As trivial as it now seems, the contrast in image between mid-noughties British bands and their American counterparts couldn’t have been starker; whilst in the UK for the main part the look was leisure casual scruff, Vampire Weekend’s preppy neatness made them the outfit you could bring home to your parents.
The same confident message permeated their music, the sort of know-it-all montage of hip regalia which spoke to well curated record collections and luck meeting opportunity. Over a decade later however, most of their contemporaries – friend and foe – are little more than a memory, and Ezra Koenig’s role as captain of his ship has become ever more pronounced.
Six years may have passed since Modern Vampires Of The City, but Koenig has been doing anything but standing still, relocating from New York to LA and initiating himself into the joys of parenthood. Snap to now and that self-belief which many misinterpret for careless hubris has resulted in a comeback album of true ambition – who, after all, releases a double album in 2019 other than a megalomaniac. In keeping with this spirit of boldness however, Father Of The Bride is a sparklingly co-operative end product and his boldest, most eclectic yet.
Firstly, some orientation. With the loss of pivotal foil Rostam Batmanglij between releases, Ariel Reichstad was astutely recruited to act as muse along with his girlfriend, Danielle Haim. Batmanglij proves there are no hard feelings by returning as a guest, but it’s the couple’s influence which is writ largest here, Haim duetting on Hold You Now, Married In A Gold Rush and We Belong Together. Each of the tryptic holds up different facets of a sound which, when stepped back from, is looser, more irregular and roughed up than before, the latter a thumping country church song, the opener garnished with a choir and pathos by the dust bowl mile.
This preacher-confessional tryst isn’t the only story however, momentum also found in the twisted, rock n’ roll distress of Bambina and the angelically short 2021, a love song as direct and pointed as anything Koenig has ever written. Elsewhere, wily teammates are the go-to creative vehicle of choice as Mark Ronson whispers sweet nothings into the ear of This Life and The Internet’s Steve Lacy squares the hippy circle on Sunflower and the languorous, jazz daze of Flower Moon.
For a man who claims to obsess over the smallest detail, throwing carefree ideas into a mix which doesn’t always work – cue the odd, incongruous blast of sound on the otherwise saccharine How Long? – is surely something more than mere adjustment. It helps to have the talent to produce neo-classics seemingly as an afterthought of course, the uplifting gospel of Harmony Hall and rustic pastoralism of Stranger hinting directly at a renaissance few guessed was even needed.
The ace in the hole, though perhaps intentionally ,doesn’t sound like one at first: Unbearably White might have been a put down to the snide put downs of all these years, but instead it’s disarmingly simple, in possession of a subliminal chorus so addictive it should come with a Surgeon General’s warning.
Perhaps he did win then, or perhaps the battle of the bands was a figment of our fertile My Space era imaginations. Either way, Father of The Bride’s college of players has brought peace, adventure and clarity to Vampire Weekend’s present and future. And because of that, they’ve never been more potent.