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StoReviews: Vampire Weekend has never had a bad album


Vampire Weekend’s fifth album is genuinely very good. I have to admit that I kind of felt like it couldn’t be good, mainly based on the fact that I think all of their previous albums were good — how many artists can you name that have made five good albums in a row? But, with “Only God Was Above Us,” released in April, it seems like Vampire has done it. 


I discovered Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut album when I was in high school. I’m not going to say it is the reason why I ended up becoming an English major at a small, private, liberal arts college, but it definitely played a role. I would often listen to those upbeat, danceable songs about awkwardly navigating the brave new world of a college campus, and those punk-inspired indie hits about Oxford commas, the Columbia Quad, and Cape Cod. 


That’s what Vampire Weekend’s first album was about, anyway. It seems like, more than maybe any other band, they’ve put real thought into the order of their albums. The first three were a trilogy of precocious, East-Coast indie rock albums. 


“Father of the Bride,” released in 2019, represented a transition for the band — its sunny, jammy sound represents the band members’ move to California, and its lyrics deal with themes of marriage and politics. This album was not universally acclaimed, but I loved it. Partially, I loved it because I love its main source of sonic influence, the Grateful Dead. But I also respect what it means for the band — an acceptance of the fact that the cool, collegiate indie days are over, and a willingness to do something new. 


Which brings us to “Only God Was Above Us.”  In a way, it isn’t really like anything I’ve heard from Vampire Weekend before, but it also strikes me as the only way that such an intentional and focused band could approach the making of their fifth album. 


If “Father of the Bride” was their jammiest album, then this is their noisiest. Distorted sounds dominate where clean, African-influenced guitar riffs would once have gone. The lyrics are also heavy, esoteric, and thoughtful, while also being funny and clever in the way that only frontman Ezra Koenig can write. 


The continuity combined with maturity of this album is really what makes it for me. My favorite song on the record, “Mary Boone,” describes a hopeful young art dealer driving into Manhattan “from Jersey, not from Brooklyn.” The subtle-yet-evocative reference to class differences is classic Vampire, but the song’s fascinatingly distorted sound is something new. 


Despite its unconventional sound, the album is also a kind of return to form in the sense that it represents a return to New York. The album cover features a subway car, and the title comes from a real “New York Daily News” article about the roof of a plane ripping off mid-flight. In an interview I recently watched, Koenig said that the album’s lead single, “Capricorn,” about the last sign in the zodiac, was inspired by a line from the first episode of the iconic Jersey-based TV show “The Sopranos,” where Tony Soprano says that “lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end.” 


So, overall, I find myself to be very impressed by this new album. As I listened to its concluding song “Hope,” a seven-minute track that concludes by repeating the line “I hope you let it go,” I thought about all the different phases of my life that this band’s music has seen me through, and I thought about how I am graduating now, leaving the bright halls of college for the disorder of the real world, making a transition that Vampire Weekend has explored in a beautiful way.