Vampire Weekend - Only God Was Above Us (Alternate Cover)

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Alternate Cover

Father of the Bride showed Vampire Weekend's willingness to challenge assumptions about their music was as important as their willingness to examine memories and history. They continue to do both brilliantly on Only God Was Above Us, albeit in radically different ways. Where Father's leisurely sprawl reflected the band's adopted home of Los Angeles, God uses pre-9/11 New York City as a framework for ten urgent musings on how history happens. Its songs are packed with thoughts and allusions that go as deep as subways and are piled as high as skyscrapers; taking its name from a 1996 New York article, "Prep School Gangsters" combines school days memories and generational cycles of poverty and prosperity with surprising joy.

Though the band twines and unpacks cultural narratives more overtly than ever before, it never feels simplistic. Ezra Koenig's wordplay remains dazzling, resulting in pearls like "A staircase up to nothingness/Inside your DNA" on "Classical"'s melancholy study of how history is written by the winners. When he pairs his deceptively simple rhymes and complex ideas with Father of the Bride's emotional openness on "Capricorn," which extends compassion to the generations "sifting through the centuries for moments of your own," it makes for some of Vampire Weekend's most moving music. Their first album without any input from former member Rostam Batmanglij is also some of their most jaw-droppingly audacious music. Koenig and co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid push the levels deep into the red, giving a serrated edge to their lilting melodies that mirrors the album's cultural clashes. On "Gen X Cops," the needling guitar makes the refrain "Each generation makes its own apology" all the more poignant. "Connect" elegantly illustrates the dissonance between past and present with rippling pianos, bleeping synths, and sounds that race and grind to a halt ("Psychedelic Gershwin," one of the band's guiding phrases while making the album, certainly applies here).

Vampire Weekend also riffs on their own past cleverly with "Mary Boone," an update on their choral ballads named for the influential gallery owner imprisoned for offenses connected to tax fraud, and "The Surfer," which continues the legacy of Modern Vampires of the City's "Hudson" with its mournful allusions to famous waters (in this case, the Water Tunnel 3 project). The band balances all of this looking back with a significant step forward: making peace with the existential questions they raised on their previous albums. Nowhere is this move towards acceptance more apparent than on the closing track "Hope." Steady where the rest of the album is volatile, its eight-minute litany would be crushing if it wasn't for the liberation Koenig finds in admitting "Our enemy's invincible/I had to let it go." Similarly, the ease with which the band raises the bar is equally impressive and appealing. Only God Was Above Us isn't just a great album in its own right -- it's one that enriches the understanding of Vampire Weekend's entire history.

Ice Cream Piano 3:36
Classical 4:20
Capricorn 4:10
Connect 5:10
Prep-School Gangsters 3:49
The Surfer 5:47
Gen-X Cops 3:48
Mary Boone 4:26
Pravda 4:11
Hope 7:58