Roundtable Discussion: A Review of Vampire Weekend’s ‘Father of the Bride’

Father of the Bride - Vampire Weekend

Atwood Magazine’s writers discuss the highs, the lows, and the unexpected changes within Vampire Weekend’s long-awaited and exhilarating fourth album Father of the Bride.

Featured here are writers Mitch Mosk, Mariel Fechik, James Crowley, and Caitlin Ison.

Father of the Bride - Vampire Weekend

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Stylistically, Father of the Bride is much different than Vampire Weekend, Contra, and Modern Vampires of the City. How does FOTB fit into their existing catalog?

James: Father of the Bride isn’t as chock full of catchy songs like their previous releases. Aside from “Harmony Hall,” very little stuck with me right off the bat, and as I revisit the album, little else sticks with me. It seems they’re trying to stretch indie-rock much more to show they have a wide-range, but this still feels like the next chronological step in Vampire Weekend’s discography.

Mariel: Vampire Weekend are a band whose albums have been whole seasons for me. They’ve represented people and years and places and feelings that I just can’t name. It’s the reason they’ve meant so much to me since I was a 13 year old kid who had just discovered indie music. But unfortunately, Father of the Bride just doesn’t feel like a Vampire Weekend album. There’s much to be admired here, but there’s something about Vampire Weekend that will always be driving to the beach to watch the sunrise at 5am. There’s something about Contra that is my best friends’ laughter. Modern Vampires of the City is the freedom and joy of freshman year of college. Father of the Bride, though it is a well-done, catchy, interesting album for the most part, doesn’t evoke any feeling in me. It doesn’t have that magic that seemed to pervade the earlier three, and I don’t say this through a lens of nostalgia; those albums all felt that way instantly, from the second I turned them on. That being said, I still enjoy it. It just doesn’t feel…right.

Mitch: Father of the Bride feels grown up, which I think is exactly what Vampire Weekend needed, but the opposite of perhaps what we had wanted them to do. Like Mariel, Vampire Weekend defined many of my teenage and young adult years. I remember hearing “Mansard Roof” for the very first time at 16 years old, the opening song off Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut album. It was mesmerizing to me, as were the songs off Contra two years later and Modern Vampires of the City three years after that. My the time Modern Vampires arrived, I was in college and feeling full-on both the wonder and chaos of the world; this album expressed those seemingly polar opposites in a magical, energizing medium.

While I realize Vampire Weekend’s members are about ten years my senior, their music consistently seemed on par with where I was in life – and I think the beauty of their albums was such that they grew as we grew. When I listen to Father of the Bride, I don’t feel that same sensation. Sometimes I do; there are plenty of points on the record that, for me, connect to this exact moment in time, in my life. Yet as an overall record, Father of the Bride wears on me. It’s overwhelmingly an Ezra Koenig record, which you may or many define as “Vampire Weekend” – and I like it, but I don’t love it in or feel nearly the same amount of affection toward it that I do toward the band’s first three releases. There’s something timeless about those albums, whereas Father of the Bride feels more specific to the here and now – meaning sadly that its resonance and relevance will almost certainly dull in time. If it were half the length, tighter, more cohesive, and coming out four years earlier, I might think differently – but it’s 2019, and I’m still having trouble getting through the album’s second half.

Caitlin: Well, first and foremost I can honestly say it’s my least favorite album out of the four. I think it will grow on me, eventually, and I will love listening to it on repeat in the future, but the initial reaction is not how I felt about the others. It’s missing a special something. I will say this, though–I think the songs are consistent in terms of being “part” of the same album. If I listen to one song, I’ll know that it came from Father of the Bride. I’m not sure if many people would agree with me, but I think I like when bands make albums that have their own distinct sound–it’s almost as if each album is a chapter of a band’s career, but they’re all still apart of the same story.

How has the character of the band changed with the departure of founding member Rostam Batmanglij?

Mariel: I think that everything I mentioned above has to do with Rostam leaving. I long feared what a Vampire Weekend album would sound like without him, and my prediction was correct: Gone are the melodic harpsichord interludes, the sparkling moments of production, the perfectly blended vocal harmonies between him and Ezra. FOTB feels like it’s got a missing link, and that link is Rostam Batmanglij.

