Father of the Bride is the fourth studio album by American indie rock band Vampire Weekend. It was released on May 3, 2019 by Columbia Records as their first album on a major label, and was preceded by three double singles: "Harmony Hall" / "2021", "Sunflower" / "Big Blue" and "This Life" / "Unbearably White".
The album is the band's first project in nearly six years, following Modern Vampires of the City (2013), and the group's first album since multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij's departure from the group. The album was primarily produced by Modern Vampires of the City collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid and lead singer Ezra Koenig, and features numerous external collaborators, including Danielle Haim, Steve Lacy, Dave Macklovitch of Chromeo, DJ Dahi, Sam Gendel, BloodPop, Mark Ronson, and Batmanglij.
The album is musically diverse, and heavily referential, contrasting dark and direct lyrics over a bright spring-time musical mood, with a stronger American influence than on the group's previous work.
Background and recording
On January 26, 2016, Batmanglij announced his departure from the band via Twitter, emphasizing that he and Koenig would continue to collaborate. Later the same day, Koenig announced that Vampire Weekend was in the studio working on their upcoming fourth album, under the working title Mitsubishi Macchiato, with Batmanglij contributing to the record.
In March 2017, Koenig revealed on Instagram that during 2016 he had spent time writing the album and researching in libraries with grad students. Additionally, he said the album would feature a more 'spring-time' vibe and at the time consisted of songs entitled "Flower Moon" and "Conversation". In a September 2017 interview with Zane Lowe, Ezra said the album was "about 80% done". He said it would feature collaborations with producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who had co-produced Modern Vampires, with additional guest appearances including Batmanglij. In a December 2017 interview, Koenig maintained that Batmanglij was involved in a few songs, including material that they had started working on long ago, and that their method of collaboration had not changed despite the latter's departure from the band. He also noted that collaborating with Kanye West had inspired him to collaborate with a wider variety of musicians on the album. In the same interview Koenig revealed that his songwriting for the album had been influenced by country singer Kacey Musgraves, saying, "I'm the type of person who has spent hours poring over the avant-garde poetic lyrics of certain songwriters, and there was something that felt so good from the first verse, you knew who was singing, who they were singing to, what kind of situation they were in", noting that this hadn't applied to many Vampire Weekend songs. On August 4, 2018, while performing at Lollapalooza 2018, Koenig announced that their fourth studio album was complete.
Music and lyrics
The pop and indie rock album is heavily referential both lyrically and musically, channeling a springtime mood despite its "encyclopedic" density. It is less inhibited than past releases by the band, and contrasts warm, pleasant music against heavy and dark lyrics, while exploring a broad musical palette. Key musical styles explored throughout the album include R&B, soul, country, folk, rock, art pop and baroque pop. The album's wide range of musical styles has been compared to the Beatles' White Album (1968), as well as their medley from Abbey Road (1969). The loose style of the album has been compared to jam bands such as the Grateful Dead and Phish. It has also been described as more American than previous the group's earlier work, with Koenig's voice and guitar both adapting a roots twang, and songs channeling the Great American Songbook.
The album's lyrical style is more direct and straightforward than Koenig's previous writing, inspired by American country singer Kacey Musgraves. Themes explored on the album include doom, complacency, romantic downfall, populist politics, uncertainty, environmentalism and existentialism, with an eventual arc towards redemption and rebirth. Weddings and churches act as recurring motifs exploring love, and the album features frequent biblical imagery.
