Vampire Weekend fans had plenty of reason for apprehension by the time Father Of The Bride was announced: Frontman and CEO Ezra Koenig had referred to the New York band’s nearly flawless first three albums as a trilogy, now ended, which seemed to imply some kind of radical shift. Koenig’s main creative partner in the band, multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij, departed in 2016. The working title was the seemingly jokey Mitsubishi Macchiato. There would be singers other than Koenig featured prominently, and there would be 18(!) songs. Also, Koenig claimed to have had a songwriting revelation after a Kacey Musgraves concert, leading him to more direct lyrics. The album was supposed to come out a year ago, which would have been a full five years after the excellent Modern Vampires Of The City. In the meantime, Koenig spent some creative energy making anime for Netflix. None of those developments foretold particularly good things for Father Of The Bride.
But worry was unwarranted: Vampire Weekend’s fourth album is adventurous, joyful, weird, and familiar in all the right ways. It knows when to leap and when to look to the band’s foundation; it stretches in several directions and then snaps back into focus. It’s unmistakably a Vampire Weekend record, yet unmistakably not quite like the others. Yeah, it’s a little too long and occasionally strays off course, but its meandering suits its ambition. Father Of The Bride is unlikely to find the universal praise that the immaculately constructed Modern Vampires did, but it will reward close listens. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for this moment in the band’s evolution.
There are plenty of songs to satisfy traditionalists, or at least those who were all-in on Modern Vampires: “Bambina” is sweetly familiar and straightforward, chugging along before dropping everything but Koenig’s voice in the chorus. “Spring Snow” adds a Latin rhythm and some Vocoder “woo-woo”s, but otherwise feels like classic Vampire Weekend. “Harmony Hall”—which made its way to the world pre-album-release, along with five other songs—is absolutely gorgeous, a melancholy mid-tempo track with an irresistible chorus that Koenig borrowed from his own song, Modern Vampires’ “Finger Back.” (Maybe he felt that the key line—“I don’t wanna live like this / But I don’t wanna die”—deserved more attention than it got on his first try.) But those are the exception in an album filled with gentle surprises.
It’s hard to say whether the addition of other singing voices—mostly HAIM’s Danielle Haim—or the other flights of fancy are more jarringly pleasant. On the one hand, a few duets use tricks straight out of the classic country playbook, particularly “Married In A Gold Rush,” which could’ve worked just as well for June and Johnny as it does for Ez and Danie. (And could for Kacey and whomever, honestly. If Vampire Weekend can’t make it a hit, somebody else surely could.) Haim also shows up to win the day on the massively traditional—right down to its title—“We Belong Together.” Koenig wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to write songs that could be immediately understood, a pleasant surprise coming from a guy who’s inserted world politics and history into more than his share of lyrics.
But when Father Of The Bride turns its head to the less-traveled side of the road, it’s even stronger: Both “Rich Man” and “How Long?” sound like alternate-universe Disney songs, with odd little piano tinklings and alarmingly professional-sounding string sessions. (The production recalls the best moments of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine in many ways.) Then there’s “Sunflower,” which brings to mind ’70s prog giants like Yes, with its precision swing and treated scat-singing. It may be the first Vampire Weekend song with a nonsense chorus—the “boo-ba-doo-ba-doo” sort of stands in for a bass line. It’s done with a nod but not necessarily a wink; all of the left turns on Father feel born from restlessness and curiosity rather than any kind of calculation.
Father Of The Bride isn’t the shocking rebirth that might have been expected, given all of the information that trickled out about it over the past six years. Instead, it’s just far enough from expectations to surprise, but close enough to remain true. It’s a little messy and a little weird (and, again, a little long), but exactly the right record for Vampire Weekend right now.