Complex themes beneath the ditties



Vampire Weekend

Spring Snow/Columbia

4 stars

It has been a while since there has been anything new from New York outfit Vampire Weekend - six years since their last album, the Grammy-winning Modern Vampires Of The City (2013).

Father Of The Bride, their fourth album, sees the return of one of the leading lights among the mid-to-late-2000s crop of guitar bands, noted for their fusion of punk rock and African music, as well as preppy aesthetics. The line-up has changed - multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij left the band in 2016 and they are now down to a trio.

On the surface, the tracks on the album have a joyous springtime mood, but dig deeper and one will find that the songs are no mere ditties and are a bit more complex than your average indie-rock banger.

Album opener Hold You Now starts out like a feel-good country-folk tune, with a pleasant, if unremarkable, melody, but it is soon elevated by a left-field chorus sampled from a Melanesian choral song (a sample from Hans Zimmer's score in 1998 war film The Thin Red Line). Frontman Ezra Koenig trades verses with Danielle Haim from sister trio Haim , as they reflect on an unsteady relationship ("I can't carry you forever/But I can hold you now").

Harmony Hall, with a piano-and-percussion groove reminiscent of The Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil, is musically upbeat and cheery but the lyrics say otherwise. The band are known for their upper-class Ivy League background and here, Koenig muses on the onset of hate groups and rising intolerance in unlikely places such as esteemed universities ("Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified").

This is repeated in This Life, with a buoyant afro/indie rock hybrid harking back to the band's earlier days. Yet the lyrics hint at betrayal and duplicity ("I've been cheating on, cheating on you/You've been cheating on me/But I've been cheating through this life/And all its suffering"). The title of Unbearably White might seem to imply a discourse on race and privilege, but instead focuses on a relationship gone south, while Rich Man, in a moment of self-awareness, is a take on economic inequality dressed as a singalong ditty.

There are other instances where the songs take a sudden turn - the speedy double-bass drums on the dynamic art-pop song Sympathy, for example - and plenty of their trademark jaunty guitar riffs in tunes such as the tempo-shifting Sunflower and Flower Moon, both of which feature The Internet guitarist Steve Lacy.

Despite being down to a trio, the band have not diminished musically. They more than make up for it with their choice of collaborators, including Lacy, Haim and even a sample from the music that Japanese musician Haruomi Hosono composed for Muji stores in the song 2021.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2019, with the headline 'Complex themes beneath the ditties'. Print Edition | Subscribe