Every now and then, an album enters into my life that I know I will hold near and dear to my heart forever. That just happened a few Fridays ago when Vampire Weekend released their long anticipated double album, Father of the Bride. It had been nearly six years since they dropped what I thought was going to be their magnum opus, Modern Vampires of the City. But this new project is just absurdly good and honestly blows their other work out of the water. And I love their other stuff!
As is the case with most of my favorite albums of all time, the main strength of this project is the delightful lyricism that frontman Ezra Koenig provides in spades from start to finish. So this week on the blog, I’m going to go track by track and let you in on what makes this piece of art so special in my mind.
1) HOLD YOU NOW
The album opens with a beautiful acoustic guitar riff, and immediately sets the scene. We are placed at a wedding in which the relationship in question has clearly been strained with its future uncertain. It’s the first of three duets between Koenig and Danielle Haim, all of which have a country essence to them. The opening lyrics of this track are also the ones that resonate the most for me, even if the relationship that I think about personally when I hear them is the professional relationship I had with the place where I got my start in the broadcasting business.
I know the reason why you think you gotta leave
Promises of future glory don’t make a case for me
I did my best and all the rest is hidden by the clouds
I can’t carry you forever, but I can hold you now
2) HARMONY HALL
Of the six singles that were released before the album came out, this is the one that I found to be the most elevated by the full context of the project. The light and bouncy guitar sounds are joined by an upbeat piano, but they are countered by lyrics that portray a character who is fed up with the way things have been going. Koenig even rehashes a lyric from a song off the last album called Finger Back in which he states, “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.”
Anger wants a voice
Voices want to sing
Til they can’t hear anything
I thought that I was free
From all that questioning
But every time a problem ends
Another one begins
This is one of the three tracks on the album that runs less than two minutes, but it’s also one of my favorites. The use of vocoder and crunchy guitars makes it one of the best head-boppers on the record. But the track gets quieter to make way for the hook, which conjures up thoughts of a person who feels they need to step away from the one they love when things begin to seem untenable.
My Christian heart cannot withstand
The thundering arena
I’ll see you when the violence ends
For now, ciao ciao, bambina
4) THIS LIFE
This track comes through with buoyant guitars and hand claps. It’s the kind of song that makes you snap your fingers and sing along. But as you sing along, you may realize that you’re singing about the uncertainty of life that gives us all pause from time to time. Who among us hasn’t at one point or another thought to themselves, “Oh Christ, am I good for nothing?”
Baby, I know death probably hasn’t happened yet
‘Cause I don’t remember living life before this
And darling, our disease is the same one as the trees
Unaware that they’ve been living in a forest
5) BIG BLUE
This is the most lyrically simplistic of the tracks on the album, merely because it’s one stanza that repeats itself three times. I can’t claim to know exactly what Koenig’s inspiration was behind these words, but to me it sounds like an address to the universe itself as life becomes more difficult to cope with.
For once in my life I felt close to you
I was so overcome with emotion
When I was hurt and in need of affection
When I was tired and I couldn’t go home
Then you offered protection
So am I learning my lesson?
Or am I back on my own?
6) HOW LONG?
This track underlines one of the most jarring juxtapositions between the instrumentation and the lyrical content. Musically it is a song that features happy keys and fun harmonies, as well as playful guitars and sound effects. At times, you can even hear some hip hop sensibilities in the production. But the lyrics at first paint a picture of this failed relationship, and eventually describe the future destruction of Los Angeles.
Getting to the top
Wasn’t supposed to be this hard
The house is on Mulholland Drive
The car’s on Sunset Boulevard
The registration’s here with me
Neither of us has the key
We could live down in the flats
The hills will fall eventually
7) UNBEARABLY WHITE
The fact that this song is one of the lowliers on the album in my opinion really speaks to the quality of the overall project. While musically beautiful, the only reason why it’s low on the list of my favorite tracks is because lyrically it doesn’t ADD a whole lot. It does contribute to the theme of a failed relationship, but I guess I just feel like there are other songs that do a better job of accomplishing that. That said, the hook is yet another example of terrific songwriting.
There’s an avalanche coming
Don’t cover your eyes
It’s what you thought that you wanted
It’s still a surprise
It’s hard on the body
It’s hard on the mind
To learn what kept us together, darling
Is what kept us alive
8) RICH MAN
If I could only pick one, this would be my favorite track on the album. In a world where we’ve superficially created the idea that wealth equates with success, this song is a breath of fresh air. Hammering home the idea that money doesn’t buy happiness, it starts with a brilliantly crafted line that goes, “When I was young I was told I’d find one rich man in ten has a satisfied mind, and I’m the one.” Other stanzas pepper in concepts of love, and a striking through line also touches on the ridiculousness of the odds we stack on people who are trying their best to achieve their goals, no matter how unlikely they may be at face value. Let’s just say that this idea in particular is one that hits close to home for me. Also, the Looney Tunes-ass strings that come in at two separate intervals of the song are just so gorgeous, it makes me want to get up and waltz.
