Album Reviews

Vampire Weekend – Only God Was Above Us

(Columbia) UK release date: 5 April 2024

With layers to unpack and discover, their first album for five years stakes a claim to being their best yet

Vampire Weekend - Only God Was Above Us There’s something of an air of reset about Only God Was Above Us, Vampire Weekend‘s fifth album. Whereas 2019’s Father Of The Bride was, to all intents and purposes, an Ezra Koenig solo album, there’s far more of a group dynamic this time around. Drummer Chris Tomson and bass player Chris Baio are around, as is the long-departed Rostam Batmanglij (not in any performance capacity, but he’s credited as co-writer and producer on The Surfer).

And as ever with Vampire Weekend, the city of New York almost feels like a band member itself. There’s the cover art – a picture of someone reading the Daily News on a subway carriage – and various little deep-dive NYC references such as naming a song after Mary Boone, the Manhattan art dealer who was jailed for tax evasion. Most importantly though, while Father of The Bride felt overlong and bloated, Only God Was Above Us is a far more manageable 47 minutes.

There’s more invention packed into opening track Ice Cream Piano than in most songs that will be released this year. It starts with a lo-fi buzz and Koenig muttering “fuck the world”, before quickly picking up pace with some typically hyperactive drumming from Tomson. By the song’s end, there’s a blissful string section diving in and out, tempo changes, and then it all falls apart on itself. It’s quite the way to reintroduce the band after five years away.

Capricorn is a beautifully multi-layered masterpiece, gradually building different levels of noise on top of each other, until it becomes an abrasive, noisy howl of a song. Gen-X Cops is another surprise, full of discordant keyboard effects while still managing to sound like a typical Vampire Weekend song, and Connect twists and turns all over the place, seemingly making up the melody as it goes along. It’s the sort of album where you’ll notice different aspects on each listen.

The aforementioned Mary Boone is even more audacious – mixing in a choral backing vocal, some dreamy strings and even a sample of the drum loop from Soul II Soul‘s Back To Life, while The Surfer is a lovely, hazy lope of a song which (perhaps unsurprisingly, given its co-writer) is reminiscent of Rostam Batmanglij’s solo album Half-Light.

There’s only really Prep School Gangsters which leans into the classic Vampire Weekend sound of old, packed full of Graceland-style African guitar lines and enough key changes to keep the festival crowds dancing. It’s certainly the polar opposite to album closer Hope, which at nearly eight minutes, is the longest song the band have ever recorded – a big ballad that may not have the hooks we’ve come to expect from Koenig and company, but delivers a lot of emotional impact.

Only God Was Above Us is an album that will surprise and challenge. It’s a long way from the early days of Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and A-Punk, for sure. Yet after just a few listens, it cements itself as the best Vampire Weekend album to date and, much like the New York City to which much of this album is an ode to, there are layers and layers to this record which are a delight to unpack and discover.

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