Vampire Weekend Did Not Make a ‘Doom and Gloom Record’

From the first seconds of Vampire Weekend’s new album, “Only God Was Above Us,” it’s clear that something has changed. “Ice Cream Piano” starts with hiss, buzz, feedback and a hovering, distorted guitar note — the opposite of the clean pop tones that have been the band’s hallmark. It’s the beginning of an album full of startling changes and wild sonic upheavals, all packed into 10 songs.

The new album, like all of Vampire Weekend’s work, is meticulous, self-conscious and awash in musical and verbal allusions — sometimes direct, sometimes cryptic. But it’s also a broad pendulum swing from its 2019 release, “Father of the Bride,” a leisurely, jam-band-influenced sprawl that ran nearly 58 minutes. “Only God Was Above Us,” the group’s fifth album, due April 5, is eight songs and 10 minutes shorter.

“With every album we have to push in two directions at once,” Ezra Koenig, Vampire Weekend’s singer and primary songwriter, said in a recent interview. “Sometimes that means we have to be poppier and weirder. Maybe with this record, it’s about both pushing into true maturity, in terms of worldview and attitude, but also pushing back further into playfulness. There’s a youthful amateurishness along with some of our most ambitious swings ever.”

Koenig, 40, described the new album’s sequence of songs as “a journey from questioning to acceptance, maybe to surrender. From a kind of negative worldview to something a little deeper.” Ultimately, he said, the LP is optimistic. “It’s not a doom and gloom record. And even if there’s songs where the narrator is trying to figure something out or feels confused, that’s not all. That’s part of the story — it’s not the thesis of the album that the world is dark and horrible.”

The album also exults in musical zingers, non sequiturs and startling off-grid eruptions. The songs often morph through multiple changes of tempo and texture, riffling unpredictably through indie-rock austerity, orchestral lushness, pop perkiness and hallucinatory electronic studio concoctions, like the cascade of wavery, overlapping piano lines in “Connect.” Where “Father of the Bride” had a folky openness, “Only God Was Above Us” is crammed with ideas that gleefully collide.

Ever analytical, Koenig mused that Vampire Weekend’s albums each reflected patron saints. He named Paul Simon for the band’s self-titled 2007 debut, Joe Strummer and Sublime for “Contra” from 2010, Leonard Cohen for “Modern Vampires of the City,” and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, along with Phish, for “Father of the Bride.” The new album, he said, may reflect a short-lived tour he didn’t get to see: the 1997 pairing of Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan, which reached the cover of Rolling Stone.

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