Vampire Weekend dropped a new album today, which is big news in rock because, well, apparently this is the best that rock can offer at this very moment. You might remember Vampire Weekend from when they emerged on the scene over a decade ago, dressing like 1996 and distinguishing themselves from other twee indie rock bands by being even more unapologetically obnoxious. Take this quote from frontman Ezra Koenig, who makes an unfortunate appearance toward the end of Lizzy Goodman’s excellent oral history of the turn-of-the-century rock scene in New York:
Somehow I have managed to avoid this band’s music over the ensuing years, although I have almost certainly encountered it, unwittingly, as ambient background music in an Urban Outfitters somewhere. Look at me, man. A band like this WILL find their way to me somehow. And if Vampire Weekend have truly not yet stumbled upon my one good ear, today I put a definitive end to that pilgrimage. I took it upon myself to listen to their new album, “Father of the Bride” (not a soundtrack!) to see how long I could tolerate it.
Please note this album is 58 minutes long, which is an insult both to rock AND to New York. For a warm-up, I went back and tried out their seminal hit “Oxford Comma,” not to be confused with their other seminal hit, “Adidas Ababa.” I lasted 90 seconds. At first blush, this is a band whose ultimate ambition appears to be scoring a Wes Anderson opening credits sequence. But CAN they rock? Ever? Is it possible? Time for me to find out…
TRACK 1 – HOLD YOU NOW
Oh god, a fucking children’s choir. Unless you are the Rolling Stones, there is no surer sign that you are pandering than by sending the Vienna Boys Choir out there to sell a hook to the masses. Danielle Haim is also on this acoustic track, which is destined to be described as “lilting” by critics who wish Bon Iver would just make his debut record all over again. Please note that “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins is the superior entry in songs about people needing to be held immediately.
TRACK 2 – HARMONY HALL
Oh, well this is just failed Sting. By the way, the cover to “Father of the Bride” looks like the opening slide in a seventh grader’s country report (Koenig chooses Surinam). This song will end up in a touching Jack in the Box longform ad in which Jack comforts the mentally ill with an FML Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack combo.
TRACK 3 – BAMBINA
Motherfucker, this just sounds like the other two songs. Like The Shins did a one-off album after scoring a djembe at a yard sale.
TRACK 4 – THIS LIFE
Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain
I just thought it didn’t rain in California
I’m not gonna make it through this whole album. Weed isn’t gonna improve matters, I bet. For you to properly experience this album, you need to be EXTREMELY hung over and have it be sleeting outside and you have to be playing this at a volume level of one while you make Hungry Jack pancakes for a dog. This is not music that should exist at the front and center of anything.
TRACK 5/6 – BIG BLUE/HOW LONG
As you may have heard, the members of Vampire Weekend went to Columbia. The way you know they’re shrewd fellas is because A) They’ll tell you so, and because B) They know that they can add little Vocoder cameos and other farty accents to otherwise traditional songs and have that come across as experimental. This was a move that Wilco used to do really well until that band hired Nels Cline and suddenly morphed into The Eagles.
TRACK 7 – UNBEARABLY WHITE
Honestly, this track would be better off living up to its title. Instead, the title serves as a needless wink on top of a song that sounds like a deep cut off an unreleased Vampire Weekend Christmas album.
I can’t take the rest of this. I love myself too much. Let’s hustle through the rest of this coffeehouse nap and see if there’s ANY hope of it rocking.
TRACK 8 – RICH MAN
Nope. This one has strings, though. When you wanna telegraph emotion in a song, never trust a children’s choir to do a string section’s job. All of this band’s songs should be ABOUT a vampire weekend, but my colleague Lauren Theisen says they only have one titled, of course, “Walcott.”
Don’t you know that it’s insane?
Don’t you want to get out of Cape Cod?
Out of Cape Cod tonight?
Mystic seaport is that way
Don’t you know that your life could be lost?
Out of Cape Cod tonight
Christ. Someone has read Howl too many times. I want songs like “Saturday Night’s All Right For Bloodsuckin’” and “No Garlic At This Rave” and “Partyin’ All Night Because The Sun’ll Literally Kill Us,” etc etc. This “Walcott” is insufficient. Bunch of beat-ass vampires having a clambake in Wellfleet.
TRACK 9 – MARRIED IN A GOLD RUSH
Nope. No rock here either. Ezra Koenig sings like he’s got a plane to catch. They also bury his voice way down low in the mix because that’s clearly for the best. Anyway, if you’re looking for cutting cultural commentary from the man, this is the best he can muster:
Something’s happening in the country
And the government’s to blame
TAKE THAT, REPUBLICAN’TS.
TRACK 12 – SUNFLOWER
Okay here we go. This song is fucking terrible. This one has scat singing. Up until now, these have been fairly pleasant, dressed-up acoustic tracks for people who wouldn’t dare demand anything else from their music. But now the band is going the full “sophomore in college discovers avant garde shit” and doing warmup scales for you. DO MI RE FA MI SOL FA LA SOL TI LA DO TI RE DO… BABABADOO DOOBEEDEE ACKALACKA!
That’s it. I am done. I’m not gonna listen to the rest of this thing. Not to “Spring Snow.” Not to “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin.” Not to “Not Frances Ha-Ha But…” Not to “Knowing Unicycle.” Not to “Yerba, Mate?” This does not rock. This is music made to SUBTRACT rock from the world, to bleed it dry of its vitality. But before I formally surrender, lemme go back and listen to “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” of their debut album…
Annnnnddddd my day is ruined. Sucked bone dry. Vampire Weekend is playing live in Washington Square Park right now, because naturally they are. But if you need me, I’ll be detoxing by listening to Bob Mould.