A decade ago, I gave a couple hundred dollars to a guy from Craigslist to see Vampire Weekend in a tiny, legendary venue in downtown Toronto. I was in my third year of university at the time, obsessed with whenever Vampire Weekend’s follow-up to their 2008 self-titled album would appear. (I even wore my Columbia University sweatshirt to the gig, sweating profusely throughout, because I—a big nerd—felt that was a more appropriate symbol for a band I loved.) I remember Ezra Koenig smiling intensely before playing “Horchata,” giving our audience the smallest taste of flavor that would be Contra. Punks, preps, jocks, a few goths (!), all attended the show. A wide demographic enamored with new tracks like “Cousins” set near beloved ones like “Walcott.” Since then, I’ve held onto the band as I have grown up from a preppy youth— which they have as well—watching as they've morphed into a band that can please just about anybody.
Last week, after several years of guessing when their fourth record would arrive, Vampire Weekend finally gave us new music. “Harmony Hall,” a sort of George Michael-sounding song built around a reference to “Finger Back” from Modern Vampires of the City, and “2021” a melodic lullaby featuring Jenny Lewis. Their latest would be called Father of the Bride—a cheeky reference to a Steve Martin film—which hinted that the record might again feature their arch sense of humor. But, in a bigger picture sense, things are different this time around.
Rostam Batmanglij—co-writer and multi-instrumentalist—left the group in 2016 to pursue solo projects, yet the singles don’t swerve from what you’d expect of Vampire Weekend: melodic, also reaching back to 80s pop for inspiration. Their songs are different, sure, but they feel the same. Vampire Weekend have managed to exist in a space bands have been trying to inhabit for decades: a modified, fresh sound without actually changing its texture. But what are Vampire Weekend returning to, exactly? What is their place in a modern music landscape so defined by trap beats and streaming metrics? Vampire Weekend are deceptively good at bringing modern pop—and us as listeners—to them, determining a lane for which they can stay in successfully and contributing to the musical climate of the era.
Their self-titled arrived in 2008, at a time when garagey revivalists like the Strokes were waning. Newer, buzzier electronic scenes, like new rave in the UK, or MGMT’s festival-friendly electro-pop hadn’t fully ascended to the popular consciousness. Vampire Weekend’s debut was wedged in-between. In some ways, they'd already outgrown rock'n'roll, but they hadn't adopted bombastic electronics; they weren't making stadium anthems. Their self-titled is the most divisive because of how sincere and preppy it seemingly is but that has never stopped an audience from giving a profound fuck when “A-Punk” cues up. It's Vampire Weekend’s “Mr. Brightside.” (Fight me!) Vampire Weekend was so much more than boat shoes, campus crushes, and weekends in Cape Cod. Pitchfork called their follow-up Contra, released in 2010, an “orchestral confetti.” They incorporated as much they could from every possible cultural avenue. They even enlisted RZA and Jake Gyllenhaal for a tennis duel in the video for “Giving Up the Gun,” which was actually funny! Vampire Weekend doesn’t actually take themselves that seriously.
Modern Vampires of the City would be their ultimate crossover, determining an unshakeable appeal to more than just hip kids. That Pitchfork gave it a 9.3 rating is miraculous. But they were the band of the year, determined by Spin, and nearly everywhere because of this record. In the summer of 2014, when I saw them headline Governor’s Ball in New York, their momentum hadn’t slowed. MVOTC is so explicitly good, swerving through reverent religiosity on “Ya Hey”; playful word-play and energy on “Diane Young”; and tender nostalgia on “Step.” There was such measurable growth—lyrics felt simultaneously heavy like Leonard Cohen’s but playfully pop like Peter Gabriel.
A friend of mine recently said Ezra Koenig is exactly one of three guys who can play guitar and accurately assess the pop cultural landscape. And that’s true. From his anime with Jaden Smith to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs-nodding hook on Beyoncé’s “Hold Up,” Koenig has always surveyed the pop cultural temperaments with seeming ease, knowing what we’ll respond to. A few days ago, Koenig was enjoying a flailing Knicks performance with Bodega Boys’ Desus and Mero. He’s not exactly undercover in culture but assuredly scanning it fervently.
Even before the title of the album dropped, an organic, but massive Internet game of figuring out what the FOTB initials stood for occurred, with Koenig Instagram Storying some of the best DMs he received. That alone fans more interest for when the work actually arrives. Father of the Bride will no doubt sound like a Vampire Weekend record. With six years removed from their last, there is a generous excitement and appeal because of that space in-between—which could, for other bands, kill momentum—but also for how good it will likely be.
Sarah MacDonald is anxiously awaiting the next Vampire Weekend singles on Twitter.