I wasn’t expecting it, but my first listen to the new Vampire Weekend album was an emotional one, though it’s hard for me to pin down exactly what that emotion was. I suppose the closest thing I can compare it to is the feeling of seeing an old friend getting married. Of having this punch to the gut reminder that yes, we’re all getting older, but isn’t that kind of beautiful and mysterious in a way?
I know it’s always a bit strange to have this deep of a bond with a mere band, but blame it on Vampire Weekend’s trajectory lining up almost perfectly with my early adulthood. That first album came out when I was in college, while the band was still making sense of their recent college years. And here we are with the band firmly in their thirties, while I also made that leap a few months ago. In retrospect, the first three albums clearly formed a sort of trilogy about the restlessness that comes with young adulthood, while this new album has the same acuteness and adventurousness applied to a new chapter in the band’s life.
The most obvious change this time around is that multi-instrumentalist/producer Rostam Batmanglij is no longer with Vampire Weekend as a full-time band member, though he does still show up on a couple tracks on Father of the Bride. In his place is a deep bench of musicians and producers (headed by Ariel Rechtshaid), that both take the place of Rostam and add new dimension to VW’s already eclectic sound. It would be easy to say that it feels like there’s something missing without Rostam around, since he was the band’s musical soul. But luckily, Rechtshaid and singer/songwriter Ezra Koenig throw so many things at each song production-wise, that the album feels both very fresh but also very akin to the band’s last release, the instant classic Modern Vampires of the City.
This kitchen sink approach feels for the most part appropriate, considering Father of the Bride was conceived as a double album. The vibe overall is decidedly sunny, though the fact that the album is longer gives the band chances to occasionally scale things back with more introspective numbers like “Unbearably White” and “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin”. Overall, it’s just refreshing to hear a double album that clearly takes its length into account, with peaks and valleys and motifs that seem very deliberately placed. Also, you have to respect that even on their so-called double album, the band keeps things relatively concise, with a running time just under an hour.
Getting acquainted with a new Vampire Weekend is a bit of a hard thing to wrap your mind around. I can’t think of any other recent band that demands so much to have their songs played repeatedly, just because they’re so god damn catchy, but also so sonically adventurous that each listen offers new rewards. So an album with as many songs as Father of the Bride takes some getting used to, but so far I’m enjoying it. There may be a few more songs than usual that I’m not in love with, but because the album has the conceit of being such a clearly defined double album, you start to forgive the weaker tracks, and just take them as part of a bigger, raggedy picture. After all, The White Album has more than its share of subpar songs.
Father of the Bride also has plenty to live up to, just because of the high standard Vampire Weekend has held themselves to. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect first three albums from a band, and perhaps Ezra and his many collaborators realized this, so they decided to try as many new things as possible. Yet, this openness toward different sounds and different genres doesn’t seem out of step with what the band has done in the past. So even if it doesn’t quite surpass it, the fact that Father of the Bride rises to the same level as past Vampire Weekend releases is a triumph in itself.