One in a million don’t mean what it meant
And these millions of gold coins don’t gleam when they’re spent
You’re left with none
Ten million dollars could win the whole lot
But if ten million dollars is all that you got
You wont be the one
9) MARRIED IN A GOLD RUSH
This is just a straight-up country duet between Koenig and Haim that is belied by the modernized production behind it. It’s not the best song on the album, but it’s certainly not the worst. It does provide one of a few moments on the record when the two partners in this doomed relationship address one another directly. I’m particularly a fan of when they collectively discuss the idea that this relationship once seemed perfect, but both of them have long since lost sight of that time.
EK: I thought you might learn the language
DH: I thought you might learn to sing
TOGETHER: We were born before the gold rush
So why can’t I remember anything?
10) MY MISTAKE
This is the closest attempt Vampire Weekend has ever made at producing a jazz song. The song is appropriately moody and does a great job at expressing the regret that goes along with feeling responsible for the end of something good. It’s probably the track with the least replay value, but it accomplishes the role that it’s clearly designed to play in the context of the album.
There was choice to get out
Or remain in this state
There was springtime and future
Til I made my mistake
Holy shit, does this song slap. I wasn’t aware that flamenco and techno could be blended so smoothly, but it turns out, yep! It starts with a spoken word intro that says “I think I took myself too serious. It’s not that serious” And this song is seriously bonkers. It also contains some poignant observations of the world, including this gem of a line in the second verse.
I’d never heard the words
Enemies for centuries until there was a third
Teamed up with the brilliant guitar playing of Steve Lacy from The Internet, this song is one of the happiest moments on the record. That’s the case even though the lyrics actually present the idea of rebelling against the world and the way it operates. To me anyway, the messaging of the song is one of resistance against contributing to the functionality of a cruel universe, and instead choosing to spend the day indoors kept to yourself.
Sunflower in the morning
Standing in the garden
All before you wake
No power can compel you
Out into the daylight
Let that evil wait
13) FLOWER MOON
I can’t lie. The hook of this song makes me cry. Not only does the use of vocoder make Koenig and Lacy’s vocals sound beautifully heartbroken, the words speak to some of the strongest emotions I felt throughout my darker times a few years ago when I was reassessing what I was doing with my life. I hear the message of wanting things to be different, but understanding that in order for things to be the way you want them to be, it’s going to require a big change, and a great deal of patience.
Flower moon, curse the night
If the sun don’t make things right
Then it’s gonna take a year
(Gonna take a year)
Flower moon, sacred sign
Coca-Cola and red wine
Now’s the time to disappear
(Gonna take a year)
This track features the simplistic sound of a synth and a lyric sheet that ponders about the future. It’s sweet in its brevity and easy relatability. It also plays off of Flower Moon incredibly well, in that it recycles the concept of patience, but stresses that too much patience can actually work against you.
2021, will you think about me?
I could wait a year, but I shouldn’t wait three
15) WE BELONG TOGETHER
The third and final duet between Koenig and Haim is just absolutely wonderful in every way. After all of the trials and tribulations of this problematic relationship, they come together to sing about how much love they have for one another, even if ultimately it didn’t work out the way either of them had hoped. The words when read in isolation may come off as cheesy or saccharine, but honestly, they work so perfectly that not only is that NOT a strike against the song, it actually adds a lot to it.
We go together like give and take
Pains and aches
Real and fake
We go together, don’t be opaque
It’s clear we go together
The words to the chorus of this song serve as the thesis statement for the entire project. “Things have never been stranger. Things are gonna stay strange.” There are a number of elements to this song that make it one of the poppier sounding songs on the record, and I just love it. As the album begins to come to a close, you can sense the themes of the songwriting shift from pensive and in-the-moment to reflective and grateful.
The sound of you and your sister
I couldn’t face these days alone
You got the right light, candles burning
We don’t need the moon anymore
I used to look for an answer
I used to knock on every door
But you got the wave on, music playing
Don’t need to look anymore
17) SPRING SNOW
This is another song that does a tremendous job of describing a specific event in time. It paints the picture of this couple’s last moments together, as a spring snowstorm has caused her flight to be delayed, giving them a few more hours to be in each other’s company. But just as was the case with the relationship in general, this moment is only fleeting. The two of them have to accept that this is just the way everything was meant to play out.
The snow fell last night
Your flight couldn’t leave
Come back to the bed
Let’s take this reprieve
It felt like the end
The end’s been delayed
You’re here in my arms
So what should I say?
18) JERUSALEM, NEW YORK, BERLIN
This song is a heartbreaking way to end the album, but it is still somehow the perfect conclusion. While there are obvious references to the sadness felt towards no longer being with a beloved, there are also bigger themes addressed that speak toward the world as a whole. As Koenig has stated, the song is really about “what it means to connect to something bigger than yourself.” Despite how heavy a question like that is, Koenig does a great job of personalizing the answer. But as far as the one line that stands out to me as the most personal to my experience as someone trying to find the right avenue to chase down my life goals, it’s this one:
You’ve given me the big dream
But you can’t make it real
To wrap this up, Father of the Bride is not even two weeks old on my ears yet, so perhaps my recency bias is playing into why I hold it in such high regard. But sometimes you just know. I can’t say that this record will unseat The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists for my favorite album of all time. But I do think I can comfortably place it in my top five. Bravo, Vampire Weekend. Bra-freaking-vo.