Vampire Weekend... back with real bite!
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: Father Of The Bride (Columbia) Verdict: Inspired but scatter-gun
Vampire Weekend singer ezra koenig would once take umbrage at the chants of ‘ Graceland! Graceland!’ that greeted his new York band whenever they played songs from their self-titled debut album live.
He was flattered by the comparisons with paul Simon’s 1986 masterpiece, but felt they also suggested that his own songs lacked originality.
But Vampire Weekend have never had narrow artistic horizons. Having formed in 2002 at manhattan’s Columbia University, where band members studied english, russian, music and economics, they embellished any unintended paul Simon references with chamber strings and indierock guitars. They were artistically ambitious back then; and even more so now.
Back after a six-year break in which koenig has produced a track for Beyoncé, worked with Beninese star angélique kidjo and become a dad for the first time, the band are bolder than ever on their fourth album.
at 18 tracks, Father Of The Bride, out today, is a sprawling and sometimes scatter-gun affair, but it’s littered with sparks of inspiration.
Vampire Weekend made their name with quizzical, clever- clever songs about manhattan bus routes and the rules of english grammar, but they are now playing it straight. The archly-raised eyebrows of a bookish bunch fresh out of an ivy League college have given way to a more relaxed approach. ‘i take myself too serious,’ says koenig on the flamenco- tinged dance track Sympathy . . . ‘it’s not that serious.’
THiSis their first record since founder member rostam Batmanglij left in 2016, reducing the band to a trio. rostam has since found mainstream pop success as a songwriter for Charlie XCX and Carly rae Jepsen, but he’s back as co-producer here.
He leads an impressive support cast that includes danielle Haim ( of sibling trio Haim) and mark ronson.
koenig’s three duets with Haim are high points. Hold You now opens the album with an ambitious combination of american folk melody and a choral sample from German film composer Hans
Zimmer’s score for The Thin red Line. married in a Gold rush is a bittersweet, he- said, she- said piece worthy of nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood or, more recently, paul Heaton and Jacqui abbott.
another folk duet, We Belong Together, suggests ezra and danielle’s partnership might even work over an entire album. That’s one for the future.
There are other enticing collaborations here. This Life, co-written with koenig’s fellow new Yorker ronson, is a sprightly pop track that leans on Van morrison’s Brown eyed Girl. another guest — Californian soul-funk guitarist Steve Lacy — is a revelation on the quirky Flower moon and recent single Sunflower.
at an hour long, this is essentially a double album. and, while its tracks initially flow with pleasing fluency, ambition gets the better of the band as the record becomes a supermarket trolley- dash between styles. my mistake is an odd, lounge-jazz interlude; Stranger is slight and throwaway.
But koenig’s songwriting has become more direct, more personal. He wryly reflects on how one’s perspective, if not life’s challenges, change with age on Harmony Hall.
‘Thought i was free from all that questioning, but every time a problem ends, another one begins,’ he sighs.
and, on psychedelic rocker How Long, he offers a withering aside on the band’s ongoing rise: ‘ Getting to the top wasn’t supposed to be that hard.’
They’ve taken their time — and some judicious edits wouldn’t go amiss — but they are getting there in style.
Vampire Weekend play the Big Weekend, middlesbrough, on may 25 and further UK festival dates, including Glastonbury, in June (vampireweekend.com).
Ezra Koenig: Chilling out