Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride review – Too long for its own good

Fri, May 3, 2019, 14:16

   
Father of the Bride is unashamed in its Vampire Weekend-ness.  

Album:
Father of the Bride

Artist:
Vampire Weekend

Label:
Spring Show/Columbia

Genre:
Alternative

If, as Ezra Koenig once hypothesised, Lil Jon always tells the truth, what would he say about Father of the Bride? Maybe that, at 18 songs stretched over 58 minutes, Vampire Weekend’s fourth album is too long for its own good.

Perhaps the blessed Lord of Crunk and hawker of Pepsi would assert that though the record has some musical chops, many of the songs are desperately searching for a decent hook. Maybe he would claim that Father of the Bride is as joyless as Vampire Weekend’s 2008 self-titled debut was joyful. And still, in his brilliant brain, Lil Jon would likely realise that this is an album sure to shore up the band’s sizeable base.

That’s because Father of the Bride is unashamed in its Vampire Weekend-ness. If you know the group, you know what I’m talking about. The album is full of songs that conjure images of preppy polo tees, chino shorts and nice haircuts. It’s an encapsulation of the late 2000s/early 2010s Brooklyn DIY music scene that revelled in dressing up old West African afropop records in preppy V-neck sweaters.

Vampire Weekend 1

As someone absorbed in that city back then, I can tell you that distinct strand of New York culture feels dead and gone. Not even an era-defining band like Vampire Weekend, with their first album in six long years, can will it back into existence.

Father of the Bride actually starts well enough. The beautifully written Hold You Know is the first of two songs featuring guest vocalist Danielle Haim performing alongside Koenig (who, as on previous record Modern Vampires of the City, serves as co-producer with hired hand Ariel Rechtshaid).

It’s also the first signal that the band wish to invite more old fashioned folk, country and Americana influences to their party. Over a delicately plucked acoustic guitar riff, both singers slide into the roles of a couple lamenting a broken relationship (“Promises of future glory don’t make a case for me,” sings Koenig is his trademark indie boy yelp).

Suddenly, a rapturous choir is summoned out of nowhere to provide the chorus, offering an effective counterpoint to the track’s pretty melody and otherwise austere approach.

Best of all is Unbearably White, which references the whiteness of clear snow, clean pages and may or may not allude to the band’s reputation for being extremely privileged Ivy Leaguers. Despite co-production from chart music maestro Bloodpop, the mid-tempo number is built on a lovely African highlife-style guitar line, gently rapped congas and splashes of strings.

Elsewhere, My Mistake begins as a jazzy piano ballad before the soundscape is filled in with wonderfully strange orchestral strokes. It’s the kind of number that could pop up in a Charlie Kaufman movie.

These rare moments of success can’t cure the album’s problems. Take Harmony Hall as a microcosm: The song is powered by piano chords that evoke strong memories of Primal Scream’s classic Movin’ on Up. But whereas Bobby Gillespie and his band captured a real sense of monumental euphoria, Harmony Hall’s slick, precise instrumentation can’t raise the same sense of excitement.

This is the story of Father of the Bride. On its surface the vocals are chirpy and the instrumentation is whimsical. Yet the melodies frequently wilt and the production is over-polished.

There has always been a sense of weightlessness to Vampire Weekend’s best songs (Oxford Comma, I Stand Corrected and Unbelievers, for example). But on this album, everything feels like it’s been overthought, stripping the music of Koenig’s usual charisma.

By the time you reach the gibberish chorus on Sunflower, an unlikely pastiche of The Shins, it’s clear that natural charm has been replaced by something more forced and less appealing. Less fun.

The Shins isn’t the only sonic reference that feels ripped from a different time. The mumbling digital vocal effects on Spring Snow are reminiscent of Kanye West’s use of the technique on 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

That West celebrated the release of that record with a short-notice New York show feels extra appropriate – Vampire Weekend are a band that feel stuck in that city, in that era.

That’s not the worst thing but these are not even good Vampire Weekend songs.  Koenig wants Father of the Bride to be his opus. But an opus is only an opus if there are enough fresh ideas to match the sense of scope.