Vampire Weekend’s first three records collided indie rock into African guitars. The New York four piece emerged with their debut album in 2008, as the popularity of indie guitar bands was waning, but their approach was fresh enough that they were critically acclaimed and successful.
After 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij left the band. Koenig took time out from Vampire Weekend, creating the Netflix anime series Neo Yokio and becoming a father. His partner is actress Rashida Jones, which effectively makes him Quincy Jones’ son-in-law.
Koenig also relocated from New York to L.A., and Father of the Bride reflects the change in scenery. Like Vampire Weekend’s earlier albums, Father of the Bride is neurotic, but this time it’s paired with sun-kissed music, with healthy dollops of country and Laurel Canyon folk. Koenig was influenced by country star Kacey Musgraves, and Father of the Bride mines similar territory to 2018’s superlative Golden Hour.
With all the changes, as well as the six year gap, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Father of the Bride to be branded as an Ezra Koenig solo project, but it’s a terrific addition to the band’s legacy. Koenig’s main collaborator is Ariel Rechtshaid, who’s produced a lot of great records this decade. Also prominent is Rechtshaid’s partner, Danielle Haim, who duets with Koenig on three tracks, and also contributes background vocals. Californian alternative R&B musician Steve Lacy contributes to ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Flower Moon’.
At almost an hour’s running time, Father of the Bride is significantly longer than any other Vampire Weekend studio project; Koenig felt that he owed fans a substantial record after such a long time away. Despite the length, the 18 songs are unified in feel – a Californian aesthetic tying them together. Koenig describes it as “spring-time” vibe. There are enough great songs on Father of the Bride that new highlights jump out on each listen.
The three duets with Danielle Haim punctuate the record, three country duets documenting different points in a relationship. The opener ‘Hold You Now’ is sparse and tender, while ‘We Belong Together’ is the upbeat conclusion near the end of the running order.
Lead single ‘Harmony Hall’ features a lovely acoustic riff, fluid piano, and a chorus that re-purposes the line “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die” from 2013’s ‘Finger Back’. It’s fun to watch Koenig making arty pancakes for guest like Rechtshaid and Dev Hynes, while Danielle Haim showcases her amazing hair.
The use of short songs helps the album’s pacing – some of my favourite songs here are brief. The pretty ‘2021’ uses a vocals sample from Jenny Lewis. ‘Bambina’ covers an amazing amount of ground in less than two minutes of running time.
Father of the Bride is a significant departure from Vampire Weekend’s earlier work, certain to disenfranchise existing fans while creating new ones. It’s a lyrically dense, musically fascinating masterpiece that’s in my running for album of the year.