Monday, June 24, 2019

Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride 2019

There is a new Vampire Weekend record, and it's both different and much the same, and it's good, if not the perfect summer bauble that the first two were.

In the years since ModernVampires of the City 2013, Rostam Batmanglij has left the band, and he is certainly missed, even though he contributes to at least two songs here. So Ezra Koenig is on his own for the ideas on the record, and Batmanglij's ideas have always spiced things up.

I did something I don't do very often, I read reviews of this record as I was preparing my own, and I'm apparently not deep enough, or full of myself enough (which I thought I had covered), to even understand the deep stuff going on with this band. Read the reviews at Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NME, Spin or The Guardian, and there is apparently a whole Freudian level of BS that can be applied to listening to this pop record and comparing it to their previous work.

Me, I'm just going to do it like I usually do. Listen to it, make notes, discuss the music.

Hold You Now, one of three duets with Danielle Haim, kicks things off with a great sentimental ballad about the guy that wants her back too late. Harmony Hall follows, and is a highlight with sparkly acoustic guitar and a laid back rhythm that gains momentum as the song builds. Bambina features the quirky percussion that has been one of the the band's hallmarks. This Life is a big pop song the VW way, tinkling melody, high vocals, driving beat and hooks thanks to Mark Ronson, who seems to have an endless supply of them.

Then the record slows down for a while, and while Big Blue, How Long?, Rich Man, and My Mistake are pretty good, they expand the sound in a relatively small way, and sound like the first Ezra Koenig solo album more than they should. In the midst of all that stands Unbearably White, a gentle lyrical grenade of a song that still needs a good hook, and Gold Rush (with Haim again), a fine duet with all the right flourishes.

Then back to what the band does best. Sympathy is an excellent tune energized by drummer Chris Thomson and the bass of Chris Baio. This band would be nowhere without the rhythm section, and Thomson is about as good as a drummer can be. Sunflower has another great rhythm with an odd scat vocal and cool pop weirdness. Flower Moon has some of the Juju influence this record could use more of. The third with Haim, We Belong Together is a pretty love song that may include some irony. Strangers is the upbeat rhythm rocker we should expect from VW, with great vocals and drumming.

There's three more middling efforts in 2021, Spring Snow, and the closer Jerusalem, New York, Berlin, and all three have their merits, but again add a bit too many smaller ideas to the fray. One wonders if Batmanglij could have added some interesting gilding on all three.

So I count eleven great songs that equal everything their reputation stands on. But seven lessor efforts, some smaller songs, some ballads, some gentle introspection, but seven when two would have been fine. It's an hour long, and maybe a more concise effort would have been more perfect. I miss the Talking Heads/African rhythms that the earlier records featured more prominently than on this one. And I like it a lot.

I've said before that all a band really needs is a singer, a song writer, and a great drummer. Vampire Weekend still has all of that. You'll have to decide if the softer side is a worthy expansion of their sound or there's songs that should have been left off. Either way there's a bunch of killer pop here for the taking.

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