"Hold You Now" samples Hans Zimmer's choral score for The Thin Red Line, and has been described as "gorgeous" and "folky", as well as being likened to a Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam" (2016), with country elements. It is the first of three duets with Danielle Haim on the album, and its simple lyrics feature Koenig and Haim trading verses about seizing the moment in a relationship. "Harmony Hall" features warm and joyful music, with a "springtime" mood, and has been compared musically to the Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey" (1987). However, the "buoyant" music is juxtaposed against dark lyrics, with the track interpolating the line "I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die" from "Finger Back" on the band's previous album Modern Vampires of the City (2013). The brief "Bambina" is vibrant and eclectic, containing vocoder and crunch guitar. The musically bright and upbeat "This Life" contains handclaps and "jaunty" guitars, with Koenig's lyrics exploring "spiritual uncertainty" with levity, interpolating the line "You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me / I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you" from "Tonight" by American rapper iLoveMakonnen. It has been musically compared to "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison (1967). "Big Blue" ambiguously explores religious and cosmic uncertainty, with the concise track including ambient arpeggios, sporadic drum samples, "flowery" harmonies, a choir and detuned guitar riffs as it builds dynamically. It has been compared to Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak (2008) as well as the Beatles, with its "weeping" guitar compared to the playing style of its member George Harrison.
The "lurching" art pop of "How Long?" contrasts jovial and funky keyboards, sound effects, harmonies and guitars against dark and bitter lyrics about the potential demise of Los Angeles. "Unbearably White" is a "colorful" art pop song, which grows and shifts to reveal isolated vocals, handbells, jazz fusion-inspired bass guitar, and orchestral surges, and lyrically discusses a failing relationship. Despite contrary comments made by Koenig prior to the song's release, the track does not explore race. The cryptic "Rich Man" samples palm-wine guitarist S. E. Rogie and features lush strings, with Koenig "crooning" about romance, wealth and ratios. "Married in a Gold Rush" is a "lush" country song which also features Danielle Haim.
The regretful and moody "My Mistake" incorporates jazz, lounge and experimentalism, featuring "watery" sampled field sounds. The flamenco song "Sympathy" contains influences from Schaffel techno, rave, and English rock band New Order, and has been described as "one of the band's most bonkers tracks to date". The unorthodox and psychedelic "Sunflower" opens with guitar, bass and scatted vocal runs in unison, reminiscent of prog, with its chorus shifting to warm soul-pop. It features abstract lyrics and channels the musical palette of the 1970s. The track features the Internet singer and guitarist Steve Lacy, who also contributed to companion track "Flower Moon", which has been described as an auto-tuned chorale, in the style of the Beach Boys and music from Soweto. "2021" is a minimal and romantic ballad, built around a sample of ambient track "Talking", composed in the 1980s by Haruomi Hosono for Japanese retail company Muji. It features a soft pulsing synth and fingerpicked guitars, along with a distorted vocal sample of the word "boy" sung by Jenny Lewis.
"We Belong Together" also features Haim, and has been described as "gushing" and "anthemic", being compared to "Mull of Kintyre" (1977) by Wings and the production work of Kanye West. "Stranger" explores domesticity, musically incorporating saxophones into its relaxed groove. The song's lyric "things have never been stranger; things are gonna stay strange" has been widely highlighted as a microcosm of the album's core message. The in media res narrative of "Spring Snow" laments a farewell to a lover, depicting harsh rays of sunglight and heavy snow against a musical backdrop of chamber pop with a Latin groove. The "sad" album closer "Jerusalem, New York, Berlin" references the Balfour Declaration, and has musically been compared to the works of Scottish electronic musician Sophie.
Release and promotion
Koenig had predicted the album would be released in early 2018, but the group debuted the album's first song in June of that year--"Flower Moon", a collaboration with Steve Lacy, in Ojai, California as a part of their first live show in four years. During the group's Lollapalooza after-show in August, the group debuted new music from Koenig's phone, including "Harmony Hall" and "Sunflower".
On January 17, 2019, Koenig announced the acronym of the band's fourth album title as FOTB, and revealed that the album consisted of 18 songs, running at approximately 59 minutes. He has also announced that the album would be promoted by three monthly double A-side singles, beginning the following week.
