It’s been six long years for fans of Vampire Weekend. Six years of silence. Of waiting. Of nothing. Until, bam! With May showers comes Vampire Weekend’s fourth album, Father of the Bride.
Formerly a four-man band, Vampire Weekend is now a trio composed of lead singer Ezra Koenig, multi-instrumentalist Chris Tomson, and bassist Chris Baio. And the group’s latest effort mixes some flair and maturity into the 18 tracks found here.
These songs tackle difficult subjects—from heartbreak and suffering, to global and political unrest—by asking existential questions with a light and airy feel that sounds like a fusion of The Beatles, Phish and The Cure. But though the band unquestionably deals with some complex themes, Father of the Bride still mixes some positive messages among the more melancholy ones.
“We Belong Together” focuses on two people who, though vastly different, realize they’re meant for each another: “We go together like Keats and Yeats/Bowls and plates, days and dates/We stay united like these old states/It’s how we go together.” In “Married in a Gold Rush,” a man fights to make a relationship work, even though it occasionally feels hopeless (“I just wanna go out tonight and make my baby proud”). And in “Stranger,” a man has finally found the woman he loves: “I used to look for an answer/ … Don’t need to look anymore.” A woman moves on from a dead-end relationship in “Hold You Now.”
“This Life” contrasts the harsh reality of pain with our impulse to find someplace where it doesn’t exist: “Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain/I just thought it didn’t rain in California.” Similar sentiments show up on “Harmony Hall,” where a man wrestles with the reality of deception and his desire for change: “Anybody with a worried mind can never forgive the sight/Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified/I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.”
Wise life lessons are doled out on “Rich Man.” A man thinks back on advice he’s received about peace (“One rich man in 10 has a satisfied mind/And I’m the one”), love (“I’m compelled by your love, and I havene’t lost yet/Clearly you’re the one”) and money’s inability to satisfy apart from meaningful relationships (“But if 10 million dollars is all that you got/You won’t be the one”).
Meanwhile, the ocean becomes a therapeutic refuge on “Big Blue”: “When I was hurt and in need of affection/When I was tired and I couldn’t go home/Then you offered protection.”
“How Long” admits that the realities of fame are difficult (“Getting to the top/Wasn’t supposed to be this hard”). And “Sunflower” and “Stranger” ask someone to stay hidden away for a brief while in order to rest from the world’s problems.
The theme of failed relationships shows up on songs such as “This Life,” “How Long,” “Married in a Gold Rush,” “Hold You Now” and “Unbearably White.” In the first of those tracks, a man laments a deceptive relationship that’s crumbled (“You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me/I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you”). And in the last, a guy reflects on why his relationship deteriorated, saying, “Baby, I love you/But that’s not enough.”
In “Hold You Now,” a man says he’ll cherish a sexual memory of an ex who’s about to marry someone else: “Leaving on your wedding day/All calm and dressed in white/All I’ll keep’s the memory of one last crooked night.”
A slight criticism against religion is heard on a couple of songs. On “Sympathy,” lead singer Ezra Koenig suggests that Christianity and Judaism, two religions once at odds with each other, have been united by their antipathy for a third religion (likely Islam): “Judeo-Christianity/I’d never heard the words/Enemies for centuries/Until there was a third.” And “Bambina” perhaps suggests that Christian’s aren’t willing to fight when things get tough: “My Christian heart/Cannot withstand/The thundering arena.”
“My Mistake” apparently addresses the issue of immigration from the perspective of someone who feels they were treated badly after crossing the border: “It was cold/It was dark/You were cruel/You were fake/Hoping for kindness/Was my greatest mistake.”
Sensually suggestive moments pop up on “Spring Snow” (“Come back to the bed/Let’s take this reprieve”) and “Stranger” (“You got the right light, candles burning/We don’t need the moon anymore”).
Alcohol is referenced on “Flower Moon.”
You can tell Ezra Koenig and his bandmates graduated from Columbia University. Vampire Weekend’s lyrics have always merged deep thoughts and personal opinions with both the whimsical and the sacred. The group’s previous albums have touched on religion, politics, love, life, heartbreak, suffering and current realities—and Father of the Bride is no different.
But despite dealing with some pretty heavy topics, the band’s sound has a light, summery feel throughout. It’s a hard contrast to achieve without sounding sarcastic or irreverent, especially when incorporating such contemplative lyrics, but Vampire Weekend somehow pulls it off.
That’s not to say the album doesn’t have elements you might wrestle with. A couple of songs seem to characterize Christians as being complacent and hypocritical. As for the band’s political perspective, some will likely agree while others will disagree with some of the stances the guys take. Add in some melancholy stories of lost love and fond memories of sensual encounters, and listeners have a few more issues to think through on this dense, complex album.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).