra Koenig described Modern Vampires of the City, the last Vampire Weekend album, which came out in 2013, as about "Being in your late 20s and being like, ‘Life is crazy. I’m gonna die.’" When it came time to write Father of the Bride, the band's first album since, Koenig took a long break to figure out what comes next. In that period, Koenig wrote with Beyoncé and Kanye West, created the Netflix series Neo Yokio, and became a father alongside his partner Rashida Jones.
Ever since Vampire Weekend's 2008 debut, listeners, critics and even scholars have endlessly pointed out the similarities that the band's artistic output has to the films of director Wes Anderson. The brazen commitment to the Bauhaus 'Futura' typeface (perhaps most popularised in film by Stanley Kubrick, mind you), the quirky still life detail of Ezra Koenig's lyrics ("Look up at the buildings, imagine who might live there/ Imagining your Wolfords in a ball upon the sink there"), the use of choir and string arrangements à la Mark Mothersbaugh (one of Anderson's common scoring collaborators) - the parallel hallmark features are relatively obvious. The band even made explicit reference to Anderson's debut feature film Bottle Rocket with the 'to do list' in their video for 2009's 'Cousins'.
Six long years have passed since we last heard from Vampire Weekend, so much time that they almost seem emblematic of a different era. Father Of The Bride seems conscious of that – it almost feels like a reset button for the band. The album art is a world away from that gorgeous shot of a smog covered New York from Modern Vampires Of The City, being a child-like scrawl of a globe: and that’s not the only difference from the band’s previous records.
Though not confirmed at the time, Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend's third effort, sounded like it'd be the last we'd hear from the then NYC outfit in a while. And yet they had escalated their career by making all the right decisions before going on a six-year hiatus—Vampires was more refined and sophisticated, leagues away from the hyper, literate ethnocentrist pop of their collegiate days. Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig mediated on mortality and finding your place in a big city, which in many ways, can make you feel anonymous.
This shift parallels Koenig's personal circumstances: he is a new father, and has spent much of recent years living in Los Angeles with his partner, the actor Rashida Jones - far away from Vampire Weekend 's native New York. The album also marks a change in personnel: it is the first release made after the departure of founding member Rostam Batmanglij , the group's multi-instrumentalist and primary producer. Batmanglij still contributes production to some tracks, but the close-knit songwriting team at the group's core is effectively no more.
"C opper goes green, steel beams go rust," muses Ezra Koenig on 2021, a track contemplating the passage of time on Vampire Weekend's fourth album, Father of the Bride. It has been six long years since the band's last outing, the feted Modern Vampires of the City, which drew to a close a triptych of albums that found this group of Columbia University graduates cleverly fusing west African guitars and uptight east coast stylings. The working title for the new record was Mitsubishi Macchiato - a parody, almost, of this guitar outfit's signature metropolitan wit.
S ix years ago, as Vampire Weekend released their last album, frontman Ezra Koenig reflected on their progress. "If people could look at our three albums as a bildungsroman," he told the New York Times, "I'd be OK with that." On one level, of course alt-rock's premier chroniclers of preppy romance and wordy middle-class angst would start chucking 19th-century German literary terms around when asked to consider their oeuvre. On the other, Vampire Weekend's first three albums did feel like a trilogy, covering a life from studenthood to late-twentysomething dread.
Nearly six years to the day after dropping the stunning 'Modern Vampires of the City', Ezra Koenig and co. have finally returned with a fourth full length, and it's a double album at that. In those heady - and often embarrassing days - of the post-punk/indie revival, who would have thought that these seemingly privileged Ivy League graduates would be standing victorious over a decade later? But that's always been the sweet irony of Vampire Weekend.
Over the last decade, Vampire Weekend became that rarest of species among millennial guitar-rock bands: a festival headliner. Then it took a six-year break between studio recordings. "Father of the Bride" (Spring Snow/Columbia) doesn't so much try to pick up where Vampire Weekend left off in 2013 with "Modern Vampires of the City" as press the reset button.