Album: Father of the Bride
Band: Vampire Weekend
Members: Ezra Koenig, Chris Tomson, Chris Baio
Song Highlights: Harmony Hall, This Life, Bambina, Sympathy
A new album after 6 years was always going to be a hard thing to achieve, making sure it was exactly what the band envisioned musically and artistically, whilst simultaneously maintaining their success and living up to public expectation. Not only have they finally released another record after six years, they have decided to release a double album, ‘Father of the Bride’ contains 18 songs, resulting in 58 minutes of what I can only describe as somewhat experimental. It features many different sounds, innovations, and rich lyrics.
The album begins with an unexpected folky venture in ‘Hold you now’, a collaboration with Danielle Haim. At first it would be easy to mistake this for a positive love song, but as the song goes on we realise that the lyrics are actually quite dark. This is more of a reflection on the revelation that this couple will not stay together forever, but the immensity of their love is still intact. ‘I can’t carry you forever, but I can hold you now’. The next song, ‘Harmony Hall’ which was released as a single on January 24th of this year is undoubtedly the anthem of the album. I absolutely love this song; everything about it comes together so naturally. The foundation of the song is the light-hearted and nostalgic piano, and a flamenco style guitar riff, the essence of the song. More instruments are added throughout until they all begin to clash, but in a good way, as if all the components are being drawn to each other. The lyrics are quite dark yet the song is very energetic and infectious. The song is honest, reflective and politically charged.
“Anger wants a voice, voices wanna sing, singers harmonize ’til they can’t hear anything, I thought that I was free from all that questionin’, but every time a problem ends, another one begins”.
“I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die”.
There are a lot of different thoughts, concepts and emotions battling it out for a place within this song. Koenig’s song writing is very raw and free, it isn’t forced yet it is incredibly important. The lyrics are somewhat dark; they contrast heavily with the upbeat sound. I think the song is profound and informative without lacking the components it needs to be played on mainstream radio.
Bambina is a 1min 42 second venture into Koenig’s mind, giving us an insight into what drives him, angers him and what kind of message he is trying to portray. The guitar riffs he produces and the way he sings feels quite classic, or timeless, yet he experiments with modern technology and sounds, adding in synthesizers frequently. ‘This Life’ is a refreshing and vintage sounding song, it is similar to Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ but the lyrics are much darker.
“Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain, I just thought it didn’t rain in California”.
“Baby, I know dreams tend to crumble at extremes, I just thought our dream would last a little bit longer”.
The lyrics are sad yet the music is hopeful, a clever juxtaposition and an enjoyable song. Next up is ‘Big Blue’, definitely not a favourite for me. I understand the intent and the inspiration behind this and I like the concept but I think it is possibly a bit too ambitious; it results in a bit of a boring drawl.
‘How Long’ really makes me think that this is a much darker album than people will realise, opening with the lyrics:
“Tough choice? Don’t make me laugh, My life’s a joke, your life’s a gas”.
The chorus is depressing, but you can’t criticise how honest his song writing is:
“How long ’til we sink to the bottom of the sea? How long, how long?”.
The next verse is like a Sgt. Pepper inspired sad memory, it is raw and disheartening:
“What’s the point of getting clean? You’ll wear the same old dirty jeans, What’s the point of being seen? Those eyes are cruel, those eyes are mean, What’s the point of human beings? A sharpie face on tangerines, Why’s it felt like Halloween since Christmas 2017?”
‘Unbearably White’ is a rather melancholy journey into Koenig’s thought process and despair, whereas ‘Rich Man’ is very interesting musically, with retro, crackly sounds that really give it an aspect of authenticity.
‘Married in a Gold Rush’, another collaboration with Danielle Haim, is more of a lyrical adventure than a musical one. The sound is quite similar to the other songs on the album, but the lyrics are poetic. At this point, the album starts to feel a little stale and repetitive, which is why ‘My Mistake’ is kind of a saviour. The lyrics are insightful, but the sound is at the forefront. The experimentation used here is quite impressive, it is hard to criticise due to the care that went into the creativity in this song. For anyone in this current, bland music industry to make that much of an effort in terms of creativity and experimentation, is a miracle, and this is the very thing that prevents Vampire Weekend from becoming boring.
‘Sympathy’ is another venture into experimentation; it is actually one of my favourite songs from the album. There are so many different sounds and vibes, I love the country infused verses and the haunted vocals surrounded by reverb, the Spanish guitars that intervene in such a clashy yet soothing way, the loud drums and an array of other sounds. This really reminds me of a modern day Sgt Pepper attempt, a bold move to bring the meaning of music back into the industry, and it has worked as this album has soared straight to the top of the charts all over the world.
‘Sunflower’ isn’t a favourite of mine but it still provides some interesting sounds and idea’s, and a lot of summery riffs, it’s the kind of song that I thought I’d never like but actually end up looking forward to it when listening to the album. ‘Flower Moon’ I find very interesting, at first it makes me want to hate it but as I carry on listening I feel more intrigued. I love the combination of sounds, the lyrics and the way in which the verses are sung. ‘2021’ is more in depth, the lyrics are bare but you can hear the message that Koenig really is touching on throughout the whole album, the passage of time and how something that felt so right years before can and will fade with time, just like the objects we see around us, everything is worn down in time, even love.
‘We Belong Together’, yet another collaboration with Danielle Haim really isn’t a highlight for me. I mean sure, it interjects some hope into this pessimistic vibe that has been carried throughout the album, but it just seems a bit out of place to me. I love ‘Stranger’ because it is simply an honest reflection of his emotion and what he is feeling at this point in his life. Things aren’t the same as they were, everything he knew has changed but the sound of the song gives me the impression that he is taking it with a pinch of salt and just sailing through life complacently. I also love the different instruments and the reverb/echoed vocals. At this point, ‘Spring Snow’ is the narrator seriously asking himself if all of the pain is worth fighting for, he battles with this but the title makes you think that the seasons will change things for the better. But really he is saying that the seasons won’t change a thing, ultimately, the sun will come out again but it won’t do a thing to help the situation: ‘But here comes the sun, those old toxic rays’.
‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’ is the ballad/anthem that the album has been alluding to since the opening lines of Harmony Hall. The lyrics highlight the downfall of humanity throughout points in history, a desperate question in how long humanity will be its own worst enemy. And the fact that more and more, humans are just switching off and turning their backs on important issues within society, becoming even more ignorant over time:
‘Our tongues will fall so still, Our teeth will all decay, A minute feels much longer, With nothing left to say’.
‘So let them win the battle, But don’t let them restart, That genocidal feeling, That beats in every heart’.
It is a politically pleasing and metaphorical end to a wild journey of an album, some songs are monotonous, yet some songs are so far out and experimental it makes you question how this made it into the mainstream charts. There are some faults with this album, but those little niggles are just my personal musical opinions. At the end of the day, they have created a very interesting, innovative and different album that really was worth the wait. Ezra Koenig makes song- writing seem like the simplest thing in the world, but my praise lies within the effort the band have made in terms of creativity. After the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, it was thought that music would never be boring again. Fast forward fifty years and in my opinion, the mainstream world of pop has never been more boring, maybe Vampire Weekend have noticed, because this is their Sgt. Pepper.