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Vampire Weekend Delivers Another Masterpiece On Only God Was Above Us

Updated: Apr 16

By Drew Salazar

In the throes of New York City's indie rock and post-punk revival during the 2000s, Vampire Weekend burst onto the scene. The band, composed of Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Chris Tomson, and Rostam Batmanglij at the time, perfected an epic melange of cultural and musical influences on their debut album, a style they would continue throughout their entire discography. Afrobeats, Jamaican ska, Americana, classic rock, hip-hop and even classical music have found their way into the band’s immense array of sonic experimentation on albums like Contra and Modern Vampires of the City.

Even with this melting pot of sound however, Vampire Weekend's heart has always remained in New York. From songs about life at Columbia University to referencing the Hudson River, their roots have never left them. Even when Rostam left the band and when the band explored Latin music and jam bandisms on their album Father of the Bride, they never strayed away from mentioning the city that never sleeps.

Now, it feels right that the aesthetic of their new album Only God Was Above Us is based entirely around the Big Apple. Utilizing 1980s footage and photographs by artist Steven Siegel, the album paints a picture of a New York that is surreal, melancholic, and strangely nostalgic. The visuals perfectly complement the introspective and uncertain mood of the music. It is Vampire Weekend at their most vulnerable.

The sound of this record can be described as a combination of elegant and dark as they calibrate their eclectic sonic whimsy for humanity’s growing uneasiness and divisiveness. On opener “Ice Cream Piano”, Ezra Koenig observes people around the world who want to make a change but who are too afraid to do so, using situations like wars, vampires and police as metaphors. The intro has a gentle guitar quarter note riff before the doors are kicked down and heavy distortion, galloping drums, and running orchestration flood the song.

“Classical” is pure Vampire Weekend. Burnt guitar hooks, warm upright bass, boom bap drums, and acoustic guitar establish the initial mood before the track descends into chaos with dissonant jazz chords and wailing saxophones. “Capricorn” is one of my favorites on the album. Reminiscent of “Step” off of Modern Vampires, round bass and reverbed vocals, piano and drums lend a gentle quality. But, like the previous two tracks, a wall of distortion and orchestration tears through the comfort, showcasing the duality of this album. The song is melancholic, pondering the future of humanity and the narrator's place in a rapidly changing world.

“Connect” and “Prep-School Gangsters” provide welcome cooldowns amidst the album’s intense eclecticism. “Connect” has a peppy drum beat akin to “Mansard Roof” but watery keyboards and baroque instrumentation give it a smooth, summery quality. “Prep-School Gangsters,” featuring Dev Hynes on drums, has a shy worldbeat tom-tom pattern. The tune is like if Paul Simon’s Graceland went New York hipster. “The Surfer,” a standout track for me, The song to me is Vampire Weekend’s interpretation of Beatles psychedelia. The melody hints at Lennon's influence, while the drums have a clear Ringo Starr feel. The song is the moodiest on the album, with Ezra singing about isolation through a surrealist lens.

“Mary Boone” is another stunner on the record.The cathedral-like vocals of Ezra and the choir paint a frosty picture of New York City. The song blends influences from East Coast boom bap, Indian raga, Baroque music, and lo-fi. Lyrically, "Mary Boone" tells the story of someone who arrives in New York chasing artistic success, only to find emptiness and meaninglessness after achieving it. This tale of disappointment reinforces the album's themes of uncertainty, abandonment, generational shifts, and longing.

"Pravda," with its bright guitars and worldbeat elements, feels most akin to Father of the Bride than the rest of the album's diverse tracklist. It sets the stage for the album's

closing act, where the narrator, weary from the emotional journey he’s experienced throughout the record, chooses to disengage from the world's negativity and seek his own truth, his "Pravda."

The closing track, "Hope," extends the themes of "Pravda" with a cynical outlook, acknowledging the world's problems and the futility of forced optimism. The groovy drums, cascading pianos, and the noisy finish of the track put a perfect climatic cap on the album and is among their best closers ever.

Only God Was Above Us is Vampire Weekend’s most melancholic release to date, and it is almost a terrifying first listen. However, it is an album that does leave me hopeful and a little inspired, that although we inevitably change just like New York City has, we can remain unbroken and inspired to change for the better.


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