Caitlin: As Mariel mentioned, I think he definitely is that certain something that they are missing now. Though I still like this album overall, it’s not as strong as their previous ones and perhaps it’s due to Rostam leaving. I think they would have to come out with another album that’s just as good as their first three in order to prove me wrong.

Mitch: I think Rostam was Ezra’s tether to reality, and quite possibly vice versa as well: Here are these two creative masterminds, dreamers really, each of whom has wide eyes and an equally great appetite for experimentation. They each love to dive deep down into rabbit holes, and in Vampire Weekend together they found this powerful balance between harmony and dissonance, creative freedom and prudent restraint. Rostam’s 2017 debut album Half-Light perfectly demonstrates the energy and melodicism he brought to his former band; meanwhile, Father of the Bride is scattered all over the place, often feeling like an overflowing wellspring that should perhaps have been divided over the course of two records, rather than turned into one. Without Batmanglij’s influence, Koenig seems like he just threw himself into the wind – hence we have (for example) three songs with Danielle Haim either A) sort of denoting three different chapters on the record, or B) haphazardly scattered throughout the album, so as to either bring us back to a sonic touchstone, or to keep things from sounding too musically uniform.

I really just feel like the size and scope of this record is more than even the most diehard Vampire Weekend fans were bargaining for. If it’s a new era for Vampire Weekend; that I know for sure.

What is your Father of the Bride favorite song and why?

James: “Hold You Now” and “Married in a Gold Rush” were two standouts. Both are more tender than the types of Vampire Weekend songs I tend to gravitate towards. “Gold Rush” maintains the same bounce that those songs tend to have, but Danielle Haim and Ezra Koenig trading lines in verses makes the song more conversational and intimate. “Hold You Now” is a great break up song to kick off the album. Haim and Koenig occupy a Buckingham-Nicks dynamic in a more pared down version of “Go Your Own Way.” Despite the bitter lyrics, the chorus’s religious implications and delivery (it’s a sample of a choir) show that this is an album with a lot of reverence coming.

Mariel: My absolute favorite song on the album is “Bambina.” Why? Because it sounds like it could have come from any of the prior albums. It’s the only one, for me, that really taps into the mood I spoke of in the first question. The melody and the chords are strange and lovely, and Ezra’s beautiful voice is in its prime here. Another favorite is “My Mistake,” largely for the same reasons. It’s haunting in a way that hasn’t existed on their prior albums, and it’s a direction I would have perhaps enjoyed the rest of the album take. And lastly, the closing track. It’s lovely.

Caitlin: “Bambina” simply because it reminds me of the Vampire Weekend I’ve grown to know and love. Though it’s one of the shortest tracks on the album, it captures my attention longer than most of the tracks on the (very) long album. “This Life” is also an obvious favorite of mine, because I love HAIM but also because it keeps a good balance of what I’m used to hearing from them but also a little bit of something new. I’ll also give a special shout out to “Hold You Now,” since I’ll admit it made me cry on the very first listen. I’d never heard Danielle and Ezra’s voice together and it sounded beautiful.

Mitch: “Harmony Hall” is utterly irresistible. “Like a hug from an old friend, the band’s first song in six years feels familiar, yet new. It’s a rush of springtime warmth – a tender injection of sweet euphoria bathed in elegant acoustics and rich harmonies,” I wrote on the song’s release day. I hold by these words. Father of the Bride’s first single is elegant and mesmerizing; it was also a fitting reintroduction, based on conversations with friends and the plethora of articles I read in January.

I agree with the team with respect to the beauty of “Bambina” and the cheerful nature of “Married in the Goldrush,” as well as the sheer energy within “This Life.” For me, the more I listen to Father of the Bride, the more I find myself gravitating toward the curious “Rich Man” on repeat. The lush orchestration and nuanced melodies in this song are completely enchanting; I find myself singing the violin part on my way to work and coming home; in the shower, and at lunch. It’s just a brilliant, well-balanced concoction that provides new layers of meaning the more times I listen. If you read the lyrics closely, you’ll find this is so much more than a song about wealth and satisfaction — it’s about finding what you love, and choosing passion over all else.

