Music Reviews
Father of the Bride

Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride

(Spring Snow/Columbia) Rating - 7/10

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. But most importantly, they were just about figuring out how to further cement their legacy before their actual lives got in the way (but at least that Grammy win would symbolize an opportunity to move along with the project, eventually).

During that time, the members of Vampire Weekend went through some significant changes. Koenig moved to Los Angeles, became a father, and pursued other forms of entertainment (from his Netflix anime show Neo Yokio to his quasi-podcast radio show Time Crisis). They also amicably parted ways with Rostam Batmanglij, who's continued to lend his hand to the band even if he's not an essential contributor anymore. But a new album was always an open possibility, simmering in the back burner until it was the right time to return to the full-time demands of being in a band. As it turns out, Koenig had a plan all along—18 tracks, to be exact, a new batch of songs that equally favor the randomized nature of streaming and the full immersion of a double LP experience.

Despite its almost hour-long length, Father of the Bride feels just as compact and succinct as every other Vampire Weekend record. It doesn't come across as overly labored, even if Koenig and his cohorts spread an infinite amount of ideas despite keeping a slack, Sunday morning vibe. The gospel-meets-Madchester Harmony Hall allows Koenig to indulge in dense religious imagery, even if the song's joyous ring sounds fit for both weekends trips and peach mimosas. There's a noticeable absence of perk throughout the album, though that doesn't imply a lack of energy. Bambina is one of the liveliest cuts here, where Koenig puts forth classic guitar melody lines before he lulls his voice into subdued Auto-Tune.

Father of the Bride is also unlike any Vampire Weekend record in how Koenig brings along a curious mix of collaborations, especially when the rest of the band members feel somewhat absent. Danielle Haim duets with Koenig on three of the tracks, making for a rather sumptuous George Jones/Tammy Wynette-like pairing even if they emphasize baroque elements over country instrumentation. Steve Lacy of neo-soul group The Internet lends his vocals to both Sunflower and Flower Moon, both of which have the heaviest Afro-pop sensibilities of albums' past. Koenig's clean, busy guitar playing has a major presence throughout—meanwhile, Chris Baio's bass playing sounds muted, if practically absent, and Chris Tomson's fleet-footed drum skills are underutilized (perhaps to better benefit the album's breezy mood, but missed all the same).

With that in mind, it's easy to make the assumption that Father of the Bride sounds like an Ezra Koenig solo project. Which, is some ways, has always been the case if you attribute the importance of his lyrical prowess. But his talents didn't use to overshadow the rest of the band members (the lack of Rostam's input may also have to do with it, but that's another debate in itself). This time, his well-read references are particularly inscrutable—better to consider them as historical vignettes—going on a tirade of cleverly-pieced topical themes like a millennial researcher: anti-semitism, hate groups, Judeo-Christian relations, the list goes on. Does it all tie in together? Not as neatly as you'd think, but that's part of the fun, and in some ways reveals more and more with repeat listens.

There's a long contested argument about how ambitious double albums usually work to the detriment of a clearer, carefully-sequenced focus. And Father of the Bride does succeed in a musical sense—it could've done without the sparse synth ballad 2012 or the bastardized bossa nova of Spring Snow, to give a few examples, but most of these instrumental curios reaffirm Koening's reflective, and possibly solitary, approach to get back into the flow of writing music. And that's usually how these long transitions work—you regroup, you make what you will of the limitations, and you bring everyone back on board with a newfound perspective. It's a fascinating look into how Vampire Weekend now operates, but you can't help feeling like their essence as a unit got lost as they put all those pieces back together.