As unappealing as the notion of defending Vampire Weekend can be, it just has to be done sometimes. There’s no denying they’ve got a solid crop of indie staples under their belts, even if they do have a tendency to fall into the absolute worst of preppy New York hipster clichés, and while their appropriation of worldbeat sounds has often been a point of contention, they’ve often been canny enough to keep the Paul Simon comparisons up to shoulder most of the fallout. Of course, there’s a deeper conversation surrounding all of that regarding whether that really should fly – especially given how much the former criticism can feed into the latter – but a lot of that also feels buffered by the fact that they can often feel like a band that, besides the biggest hits, you completely forget about when they’re not around. They’re already something of a singles band as it is, but with output that’s not all that prolific and individual activities outside of music regularly taking pride of place, the number of stipulations surrounding a Vampire Weekend album turn what should be an event into something that’s hard to care all that much about. It doesn’t help that, beyond that grower that Harmony Hall proved to be, Father Of The Bride hasn’t grabbed all that much attention, and with this being comfortably their longest album to date at just under an hour, that doesn’t bode well at all going forward, especially with the six year gap that came between it and Modern Vampires Of The City in 2013.
In other words, it’s another Vampire Weekend album that’s hard to care all that much about. There’s clearly an angle that Father Of The Bride is playing towards, with the band acknowledging what’s already been said about them and where they currently fit in the indie discussion, but trying to merge those two viewpoints feels like a thankless task, particularly when all it significantly does is highlight how limited of a prospect Vampire Weekend actually are when it comes to holding on to their lofty ambitions. They’re loftier than ever here, that much isn’t up for debate, but Father Of The Bride struggles to hit the worthwhile heights that would cause it to succeed, instead feeling more comfortable in a sense of self-satisfaction that their persona of indie-pop’s intellectuals will paper over any cracks.
And this needs to be made abundantly clear – Vampire Weekend do have intelligence, but finding the benefits in that if they don’t have a decent way to use it is virtually impossible, and on Father Of The Bride, the concession of it being there feels like a substitute for doing anything worthwhile with it. For an album that aims to get as starkly political as this one does, sapping away so much populist appeal feels counterproductive in the extreme, and when such unnecessary convoluting combines with Vampire Weekend’s already tentative nature, it makes for an album that simply has comfort in the fact that it’s making a statement rather than what it’s actually saying. That’s not to say what’s being said isn’t worth saying, like in the examination of the rising prominence of hate groups on Harmony Hall or religious divides on Sympathy and Jerusalem, New York, Berlin, but subject matter that deserves deeper analysis and discussion only ever gives the impression of that on the very surface in the more dense language. There’s none of the force that political material needs to thrive, and when that’s undercut even further with Ezra Koenig’s interjections about rocky relationships that just feel like more wasted time, Father Of The Bride never feels all that committed to what it’s saying. Vampire Weekend know their audience will buy their wordiness at this point, so stapling what can reasonably called ‘depth’ onto that feels like a shoddy attempt to do more than they’re really capable of.
But even when isolating what the band’s greatest strengths are and how this album could still have some saving graces by doubling down on quirky, chipper indie-pop, Father Of The Bride even feels hesitant to do that, making for an album that often feels like every one of its fifty-eight minutes. Sparky, spry cuts like Harmony Hall and This Life are in unfortunately short supply, instead replaced by the sort of disjointed soundclashes that have become endemic of indie that’s far more self-serving and highfalutin than it has the right to be, topped off by an Ariel Rechtshaid production job that flattens everything out and pitches it up to its twee upper limit. For as much as it’s been compared to The Beatles’ White Album, at least that album had distinctive ideas in its big musical collage, even if some could go drastically wrong; with Father Of The Bride, tracks like Big Blue or Spring Snow have nowhere near that distinction, reducing a once-textured worldbeat influence to a tapping afterthought while fragments of guitar and Koenig’s clipped, willowy vocals fight it out to see which has the least presence. What’s more, it’s not even like the guest stars get much of an opportunity to compensate for that, something that’s especially baffling considering how often they show up. Danielle Haim undoubtedly fares the best with earthier tones and interplay that’s such a crucial boon to a track like Married In A Gold Rush, but as for The Internet’s Steve Lacy on Sunflower and Flower Moon, and especially Jenny Lewis on 2021, they couldn’t feel more perfunctory if they tried. For an album that leaves so much empty space to potentially wedge in one firebrand feature to buoy it up, Father Of The Bride feels increasingly reticent to make itself seem all that interesting, instead just remaining perfectly happy to coast by with whatever minimal work it can get away with.
It’s not like Vampire Weekend can’t afford to do that at this point, though. Even though they’ve not done much in a while, they’ve already got their cult of personality willing to jump on whatever they do, and Father Of The Bride will be no different. They could at least afford to try something though, instead of an unmemorable, underdeveloped slog that doesn’t have nearly enough ideas to justify its runtime. At least when The 1975 went completely inside themselves on A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, there was an abundance of ideas that actually felt remotely developed and worthwhile; here, Vampire Weekend are kicking back for an hour and hoping their mild-mannered visions can end up as something good enough, and if they don’t even care about even verging on that extra mile, why should anyone else?
For fans of: The Shins, Phoenix, Bombay Bicycle Club
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Father Of The Bride’ by Vampire Weekend is out now on Sony Music.