One of the curses of being a band that arrives so fully-formed, aesthetically and sonically, that they make an immediate cultural impact and define the musical landscape around them, is inevitably spending the rest of their careers having to live up to that initial excitement, expected to continually position themselves as the monolithic influence they once were. Hype kills, man. The ‘00s was full of such bands. Early decade examples such as The Strokes and Interpol especially stand out in this regard, yet in 2008, another auspicious debut turned the indie world on its head seemingly overnight. Vampire Weekend, the culminating peak of the blog rock era, exploded onto the scene with a take on modern indie rock that was unabashedly collegiate and preppy; leaning heavily on uncool mom and dad records like Graceland, borrowing Wes Anderson iconography, and capable of referencing Kanda Bongo Man and Lil John within the same breath. Oh, and the songs were insanely catchy and well written, too. For a music press still shedding it’s a last vestiges of punk-informed coolness, it was simultaneously exciting and infuriating all at once.
Over a decade later, Vampire Weekend are thriving, avoiding the irrelevance that has befallen many of their well-lauded peers from the same era. Far removed from being a thinkpiece-inspiring point of contention, Vampire Weekend have turned into a modern rock institution, churning out a string of Billboard #1 albums in that time. Father of the Bride arrives 6 years after 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, the longest gap between albums yet, and is the band’s most ambitious work to date. Spanning 18 songs at just under an hour’s length, the album channels the fussed-over elements that comprise Vampire Weekend’s distinct sound into a grander statement than the band has ever previously attempted. Forget Graceland, shades of Abbey Road and SMiLE-esque aspiration are all over this one, as Bride is pure kaleidoscopic pop artistry. At times breathless, meditative, uplifting, or melancholy, sometimes all at once, Bride shuffles through influences new and old as effortlessly as a rolodex. Yes, the hip-hop references are still intact, as “This Life” interpolates Khalid into a “Brown Eyed Girl”-evoking jaunt whose central earworm hits the same immediate pleasure center that singles like “Oxford Comma” did all those years ago. “Big Blue” and “2021” are gorgeous pop miniatures that weave like small threads through a much larger tapestry, with the funky “Sunflower” serving much the same purpose, updating Roy Ayers and co. in a way similar to contemporaries Thundercat and The Internet (and featuring the latter’s very own Steve Lacy on guitar). “Harmony Hall” is, no other way to put it, Vampire Weekend gone full jam band, a Black Crowes-worthy piano-led feel good reverie, minus any of the actual incessant jamming.
Out of the near hours’ worth of music here, Bride’s mission statement arrives in the form of the winkingly-titled “Unbearably White,” which is surely how Vampire Weekend detractors view the band at large. With the “white” referencing the literal hue of heavy sheets of snow and blank diary pages, Ezra Koenig presents us with a brilliantly self-aware couplet that arrives halfway through the song: “Presented with darkness, we turn to the light, could’ve been smart, we’re just unbearably bright.” In an age in which skinny dudes with guitars and NME-cosigns have lost nearly all the cultural relevance they used to command, there could not be a better epitaph for the indie pop and blog rock heroes of yesteryear. Nor could there be a more fitting band to write it than Vampire Weekend.