One in a million don’t mean what it meant
And these millions of gold coins
won’t gleam when they’re spent
And you’re left with none
Ten million dollars could win the whole lot
But if ten million dollars is all that you got
You won’t be the one
Hundreds of millions of papers to sign
Hundreds of millions of souls left behind
And yet we’re the ones
A billion to one, don’t the odds make you sick?
To be one in a billion’s a terrible trick
You’re the wretched one
When I was young, I was told I’d find
One rich man in ten has a satisfied mind
And I’m the one

This is Vampire Weekend’s first album that includes features. How do you feel the presence of Steve Lacy and Danielle Haim affect the overall sound of the album?

James: Both of their contributions were great. Haim’s were at the forefront, as she was often duetting with Koenig, and I felt that her performances were some of the most memorable (see: my picks for favorite songs). Lacy was a little more subtle. As he was obviously influenced by Vampire Weekend, his instrumental contributions made “Sunflower” sound like it could’ve come off the band’s debut album. “Flower Moon” is a little more direct. Lacy’s vocals don’t really command the same impact that Haim’s do, but his instrumental flourishes add to the song.

Mariel: I have a longstanding dislike of HAIM, so I was less than pleased to see Danielle Haim’s name across so many songs. I enjoy Steve Lacy’s contributions a tad more, simply because I like Steve Lacy. But here’s the thing: the reason Vampire Weekend have always resonated with me so much is that their albums have always felt like they existed in a different world. They had such an insular and idiosyncratic sound, and listening to them often felt like you were inside an immersive theatre, experiencing the strange little stories firsthand. Songs like “Hannah Hunt” and “Taxi Cab” are beautiful and poignant and strange and sad and couldn’t have been done by anyone else, with anyone else.

My point is that the intrusion of these other voices on Father of the Bride takes away from that feeling. Ezra and Danielle could have just done a duets album separate from this if they wanted to sing together so badly. She has a lovely voice, but I find many of their duets to be cheesy and forced. Every time she sings, “Boy, who’s your baby?” I cringe. Sorry, Danielle, but you don’t belong here. “Flower Moon” is a beautiful song, but Steve Lacy has such a strong presence, that they feel more like Steve’s songs than they do Ezra’s.

Caitlin: I am a huge fan of both Steve Lacy and HAIM separately, but I’m not sure if their contributions to the album were completely necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I love the features and I think those songs were great, I just feel as though it really took away from a very strong and solid album. The featured songs were kind of just there, and didn’t really add anything to the album as a whole. Also, when I heard the album throughout for the first time, I was a bit with confused with the overwhelming amount of times Danielle was being featured–even some songs that didn’t explicitly credit her, I knew she and her sisters must have co-written with the band. HAIM is one of my favorite bands, but this album almost felt like their album, too. At one point I was concerned on how other fans would take it, especially those who don’t even like HAIM. It’s great but, this is a Vampire Weekend album, not a split with HAIM.

Mitch: Funnily enough, I don’t really mind the collaborations. We grow through exposure, and for Vampire Weekend – Koenig especially – it’s probably important to write and record with new voices. Stylistically, I prefer the Haim features over the Lacy features, but I think “Sunflower” is overall a better (excuse the vague language) song than the Haim tracks. That said, the glitches in “Hold You Now” perfectly underscore what I take to be the imperfections and distractions in our world, setting us up for the hour of music to come. I love that Haim and Koenig can go back and forth, and deeply appreciate their harmonies – but like Caitlin said as well, they do take away from the sanctuary we used to find in Vampire Weekend records. This might sound selfish – it certainly does as I sit here writing – but I want Vampire Weekend to be this insular, special entity that’s all mine. Once they start interacting with the world around, they’re a part of the mainstream – and suddenly, the outsider band I listened to as a fellow outsider is now on the inside. When did we all grow up?

