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Friday, April 12, 2024

The Boys (minus one) are back: Vampire Weekend

Grab your Sperrys, Vampire Weekend is dropping a new album

Do you remember your first breakup? That feeling of confusion? It came out of left-field, you thought everything was going well. You felt embarrassed and shocked knowing that, to the other person, it was not as dreamy and cohesive as you viewed it. But you loved that person, and you had to trust and respect their decision. That’s how I felt when Ivy-League educated, indie-rock band Vampire Weekend broke up.

The 2016 absence of Rostam Batmanglij, once the mastermind of Vampire Weekend’s sound, left unanswered questions concerning the future of the band. After all, the band was tight and seemingly stable. Fellow Columbia University students Ezra Koenig, Chris Tomson, Chris Baio and Batmanglij met in 2006 at Columbia and first performed on-campus in Lerner Hall. With the release of their first album in 2008, their dynamic instrumental sound waves reached popularity. They differentiated themselves from the repetitious sounds often criticized of the indie rock genre by combining Afro-pop and New England groove. Their wicked smart lyrics, written by Koenig, spoke of their New York City lifestyle. Yet, their lyrics juxtaposed humbling narratives of romantic partners and their own personal history and growth. They advanced in increasing complexity and musical command with the release of each album. Pitchfork even declared “Hannah Hunt,” from their latest release “Modern Vampires of the City,” a pinnacle moment in the band’s career. Indeed, “Modern Vampires of the City” made the band “a primary source in their own right.” There was an essence of invincibility with the band, an entity so perfect with no conclusion in sight.

They may have hinted at the breakup of the original band membership with “Modern Vampires of the City,” an album overwhelmingly concerned with death. They touched on sentiments of accepting the inevitable in both getting older and the unavoidable end. They also emphasized taking your time throughout the process and the joy found in the process. The album left the band in a place of high musical and lyrical maturity and therefore at a crossroads: where does one go from the top?

A drastic change in the band may have been the most strategic move, like knowing to end a T.V. series at a high point. They reached their peak within that band dynamic, and it was time for something new to unfold. Batmanglij has since begun his solo career, one that’s equally creative as his musical feats in Vampire Weekend. He is, in a way, starting from square one but with the experience of a master to guide him.

The remaining original members of Vampire Weekend are doing the same. After six years of waiting, they are releasing their fourth album “Father Of The Bride,” teased for months on Instagram as “FOTB” and previously titled “Mitsubishi Macchiato.” Just two weeks ago, they released two singles from the album: “Harmony Hall” and “2021.” To further build up fanbase anticipation, they will drop four more songs before the release of their 18-track album scheduled for spring.

At first listen, “Harmony Hall” and “2021” were much simpler than expected. For the first taste of Vampire weekend in six years, I was expecting a bang: complicated chords found in “Campus” and the playfulness of “Diane Young.” Fan anxiety was instead met with upbeat guitar chords in “Harmony Hall” and Koenig’s soft hums within the 1:38 run time of “2021.” Moreover, “Harmony Hall” recycles lyrics “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die” from “Finger Back” in “Modern Vampire of the City.”  Using repeated lyrics and simple sounds, did Vampire Weekend take ten steps backward?

Of course not. It’s Vampire Weekend — they’re intentional, well thought out and precise in their actions. Koenig is once again teasing the listener, using these two singles to set the stage for what is to come when the full album releases. The singles are a platform to confront the changes and newness of the band head on.

“2021” looks to the future, asking the upcoming years to be kind to both us and Vampire Weekend. Koenig asks time, “will you think about me” and “will you think about us?” The motifs of passing time and development  is a continuation from “Modern Vampires of the City.” Yet, what’s different is the quasi-materialist approach taken in this second attempt: Vampire Weekend is not simply thinking about the concept of change, but are now enduring it. Koenig admits he doesn’t “wanna be (boy)” or the young collegiate image that the old membership represented. In this way, the revived lyrics from “Finger Back” in “Harmony Hall” are appropriate — comforting the fan base that they are still the same Vampire Weekend at heart, but the different use and meaning of the lyrics illustrate that they too are changing with the flow of time.

“Harmony Hall” also takes on a greater scope of analysis than the narration Vampire Weekend has previously done. The image of Harmony Hall could be seen as an echo chamber witnessing the horrifyingly polar opinions in our political climate — “anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight.” The “wicked snakes” mentioned in the chorus could be a classic Vampire Weekend biblical allusion or a manifestation of divisiveness. Another perspective would view the “snakes inside a place you thought was dignified” as a nod to their Columbia University education. Koenig criticizes the anti-semitic occurrences at Columbia, casting off the prestige of the university and the connection it held to the band. These twisted snakes may take the shape of a problematic symbol on Harmony Hall walls.

Vampire Weekend is becoming more conscious in what they represent as a band, simultaneously keeping certain aspects from their old dynamic and ridding themselves of others. They may become less lofty, trying to bring themselves down to earth. Vampire Weekend is now entering into a phase of juxtaposition, remaining timeless yet forward-thinking. Vampire Weekend is onto something new, something bigger, something better. Time will tell how it unfolds.

Vampire Weekend will kick off their “Father of the Bride” tour in May. Tickets can be found on Ticketmaster.  

Written By: Caroline Rutten — arts@theaggie.org


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