Ezra Koenig does not want to talk about Father of the Bride, the first album his band Vampire Weekend has released in six years.
“I kind of wish I could go through all the interviews for an album two years after it came out, when there’s so much more perspective on it and the fans already had some time to sink their teeth in without too much guidance from me,” he told The Washington Post.
It makes sense: Koenig has always positioned himself as an artist more interested in talking about the machinations surrounding an album than the actual music. The art, after all, is supposed to speak for itself.
But his band, his life and his country have changed dramatically in the years since Vampire Weekend released its last record, Modern Vampires of the City. All of that has had an effect on the songwriter, so perhaps it’s not shocking that what he wants to discuss instead is streaming and the ways the music industry has changed since the band’s self-titled LP gained traction in 2008 through early internet blogs such as Stereogum and Pitchfork, which would release the tracks one at a time, a slow drip of MP3s that generated excitement.
“You’re always looking at what’s happening in music, what ideas you want to be in league with and which you want to push against,” Koenig said. “I think that aspect is the same. But, how much people talk about streaming? I think that’s far and away been the biggest change.”
At first glance, it’s not difficult to think that Father of the Bride, which came out on May 3, is — in some ways — a reaction to streaming. For one, it’s far longer than the band’s other work, a double LP clocking in at 18 songs.
“I wouldn’t say [streaming] changes my approach at all, or anything like that. There was some discussion of there being a lot of songs, like ‘Can you break it up into two or three parts that could help it [be] better for streaming?” he said, referring to the fact that shorter albums lend themselves to more repeat streams, thus helping an album climb the Billboard charts (as evidenced by the success of Kanye West’s several seven-track albums in 2018). “I considered it. Why not? I’m open to these conversations ... but this is a double album. I wanted my double vinyl.”
Hefty records — from the triple LP Sandinista! by the Clash or the double LP The White Album by the Beatles — often signal a band trying something new or finding itself in some sort of transition. Father of the Bride is no exception.
Six years ago, Vampire Weekend reached what seemed like the absolute height of indie-rock stardom. Modern Vampires of the City debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for best alternative rock album.
But a lot changed as well. Multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, one of the original quartet, left the band, though he remains friendly with them and contributed to the music on this record. Koenig spent the interim pursuing other projects, such as creating and writing Neo Yokio, an anime series on Netflix.
If anything, the new record feels less like a reaction to streaming and more simply like a reaction to growing older, looking at the changes in one’s life and adjusting accordingly. More so than the band’s first albums, Father of the Bride switches genres and styles at a dizzying pace from poppy duets to country to electro-pop — in stark opposition to the tight sonic focus of their last record.
It also features guests, such as having Danielle Haim (of, obviously, Haim) sing on “about half the songs,” including three straight duets.
“After three albums of Vampire Weekend feeling so insular ... that had run its course, and I was excited to open the door,” Koenig said. “And I thought if anyone is worth having on one song, they’re worth having on multiple songs. If they’re going to be a part of the fabric of this album and part of the community, then let’s have a relationship.”
Haim, whom he “knew before her first album came out,” was a perfect fit.
“She came in and nailed the harmonies immediately,” he said. “She’s one of the few singers in a band that I really feel a connection to. I think we think similarly about music, and I think our voices sound good together. ... Who else could it be?”
More than ever before, Koenig’s real life seems to bleed into the songs. On “This Life,” for example, he sings, “Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain/I just thought it didn’t rain in California/Baby, I know love isn’t what I thought it was/’cause I’ve never known a love like this before.” Though it’s impossible to know, it’s difficult not to take these lines as real-life references to the past few years, during which he moved to California and had a son with his girlfriend, actress Rashida Jones.
But the Vampire Weekend-esque idiosyncrasies are present throughout. Sly, tongue-in-cheek winks at conversations surrounding cultural appropriation, seen in the early days on tracks like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” still appear here, as evidenced by the fact that there’s a song titled “Unbearably White” (a phrase that appears in the lyrics both in reference to a blanket of snow on a mountain and to an unnamed “us”). Koenig even references his old songs on “Harmony Hall,” reprising the line “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die” from “Finger Back.”
True to form, the whole breezy double LP concludes with a light song about a divisive, heavy subject. “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin,” which is obliquely about the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British expressed support during World War I to create a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, might be best described as academic pop.
But Koenig doesn’t want to talk about it.