Brian Robert Jones and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend perform on day 3 of Lollapalooza at Grant Park on August 4, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Timothy Hiatt, WireImage)
In the six years since Vampire Weekend released “Modern Vampires of the City,” a few things happened to make their successful return that much more surprising.
For one, the band members aged, transforming from the baby-faced, boat shoes-wearing, recent Ivy League alums into men who have kids of their own. Frontman Ezra Koenig, for example, welcomed a son last fall with actress Rashida Jones.
The band, once part of the crowded indie rock landscape of the late-2000s, can also look around in 2019 and find that few, if any, of their indie rock peers from that time are still making headlines. Trendy music in 2019 sounds much different than in 2009, with the pendulum of coolness swinging away from rock and toward the icy, futuristic pop music of Billie Eilish. It’s certainly not the music a bunch of dads are making.
At one time, Vampire Weekend did sound like the future, when they were 20-somethings making peppy pop with African flourishes that still remains catchier, funnier and more melodically impressive than their contemporaries of that era.
And while the squarely-millennial band knows better than to attempt to be the voice of Gen Z on “Father of the Bride,” the album proves that they’re still better than most, if not all, of the other artists of that era. Buzz-band peers like Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and Deerhunter may have had better reputations with critics at the time, but Vampire Weekend has returned in 2019 with a staying power that few of these bands can claim. More important, the band has a genius-level songwriter in Koenig, whose sparkling melodies and modest lyrics on “Father of the Bride” are neither boring nor self-indulgent, two traps that others have fallen into over the years.
“Father of the Bride” is the band’s “life-goes-on” record, as Koenig described to Rolling Stone. It’s the most adult-sounding and well-adjusted album of their career, thanks to their advanced years and, perhaps, a new perspective on music after spending several years away from the spotlight. Vampire Weekend’s 2019 incarnation sounds sunnier and more unbothered than ever, leaving their previous albums’ chilly set of Northeastern references behind for an album that just sounds like California, or at least an East Coaster’s interpretation of the West Coast’s charms.
Koenig borrows from the Beach Boys on “Flower Moon,” the Grateful Dead and their jam-band brethren on “Harmony Hall” and Paul Simon on buoyant tracks with cutting details like “This Life.” The song is a breezy highlight on which Koenig sings, “Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain/ But I thought it didn’t rain in California,” before nonchalantly declaring, “You’ve been cheating on me/ And I’ve been cheating on you.”
Modernized by stray hip-hop beats and electronic flourishes, the album is boosted by an eclectic team of producers led by Ariel Rechtshaid, famous for channeling the charms of the ’70s and ’80s into his works, in addition to names like rap producer DJ Dahi, Steve Lacy from the cool-kid R&B group the Internet and frequent Justin Bieber collaborator BloodPop.
Made up of 18 tracks, the album feels extra-long in the loveliest way, with the addition of Haim guitarist and vocalist Danielle Haim adding further warmth to recordings that already seem bursting with life. Many of the best songs are the ones that prominently feature her as she trades lyrics with Koenig about a cursed wedding on the album opener “Hold Me Now” and harmonizes with him on the knockout “Stranger,” featuring a chorus that best sums up the album’s simple, succinct perspective on life: “Things have never been stranger / Things are gonna stay strange.”
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