Vampire Weekend’s misplaced nostalgia trip

Though latte art has long been a staple for the caffeine-addicted and financially-irresponsible youth, it’s becoming a little passé—perhaps pancake art will be the next trend in breakfast-themed artistry. Or at least that’s what Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig thinks. In the music video for “Harmony Hall,” the band’s latest track, Koenig spends a jaunty five-minutes making pancake art with a spirograph, doling out flapjacks for bandmates and celebrity pals including Jonah Hill, Dev Hynes, Danielle Haim and a snake. The video was supposed to build anticipation for Vampire Weekend’s long awaited fourth album Father of the Bride, but its reliance on metatextual references through recycled lyrics and vapid celebrity cameos makes for a hollow and disappointing return.

It’s been a long time since anyone has heard anything from Vampire Weekend. The band’s last album, 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, was met with widespread praise from finicky music journalists and precocious teens alike. The album was a clean, deliberate evolution from their previous Ralph Lauren tennis-chic indie pop works. Then, as mysteriously as they had appeared, Vampire Weekend retreated from the pinnacle of alternative, Urban Outfitters-friendly pop that they had created.

Nearly six years after Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend has returned a little older and, questionably, wiser. They are no longer the adorably smug recent Ivy-League graduates who played tennis with Jake Gyllenhaal and sang about New England girls who wear Louis Vuitton. Koenig, joined by bassist Chris Baio and drummer Chris Tomson, have swapped their boat shoes and polos for Chakos and fleece quarter-zips.

“Harmony Hall,” the teaser track for Father of the Bride, attempts to establish a new folk-groove. The song feels hesitant, uncertain whether or not to reuse old tricks to please fans. The inability to invest in either tradition or progress makes the reliance on self-reference all the more obvious. Koenig has inserted the line “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t want to die” from “Finger Back,” a track from Modern Vampires of the City, directly into “Harmony Hall.” It’s almost as if Koenig lazily copied and pasted a throwaway, Instagram-popular line into this track simply to please fans.

The choice to open the album with “Harmony Hall” feels cloying—Koenig seems to be begging fans to make the connection with “Finger Back.” The line is little more than a fun Easter Egg for longtime fans, and doesn’t adds anything to their canon. The reliance on using past works to make the current tracks more relevant is rooted in contrived nostalgia.

The video also alludes heavily to past work. The recurring shot of Koenig flipping pancakes as his bandmates, and his famous friends chow down is reminiscent of the video for 2013’s “Diane Young,” which itself parodied The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. This image of the band flexing with other celebrities may have worked alongside the lyrics of “Diane Young” about nihilism and bourgeois culture, but it is disconnected from the new single’s focus on 21st century political uncertainty.

There’s a certain pressure for Father of the Bride to live up to fan’s expectations, the majority of whom were in their teens during Vampire Weekend’s heyday. For many, Vampire Weekend’s past albums conjure up a certain wistfulness for anxious adolescence. It’s not surprising, then, that Koenig and crew chose to tread the well-worn and easy path of appealing to fans through forced nostalgia. However, what once made their music special for fans—lyrics that managed to capture universalities through their obscurity and a worldbeat melding of genres—are simply regurgitated, losing their sheen with each reiteration.

 

Edit: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Rostam Batmanglij did not contribute to the production of ‘Harmony Hall’. The Tribune regrets this error. 

One Comment

  1. I could pick apart almost every aspect of this review as an example of what makes critics such low and stupid creatures; the very lowest rung on the creative ladder. Unfortunately that would make me come across as a petulant fanboy, which I’m really not- I quite like Vampire Weekend, nothing more. They make fresh and pleasantly effeminate pop with some genuine panache, which is why they feature so heavily on music-loving radio stations of all kinds.

    Luckily, there is one glaring error in the piece that rather shatters the illusion of authority: Rostam played on the track, and anyone with a half-decent ear and a half-decent knowledge of their catalogue would recognise it instantly. Harmony Hall doesn’t attempt to mimic him- it is him, to suggest that his absence ruins the song is a great example of critics feigning erudition.

    I’ll touch briefly on this massive copout: “the line is little more than a fun Easter Egg for longtime fans, and doesn’t adds anything to their canon”- just admit that you either haven’t divined the reference yet, or you are simply unwilling to unpack the lyrics because your knowledge of both the political situation and the band isn’t up to the job. That’s fine, I would be hard pushed to find a reading that isn’t filled with caveats. Simply dismissing it as cheap and lazy because you yourself are too cheap and lazy to dive in, though, is cowardly.

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