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CD of The Week

Week of 4/08/24

    Vampire Weekend - Only God Was Above Us (Columbia)

    Vampire Weekend both the biggest hype recipient of the Myspace era of indie rock and the only one of that micro-generation of bands to evolve into a true legacy act that has never lost relevance. Their fifth album, Only God Was Above Us, emerges after another lengthy gap (Father of the Bride came out back in the pre-pandemic, late spring of 2019), but the band’s foothold has not faded. Luckily, neither has their adventurous spirit or impeccable sense of melody. Blending familiar elements with interesting new touches such as distortion and hints of brass instrumentation, the new album is another strong triumph for one of the smartest bands working today.

    Lyrically and tonally, the band has come a long way since the Ivy League life depicted on their 2008 self-titled debut. Ezra Koening is now 40 and Only God Was Above Us has a philosophical maturity throughout that reflects this. There was a tendency on the first two Vampire Weekend albums to utilize cultural and historical references in a way that could feel like showing off, but the invocations of 80s and 90s New York on songs such as “Mary Boone” (who was a prominent NYC art dealer before being convicted for tax evasion) feel purposeful and poignant. Ezra croons “Oh my love, was it all in vain? / we always wanted money, now the money’s not the same” over a gospel choir, adding importance to a melancholy and relatable sentiment. There is also an interesting self-referentiality that pops up at times as “Connect” shares a drum beat with “Mansard Roof” (albeit with a different effect when paired with more introspective lyrics and a prominent piano part) while “Capricorn” includes prominent lyrics about “dying young.”

    That said, Only God Was Above Us is not dour or overly serious. The band’s trademark playfulness is just as present as ever as “Gen-X Cops” shifts tempo and instrumentation on a whim while retaining an anthemic and moving chorus. Meanwhile, “Ice Cream Piano” introduces distortion to the band’s sound and features multi-track vocals that seem to miss harmonizing by a quarter second. Of course, these are still highly accessible tunes that boast sneaky hooks and energetic rhythm section work from Chris Baio and Chris Tomson, who notably did not play on Father of the Bride.

    Only God Was Above Us possesses many more highlights and every song except the corny, eight-minute closer, “Hope,” is at least very good. It’s hard to imagine a Vampire Weekend fan not loving the album and even those who may have been turned off by the band’s meteoric rise or occasionally twee sensibility are likely to be impressed by the band’s growth and continued experimentation.

    Vampire Weekend will be playing at the The Mann Center on Saturday, September 28th with Cults.

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    Review by Sol

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