Vampire Weekend breaks out of genre cliché in new album

Vampire Weekend’s signature sound combines several elements. Punky riffs, indie pop, reggae rhythms and classical compositions collectively inspired by consistent West African percussion. It wasn’t until I listened to their new album, “Only God Was Above Us,” that I could piece this all together and understand what makes their songs so addicting. 

There is an aesthetic cliché to the band. It is an all-male, white indie band that carried themselves differently than what was expected of an indie band during their rise in 2006. The primary lyricist, Ezra Koenig, studied English at Columbia University and often mentions the Ivy League experience and wealth in his songs. However, his lyrics comment on class disparities and pretension rather than a genuine allegiance to them.

For a few years, based only on my stubbornness and disinterest in the band, I fell into the trap of judging them solely on this cliché. I thought only of “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” when Vampire Weekend was brought up to me, but putting a band in a box based on their most played songs is no way to appreciate music. Not since high school have I really listened to their discography and I’ve seemed to carry a high school mindset regarding the band into my 20s.

Koenig is a talented lyricist, but I never noticed because his songs are so fast. Usually, my mind needs music to be slower to appreciate a song’s wording — unless it is rap music, which Vampire Weekend, though quick, is not. 

Another reason is that I never felt like I related to his lyrics, but this changed when I listened to “Only God Was Above Us.” I gravitated towards the morbidity of the lyrics and felt sympathy for whomever he intended the lyrics to be for, the opening line being, “Fuck the world, you said it quiet / No one could hear you, no one but me / Cynical, you can’t deny it / You don’t want to win this war ’cause you don’t want the peace.”

I related to “Capricorn” the most. Capricorn is not my sign, but Koenig and co-writer Ariel Rechtshaid use the star sign to address someone who may be dissociating in time, confused by adulthood and burnt out. I particularly like the line, “Too old for dyin’ young / Too young to live alone.” Capricorn is one of the album’s slower songs. 

Regarding pace, “Classical” exemplifies how the band quickens and slows in this album. “Classical” begins with a quick hook and includes a ridiculously catchy chorus but ends slowed and warped to transition into “Capricorn.” I enjoy psychedelic rock, so I liked that transition and the sixth track, “The Surfer.” 

It is hard to pick one favorite, but “Mary Boone” is very close. Of course, this is because of the hip-hop beat drop, sampled from Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit “Back to Life.” I knew the song must have used a sample when I first listened, but I needed to look into it to know exactly what it was. 

“Mary Boone” also has an endearing quality to it. It is playful and sounds the way having a crush feels. This is because of the line, “Mary Boone / Well, I hope you feel like loving someone soon.” The song also features an orchestral chorus, which I have noticed in music lately. The first track, “Bug Like an Angel,” from Mitski’s newest album, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” come to mind. 

In “Mary Boone,” Koenig sings, “We always wanted money / now the money’s not the same.” Though it may not have been the intention of Koenig and Rechtshaid, I think how the economy collectively makes us feel, whether we realize it or not, is often reflected in mediums of art. Most young people, I imagine, would agree that right now is not an easy time and we are all working very hard to keep up with the price of living. I think many elements of young adulthood are included in this album. 

Ultimately, I am relieved I put aside the very unfair cliché of Vampire Weekend and listened to “Only God Was Above Us.” It is a concise, meticulously composed alternative album that deserves a listen, all the way to the end of the final, eight-minute track, “Hope.”


5/5 stars


Featured photo courtesy of @vampireweekend, Instagram