Do you feel that the six singles released were reflective of the album as a whole?

James: Yes, in the sense that half of the songs were ones I didn’t care for, and FOTB had a pretty significant amount of material that felt subpar. “Harmony Hall”, “Sunflower”, and “This Life” are all A-tracks, but “Unbearably White”, “2021”, and “Big Blue” are mostly forgettable, which I think is a pretty good symbol for the album as a whole.

Mariel: For the most part, yes. Amusingly, I feel the exact opposite from James. I loved “Unbearably White,” “2021,” and “Big Blue” far more than their accompanying songs. All six of these represented the way I felt about this album: half of them I like at best, dislike actively at worst, and half of them I love half-heartedly.

Caitlin: I definitely agree with James and Mariel. It was a good taste of what the album was, and I felt the same–there were a few that I loved, a few I liked, and the others that I didn’t really care for. When I listened to the album the first time through, I wasn’t that surprised (in a good or bad way) at any of the tracks.

Mitch: It’s difficult, however you slice it, to capture the energy and stylistic transformations of a semi-cohesive, hour-long album. I think these songs served to demonstrate some of the sounds and themes Vampire Weekend touch upon throughout Father of the Bride, and they’re certainly among the catchiest tracks on the album… but no, I don’t think they’re reflective of the whole. The A-side standouts – “Harmony Hall” “This Life,” and “Sunflower” – are each more reminiscent of Vampire Weekend’s previous records and sounds than the rest of the tracks. These songs got me excited, but they fail, in my opinion, to reflect the breadth and depth of Father of the Bride.

It’s been six years since Vampire Weekend’s last album. Was it worth the wait?

James: Is it wrong to say “No?” While the return of Vampire Weekend is exciting, Father of the Bride is mostly an uneventful album. It’s the longest of their career and least memorable. Contra and their self-titled album were era-defining records that are timeless portraits of indie rock in the 2000’s. Modern Vampires of the City was an adequate continuation of what they’d accomplished with those two albums. While Father of the Bride is a step in a new direction, it’s not that unique. It’s both too familiar and too different. The wait time should’ve either fed into what fans wanted or given a drastic new step, but instead this is just a slight shift of the dial that may not even be noticeable to some.

Mariel: Sadly, I have to agree with James. I enjoy this album – there really are some beautiful moments on it, and Ezra means too much to me as a songwriter to ever write him off. But this record just wasn’t what I’ve been waiting for.

Caitlin: I think mostly everyone can agree that while it’s a good album, it was still very underwhelming given it has been six years since their last. There was so much anticipation going into this one–to the random shows they started having, to the percentage joke on Koenig’s Instagram, to the album title abbreviation guesses. I wouldn’t say I’m completely disappointed since I still enjoy the album, I just wish there was a little more, which I know they are capable of. It’s nothing mind blowing or revolutionary.

Mitch: I still love Vampire Weekend very much, regardless of my many critiques on Father of the Bride’s delivery. At the end of the day, I’ve already listened to Father of the Bride more times than I’ve listened to most records released this year – and I’ve kept coming back to it on the merit of its beauty and extravagance, its technical prowess and its continuous quandaries – how do they make those licks so clean? What’s going on with that glitch?! Despite having way too many songs and failing to come anywhere near my typical preference for cohesive messaging and performance, Vampire Weekend have once again taken my breath away. I love the songs I love on Father of the Bride, and to be honest I ignore or skip past the ones I don’t. The good news is I’m coming to appreciate the small interludes and half-formed tracks in-between the big, fuller pieces! I’m finding them to be a complement to the record’s high caliber production and completely scattered thoughts. So even there, Vampire Weekend may get me yet.

All that grows and glows must eventually wither, but I don’t think Koenig and crew are finished shining; not just yet. While Father of the Bride feels like six years packed into a single clusterf***, I’m hoping the next record takes six months and expands them to feel like an eternity. Wouldn’t that be special?

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Father of the Bride - Vampire Weekend

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:: REVIEW ::

Father of the Bride

an album by Vampire Weekend