Vampire Weekend were always smart, mixing African guitar and indie, and generally being intelligent. They met at an Ivy League university. Their drummer supports Spurs.
So brainy are they perceived that all the reviews we read for this were themselves intellectual; we read several that verbosed at length but never mentioned any music. Here goes.
This new album still has elements of the old sound but other influences, from country to jazz. It’s also subtle. There’s a lot going on but none of it is loud or in your face; if you don’t listen carefully it doesn’t work. If you do listen it’s very good, but takes a few plays.
Opener Hold You Now opens with just guitar and vocals, a gentle pop tune, but then comes a gospel choir (a lot of the vocals are looped and altered but we won’t keep mentioning that). The song stops between sections; you get an actual gap. If you added a kick drum it could be a cheesy line-dancing song but they don’t, there’s just gentle steel guitar in the background. The chorus is hypnotic.
Track two Harmony Hall opens with a strummed guitar then vocals; the guitar is insistent and hypnotic, before banjo and kickdrum join in. It’s a country/pop tune but they make it sound more exotic. There is apparently a two-hour loop of the guitar part on YouTube.
Bambina is a child’s tune: simple repetitive guitar, clapping, short. It’s the first flash of the Vampire Weekend of old. Again, without the exotic it would be Travelling Wilburys.
This Life is the first song to give you some familiarity, a typical Vamp guitar opening before it settles down to what is again a fancy take on the Travelling Wilburys.
How Long is a clever pop tune that reminded us of Gotye, building up a decent song with simple ingredients. Unbearably White sees the Vamps turn to bluesy soul, albeit laidback.
And so it goes. There are some more routine tracks but there are some standouts, led by Sympathy. “I think I take myself too seriously; it’s not that serious” says singer Ezra Koenig before he delivers a fun and addictive song. The addiction comes from a looped choir that forms a chorus of sorts, the song filled in with an urgent beat/strummed guitar and some random synth boops and beeps. The choir could be singing backwards.
Married In The Gold Rush is a duet that sounds like good Rilo Kiley, with a warm African feel in the background. Sunflower opens with a jazz fusion style bass/guitar intro and the instruments play together and there’s a sunny African riff.
It’s all very summery. It’s worth the repeated plays; we often wonder what famous classical composers would do if alive today — this is the answer, its planning and layers making it as complex as any classical piece.
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