After six long years, Vampire Weekend’s fourth album is finally here. It’s not the title we expected—it was long rumored to be called Mitsubishi Macchiato—and the group lost a member along the way (the band’s co-producer, keyboardist, string arranger, and all-around secret weapon, Rostam Batmanglij), but following all of the false release dates and delays, it’s a genuine surprise that we have any tangible record to hold at all in 2019. Hardcore fans had started to lose hope, thinking that they would be treated to an endless array of decent-to-disappointing solo releases, one off features, and radio shows instead.
But upon first, second, and tenth listens, it’s extremely hard to justify that long wait. Father of the Bride isn’t anything short of an extreme misfire, one that misses the mark so terribly that it threatens to devalue their back catalog in the same way that Everything Now did to Arcade Fire in 2017.
Ditching the chamber pop and world-weariness of Modern Vampires of the City, Ezra Koenig & co. return with a new sound that’s looser and bouncier than ever before, a swing for the fences to be the album of the summer, one that would soundtrack road trips and BBQs across the country. But in doing so, they lose what made them so good in the first place – unexpected and beautiful production and profound lyrics about contemporary life in a major city – and opt for sunny guitar licks and tired and, frankly, corny dad rock. There are hints of those clever curveballs throughout, the string flourishes and vague storytelling of “Unbearably White” and its successor “Rich Man” or the minor key saxophone-aided “My Mistake” come to mind first, but for every interesting moment, there are three or four songs weighing them down entirely, perhaps a reflection of Koenig’s decision to include every dart throw across 18 tracks.
Those misses aren’t just simple head-scratchers either—they represent the worst songs throughout Vampire Weekend’s storied career. The country-leaning “Married in a Gold Rush” and “We Belong Together,” both duets with Danielle Haim, are about as cliché as one could possibly imagine, the latter stringing together lines like “We go together like sound and sight / Black and white / Day and night / We go together like left and right / Oh, we go together.” Hokey and unoriginal, these should be throwaway lyrics for any songwriter, let alone ones from the artist who wrote “Hannah Hunt” and “Step.”
“I think I took myself too serious / It’s not that serious,” begins the furious rhythms of “Sympathy” and maybe that’s the final take away from Father of the Bride. Maybe we shouldn’t read too far into the disjointed narrative or the mess left behind after a jumbled musical through line that never really amounts to any sort of coherent collection of songs. Maybe this is simply supposed to be a laid back guitar-heavy Grateful Dead-inspired record that’s just meant to be played in the background of some party where the music doesn’t really matter anyways.
But Vampire Weekend have never been that band, so why should we treat them as such now? Sure, the melodies are fun at points, but even throughout their poppiest moments like “Diane Young” or even “A-Punk,” Ezra Koenig always seemed to be saying something, utilizing clever wordplay and gorgeous imagery to his full advantage. However, throughout Father of the Bride, a record with half-baked political commentary (“Something’s happening in the country / And the government’s to blame”) and lazy wordplay (“All I do is lose but baby / All I want’s to win”), it feels as if Koenig turned away from what made his band so great in the first place, instead electing to adopt a sound that doesn’t necessarily fit him, one that comes off as derivative and frequently boring.
Koenig had six years to finish Vampire Weekend’s newest release, a seemingly endless amount of time for a band that put out three near-perfect albums over a five-year span. But now that we’re finally granted a listen to what he’s been working on for over half a decade, it’s simply impossible not to wonder what happened and where they lost their way, culminating in a major disappointment for perhaps the most anticipated indie rock album in recent memory.