Album Review- Vampire Weekend, “Only God Was Above Us”

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Vampire Weekend is the Tears For Fears of their generation, at least when it comes to the pace of putting out new albums. It’s been five years since Vampire Weekend released Father of the Bride, so anticipation was high for new material from the band.

Father of the Bride saw the band moving in a different direction from their three previous efforts. Always ones for multiple worldwide influences, and a propensity to jam it up live, FOTB presented some of chief songwriter Ezra Koenig’s most straightforward lyrics over a bed of hippy-friendly tracks. This was due, in part, said Koenig in interviews, to the departure of founding member Rostam Batmanglij. While he still works with the band, his diminished presence inspired Koenig and the remaining members to shake things up a bit.

Their fifth album, Only God Was Above Us, seems to bring the band back to where it was before FOTB. Indeed, Only God Was Above Us sounds like the proper follow-up to 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City. Sure, it starts with some easy-to-comprehend lyrics, but it quickly takes a trip in the way-back machine to VW circa 2016, giving off heavy “Diane Young” vibes. That chaotic but melodic sound turns up quite a bit throughout the album. It’s nice to see them exploring that style further.

“Classical,” the second single, follows. It’s here one of the album’s recurring sounds appears. To give you an idea of how pervasive it is, someone on (the platform still known as) Twitter, TimmmyC (@EsqTim), complimented the band for using what can only be described as a slightly de-tuned toy piano (I’m paraphrasing). It turns up a lot in various forms. This particular track uses it in a jazzy way, along with some free-form sax and draggy guitars.

That’s followed by the first single, “Capricorn.” One of the slower tracks, it’s still a great choice for a “comeback” as our K-pop friends call it. Yes, the piano is there, as is a perhaps unintentional nod to the previously mentioned “Diane Young.” Koenig croons in the chorus: “Capricorn, the year that you were born/ Finished fast/And the next one wasn’t yours/Too old for dyin’ young/Too young to live alone…” Are we reading too much into this?

This song was double A-sided with “Gen-X Cops,” a track Koenig co-wrote with drummer Chris Tomson. Oddly, it features a very prominent bassline knocked out expertly, of course, by Tomson’s partner in the VW rhythm section, Chris Baio.

The third single, “Mary Boone,” turns up toward the end of the album. It’s an odd choice for a single, at least at first. It picks up as it goes along, though.

The album takes a decidedly ‘80s turn with the next two tracks while still fitting neatly into Vampire Weekend’s trademark sound. “Connect” starts off sounding like “The Caterpillar” by The Cure (that darn piano again). It moves away from that influence and gets a bit jazzy. That’s followed by the (early) New Order-sounding “Prep-School Gangsters,” only this time, it’s the guitar that gives it away. They gave the piano sound a rest on that track.

Though fans were told Koenig would still be collaborating with Rostam Batmanglij, the only song he turns up on is “The Surfer.” And, yes, the piano is back. This time it’s mixed with a California/surf guitar and James Bond theme-like horns in the middle.

For those missing the Father of the Bride sound, VW presents “Pravda” as the penultimate track on Only God Was Above Us. A lot of the sounds from the rest of the album are not present here, and its minimalistic structure makes one think this may have been left over from the FOB sessions.

What’s fast becoming a fan favorite, “Hope,” closes the album. It too pares down the wall of sound to just the essentials and recalls early Vampire Weekend. It’s the 10th track, which is disappointing in that Father of the Bride had 18 plus three extra tracks that were released as part of the deluxe edition.

It’s a slower, more concise album to be sure, with only a few fast bits thrown in. Koenig and his collaborators, despite a wide range of influences and limitless technology, managed to avoid what Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark once called “the tyranny of choice.” They do so quite cleverly in that they took a manageable pallet and used it in a variety of ways. The result is another great album from Vampire Weekend.

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PF WilsonAlbum Review- Vampire Weekend, “Only God Was Above Us”