It’s been six years since the release of Vampire Weekend’s last album, the acclaimed “Modern Vampires of the City.” In this span of time, co-founding member Rostam Batmanglij left the group, frontman Ezra Koenig has fathered a child with actress Rashida Jones and the band has signed with a major label.
With all that in mind, the expansive double album “Father of the Bride” feels like the beginning of a new chapter — an idea that’s only furthered by the album’s breezy, springtime aesthetic. Now in his mid-30s, Koenig shows both a musical and personal maturation, as his band moves even further away from the preppy, baroque-pop sounds of 2008.
His lyrics also settle into a more contemplative and holistic nature. Over the course of 18 songs, he muses on romantic relationships, environmental impacts and sociopolitical landscapes, all with the same bookish wit that has pervaded the past three Vampire Weekend albums.
A soft, acoustic guitar ushers in the record on the opening track “Hold On Now,” the first of three duets with the indie rock contemporary Danielle Haim. Going against the grain of the expected Vampire Weekend sound, the song flirts with a folksy, country vibe with its split-up verses and subtle slide guitar.
But the track also introduces the album’s spiritual and religious motifs with a heavenly Melanesian choir, sampled from the Hans Zimmer-composed soundtrack of “The Thin Red Line.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Koenig alluded to this aspect of the new music, describing the album’s title as “almost Biblical.”
And there is a sense of the bigger picture on this record. The album’s cover art, an iconographic image of Earth, points to this universality. If it’s not about God, it’s at least about something that transcends and connects all human life.
Koenig leaves it ambiguous on the song “Big Blue,” which also gives a musical nod to the most spiritual of the Beatles, George Harrison. “Big blue, for once in my life I felt close to you,” he sings. “I was so overcome with emotion / When I was hurt and in need of affection / When I was tired and I couldn't go home.”
Even more noticeable, however, is the band’s move toward eclecticism. On this record, the band is unafraid to explore a host of varying styles, often merging different ideas into one cohesive track.
The faster track “Sympathy” takes a punky, Spanish guitar and merges it with an artificial-sounding choir. “2021” is a very direct homage to the music of Japanese musician Haruomi Hosono. “This Life” sounds a little like it was written for a Jimmy Buffet record, and “Married In A Gold Rush” draws upon indietronica of the 2000s.
The success of this genre blending has much to do with the album’s dense and layered production. In the liner notes, around 20 people are credited as studio engineers and assistants. This may all be part of the major label effect, but it clearly pays off.
Then, of course, there’s the unavoidable catchiness of Vampire Weekend’s songwriting style, which stands above all the fancy studio production. “Sunflower” and “Flower Moon,” an excellent pairing of songs that both feature collaboration from The Internet’s Steve Lacy, are a testament to this catchiness.
There’s much more to unpack here: the self-aware song title on “Unbearably White,” the self-reflective lyrics on “Rich Man,” the subtext of Jewish identity on “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin,” all the subtle musical allusions, the various connections to Koenig’s own personal life.
Vampire Weekend jams a multitude of clever lyrics, obscure references and attentive production details into this hour-long album, making it the type of purposeful pop record that demands multiple listens. Although it’s less succinct and youthful than the earlier records, “Father of the Bride” stands as the band’s most ambitious artistic statement.