The album's first singles, "Harmony Hall" and "2021", were released on January 24, with the album's full title announced. The second double single, consisting of "Sunflower", featuring guitarist Steve Lacy, and "Big Blue" was released on March 6, alongside an announcement of the album's release date and artwork. The final double single was released on April 4, including "This Life" and "Unbearably White". The album was released on May 3, 2019.
The first album in nearly six-years is a key reinvention for the indie stalwarts, with a looseness and funkiness that proves, thankfully, they've not overthought the comeback. It's just load of fun, you know?
“I think I take myself too serious / It’s not that serious”, Ezra Koenig croaks approximately halfway through Vampire Weekend’s new album ‘Father Of The Bride’. It arrives at the start of ‘Sympathy’, a meaty track halfway through the 18-track record, which sees the band blend rock and rave for the first time. The song is loose, funky and a reminder that, actually, they’ve not been taking themselves too seriously at all.
Want proof? The band have a long-running connection with a Seinfeld parody account (@Seinfeld2000) and at a recent gig in London they decided to play their 2008 hit ‘A Punk’ not once – not twice – but thrice to bleary-eyed Saturday morning gig-goers, who had been plied with personalised donuts and artisan coffee not long before. See: it’s not that serious.
Likewise, the band’s first three albums – the 2008 self-titled, 2010’s stellar follow-up ‘Contra’ and particularly their astonishing third album, 2013’s ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ – were laden with in-jokes and songs that paired existential crisis with bombastic pop production (‘Diane Young’). If those albums were the set-ups, then ‘Father Of The Bride’ is their killer punchline six-years in the making. It’s fun and familiar and pushes the band into bold new territory. No matter how times you hear it, it’ll still conjure a smile .
Perhaps that comes as standard with making a double-album – yes, you read that right, a double album in 2019 that isn’t a stream-harvesting ploy – because often the only way to fill the expanded run time is to rip it up and start again. There are moments where that seems to have seen the case like the aforementioned ‘Sympathy and the Steve Lacy-featuring ‘Sunflower’ and shuffling psychedelic-pop of ‘Flower Moon’ – grooves that could only come with age and Koenig’s intrigue and passion for jam bands such as The Grateful Dead, Twiddle and more.
That collaborative spirit has informed ‘Father Of The Bride’s conception and tie-dye vibes. Previous albums appear relatively regimented and organised to the extreme, but ‘Father Of The Bride’ sounds like the work of some pals noodling away in the studio and shooting the shit. More often than not it’s a hit, not a miss.
Original member Rostam Batmanglij, who left the band in 2016 to focus on other work, is credited with production on a few songs alongside BloodPop (who has worked with Justin Bieber, Madonna) and Mark Ronson on ‘This Life’. Meanwhile Danielle Haim makes significant vocal contributions throughout, with soul wunderkind Steve Lacy from cult group The Internet adding funky guitar licks and vocals when necessary.
As such, the album has the feel of a scrap-book that’s full of crossings-out and wild ideas, instead of being meticulously planned and overwrought. Koenig himself has already said that the album has plenty of “short story-type songs” and, occasionally, the briefest moments are the most enlightening. The sparkling sub-two minute-‘Bambina’ and soothing ‘Big Blue’ are two examples of the group. doing less with more, while the breezy-yet-brief ‘We Belong Together’ sees Koenig and Haim trade lines about “Keats and Yeats/ Bowls and plates” atop a joyous indie-pop backing.
So it’s largely fun and games, but there are performances by Koenig that’ll stop you in your tracks. ‘Unbearably White’ is one of the band’s most impressive productions to date, while the piano-led ballad ‘Jerusalem New York Berlin’, penned about the Balfour Declaration and the birth of the Israel state – a song that Koenig wants people to listen to before divulging further about its meaning – is a wistful and memorable close to an album of staggering beauty.
Depending on your mood, there’ll be songs you’d happily lop off for a more streamlined listen, but by and large, all of these songs make the patchwork much more vibrant. If there’s another wait this long for album five, we trust that they’ll make use of the time.