Sweaters over collared button-downs. Ivy crawling up the brick walls of an ancient liberal arts institution. Wes Anderson's 1998 comedy Rushmore. Lonely cityscapes full of wist. These are the motifs fans of Vampire Weekend have come to associate with the New York-based rock band's music. And for the last six years, those motifs, seen in Vampire Weekend, Contra, and Modern Vampires of the City, have been all that fans have had to cling to, following the band's 2014 hiatus. But this January, frontman Ezra Koenig announced via Instagram plans for a new release, cryptically initialed as FOTB, with scheduled releases of two singles per month leading up to the album drop on May 3rd. As I write this at 12:51 AM of May 3rd, the world has had an hour (in central time, at least) to get acquainted to their newest, spring-y release, Father of the Bride.
Playfully buoyant and passive– at times, overly so, such with the synth-filled, ambient "2021" – Father of the Bride marks a new phase and focus for Vampire Weekend. While Modern Vampires of the City centered around death and mourning, with nostalgic, metaphor-packed lyrics, FOTB is incredibly lighthearted in comparison, while still incredibly lyrically striking and melodic. The songs don't take themselves too seriously, ever; Koenig even sings "I think I take myself too serious…it’s not that serious" in "Symphony", a nice tongue-in-cheek touch to the ever-flowing momentum of the collection. "Harmony Hall" has him repeating the hook of the 2013 track "Finger Back" in the chorus: "I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die". For an album that, sonically, departs quite a lot from their last album, Vampire Weekend harps on themes and lyrics that have an inherently Vampire Weekend vibe. And yet, it works. "Unbearably White" sounds just as melancholy as something off of Modern Vampires, but Koenig's lilted voice and plucky guitar, Chris Baio's soft bass, and the overall tone of the song are much, much happier– think of the heartbreak behind Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, juxtaposed with the valence of "Go Your Own Way" and "Don't Stop".
FOTB saw Vampire Weekend making new decisions besides just the sound choices. It is the first album by the band to include artist features; Steve Lacy lends his voice and guitar to "Sunflower" and "Flower Moon", while Danielle Haim of HAIM sings alongside Koenig on "Hold You Now", "Married in a Gold Rush", and "We Belong Together". While Lacy, known for his R&B prowess, seems like an odd choice for a VW feature, it manages to work– at least, as solo releases. "Sunflower", while a fun, bass- and scat-filled song, appears a bit out of place for an album otherwise full of soft and plucky guitars. Danielle Haim is a much more agreeable choice to feature; the frontwoman of her indie rock band of sisters, discovered by Rilo Kiley's Jenny Slate and admired by CeeLo Green and The Strokes' Julian Casablancas, her voice, paired with Koenig's on "Married in a Gold Rush" works seamlessly within the framework of the album. If Koenig, now 35, is the titular Father, there is no doubt that Danielle herself is the Bride in question. I would not be surprised to see further collaborations between her and the band, if not a HAIM x VW crossover at some point.
The album continues to defy any stereotypes held by fans of the band. Koenig's seemingly effortless musical craftsmanship proves elusive in defining what exactly the band's sound is. FOTB alludes to many artists: Fleetwood Mac, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Paul Simon, even, and continues to hold its own on the alternative rock scene. While the band continues to elude definition, fans are sure to recognize Koenig's poetic storytelling lyricism and Vampire Weekend's signature instrumentalism (listen to "Jerusalem, New York, Berlin", "Spring Snow", or "This Life"). It is at once an album fans expected and could never have thought of. And that, it seems, is just what Koenig wanted.