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Vampire Weekend traverse past, present and future via throwback smarts on Only God Was Above Us

"Only God Was Above Us"

Release date: 05 April 2024
Vampire Weekend Only God Was Above Us cover
04 April 2024, 12:00 Written by Christopher Hamilton-Peach

Vampire Weekend's enduring marriage of worldbeat influences and wise-cracking twee pop blueprinted the breakthrough success of "A-Punk" and “Oxford Comma”– from a debut album, in its Peter Gabriel name-checking self-knowingness, that epitomised the irony-laced stage of the late noughties indie scene.

It's a measure of the extent to which the New York natives have tentatively sought to step out of this guise in the intervening sixteen years that increasingly philosophical themes have crept in – a growing earnestness aligned with a change in personal circumstances, a blend of millennial ennui and nostalgia overtaking the preppy aesthetic that catapulted the trio to initial viral success. A sense of yielding and acceptance primes Only God Was Above Us, following as a logical next step for a band found in an intermittent spotlight; hiatus between albums mirroring the intrusion of life and the opportunity to mine lyrical worth from such experience.

Modern Vampires of the City and Father of the Bride as such offered snapshots at two distinct eras in the band’s timeline: the respectively tricky sophomore and a more seasoned, less risk-averse vantage point where the freedom to bridge outwards was met without inhibition. The latter would shed the pent-up powder keg tempo of the first two records in favour of Laurel Canyon-leaning summer shimmer, more Grateful Dead or Gene Clark than the Gracelands-era Paul Simon template of tracks such as “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”. The playful omnipresence that became a defining feature of their 2008 debut gave way to a reset in challenges and priorities for all three members, a re-focus that peaks on their fourth LP.

Ezra Koenig’s songwriting continues to contend with the zeitgeist while excavating a poetic sense of self, Only God Was Above Us amps up this inclination through a resignation to growing older and a contentment in entering new phases of life. The yearning theatricality of “Capricorn” presents Koenig surrounded by a rush of emotions and the passing of time, the lead reflecting on the subtle contradictions and expectations tied up in iterations of past and present identity: “Too old for dyin' young / Too young to live alone / Sifting through centuries / For moments of your own”. Concession dominates, one that is neither bemoaned nor celebrated but simply acknowledged – the record finding the band on the verge of middle age with an at once youthful and weary compass to orientate beyond.

Vampire Weekend dabble, as previously, with different stylistic flexes and artistic reference points; centrepiece Lindsey Buckingham-esque flourishes frame "Pravda", whilst arcane pop culture earns a nod on “Gen X Cops” - set to a flood of frantic guitar hooks, harps and keys. "Hope" revisits the trio’s skewed melodic strength as a slow-burning bookend, hinged with “Ice Cream Piano” and “Classical” in recapturing the whimsical whirr of their first LP, jazz twists and orchestral moments joining synth sections in a stream of consciousness scale menagerie. To this extent Only God Was Above Us defines itself by a heady mix of retrospection and relinquishment to the future – a coming-of-age awareness writ large in previous phases of their career lent further prescience with the passing of each entry in their canon.

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