Prep-School Gangsters: Vampire Weekend’s Albums Ranked

Distilling the band's career-spanning collections from worst to best...

The mid to late ‘00s was an interesting time in the world of music. Digital downloads (both legal and, err, illegal) had completely changed the way music was consumed, while new social media channels like Facebook and Twitter allowed fans to unlock higher levels of online obsession. For the first time, millions of music videos were freely available on YouTube, and a new streaming platform called Spotify was about to revolutionise everything all over again.

Around the mid-point of the decade, “indie” bands were all the rage. Access to the mainstream had never felt easier for these artists and, for a few years at least, the genre felt culturally relevant on a global scale. Yet, by 2008, there was sense that the well was beginning to run dry on the golden age of noughties guitar bands. The Strokes were in hiatus, The White Stripes about to call it quits, and the best days of Kings Of Leon, Franz Ferdinand and Interpol were behind them; in the UK, indie landfill bands ruled the airwaves, while across the pond mainstream guitar rock was increasingly being pushed underground.

Enter Vampire Weekend to freshen the scene up. In the latter half of the decade, they rocked up with a guitar-driven sound that effortlessly combined Afropop, chamber pop and indie rock. Before long, Vampire Weekend were thrust from the fringe indie scene and soon making it big within the mainstream. One thing was made clear from the off, though: Vampire Weekend were quite different from their rock ‘n’ roll counterparts.

The preppy foursome – comprised of Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Tomson and Chris Baio – met while studying at Columbia University, and made no effort in hiding their elitist background. This initially stood them out in an industry favouring street edge and working-class charisma (The Strokes at least hid their privileged background by dawning leather jackets), but there was something intriguing about the Ivy-League world projected through their music. Any skepticism slowly evaporated following the release of the New York band’s ambitious debut album and the stratospheric success of single, ‘A-Punk’. In the years since, Vampire Weekend have become darlings of the music press, released five critically-acclaimed albums and reinvented themselves time and again in the process.

Fresh from a surprise set at Coachella and their latest masterwork, Vampire Weekend’s stock is as high as ever. What better time than now then to rank their discography from worst to best.

Father Of The Bride (2019)

While ‘Father Of The Bride‘ isn’t necessarily a bad album, it is Vampire Weekend’s least memorable to date. It arrived in May 2019 after a six year gap between projects: a period which saw original member and producer Rostam Batmanglij officially depart the band. The record was unique in that it was effectively an Ezra Koenig solo album. Instead of trying to replicate the success of his band’s first three albums, Koenig opted to explore a lighter Springtime vibe, channelling folk, country and traditional American sounds.

Ultimately, after an impressive opening run of tracks, the record simply runs out of steam. Not that you can fault the record’s warm sonics, which juxtaposed against Koenig’s occasionally dark lyrics. There’s just far too much filler over the hour-long runtime. In fairness, the three collaborations with Danielle Haim are lovely pieces of music and tracks like ‘Harmony Hall’, ‘This Life’ and ‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’ are standouts. The problem is that the album really could’ve done with a harsher edit, particularly in the latter half. As it is, ‘Father Of The Bride’ simply lacks replay value.

Best tracks: ‘This Life’, ‘Harmony Hall’ and ‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’

Only God Above Us (2024)

Given its freshness, fitting Vampire Weekend’s fifth studio album into a ranked list is perhaps an unfair exercise. One thing is clear, though. After their inconsistent last album, ‘Only God Above Us‘ gets things back on track for Vampire Weekend, even if its immediacy is lacking on first listen. The LP is probably best regarded as a record of two halves. The first is full of abrasive growers that manage to maintain the band’s elegant style. “F*** the world, you said it quiet” declares Koenig on cynical opener ‘Ice Cream Piano’, the track later exploding into action with a crescendo of orchestrations and screeching guitars, while subdued ballad ‘Capricorn’ is a melodic treat up there with the best songs they’ve written.

Vampire Weekend’s winnable knack for infectious melody shines through in the second half. The scuzzy guitars on the punky ‘Gen-X Cops’ echo the band’s earworm yesteryears. Elsewhere, Koenig’s voice shines on ‘Mary Boone’, and is aided beautifully by choirs and hip hop beats, while the epic ‘Hope’ is a stunning and poignant closer. ‘Only God Above Us’ is not as attention-grabbing an album like their first three records. But their fifth is a far more succinct body of work than their last; It wonderfully merges an old sound with a progressive new, sounding both chaotic and soothing. A fantastic return from them.

Best tracks: ‘Capricorn’, ‘Pravda’ and ‘Mary Boone’

Vampire Weekend (2008)

There’s something about placing this album as third in the list that just feels wrong. Then again, this isn’t so much a slight on the record, more a compliment to two albums that followed. ‘Vampire Weekend‘ is universally regarded as one of the best debut albums of the 2000s. Upbeat, intelligent and also pretty darn fun too, it’s artful pop which sprinkles in elements of Afropop, lush orchestrations and indie rock, sounding completely different to what was vogue at the time.

Featuring a heavy (some might say too heavy….) nod to Paul Simon’s 1986 classic ‘Graceland, Vampire Weekend’s eleven tracks breeze through with style and charisma. An invitation to the world of these Ivy-League college-attending young men and their semi-ironic tales of student friends (‘Bryn’), grumpy professors, university campuses (‘Campus’), and Massachusetts architecture (‘Mansard Roof’). And, of course, the frantically riffed banger that is ‘A-Punk’ can’t escape a mention, a track that still bangs sixteen years on. From sweaty dancefloors, Channel 4 sitcoms to Judd Apatow comedy films, the sound of Vampire Weekend was inescapable come the late-00s. As an opening statement it was simply impossible to ignore.

Best tracks: ‘A-Punk’, ‘Campus’ and ‘Walcott’

Modern Vampires of the City (2013)

To many, ‘Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend’s best album, so it may count itself unlucky not to take our top spot. As the title and the black and white New York skyline cover suggest, Vampire Weekend’s third album is a lot moodier than its predecessors, and had them reinventing themselves far beyond their “Upper West Side Soweto” persona. The record contains much of the band’s best work. The reflective ‘Step’ and the line “the gloves are off, the wisdom teeth are out” spoke directly to those approaching the end of their youth, and ‘Ya Hey’ is a melancholic earworm ripe with religious iconography. On the deceivingly cheery ‘Unbelievers’, Koenig even considers the fate that awaits him in the afterlife.

‘Diane Young’ (a play on “dying young”) contrasts the topic of death and morality with upbeat wordplay and punky guitars, though the most memorable track is ‘Worship You’: galloping drums and Koenig’s breakneck vocal delivery achieve an irresistible euphoria unrivalled amongst their discography. There are a couple of skippable tracks within the midsection, but, overall, the record’s high points more than redeem this. Now contemplating the end of their youth, ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ is Vampire Weekend’s coming-of-age album. It’s saturnine and often poignant, a beautifully crafted record that further expanded their musical palette.

Best tracks: ‘Step’, ‘Diane Young’ and ‘Worship You’

Contra (2010)

Following a debut as celebrated as Vampire Weekend was always going to be a tough ask, yet Vampire Weekend blew all expectations out the water on their sophomore release. Fourteen years on and ‘Contra‘ sounds as fresh today as it did back in 2010. With the title rumoured to be a reference to The Clash’s groundbreaking 1980 triple album ‘Sandinista!’, ‘Contra’ saw Vampire Weekend explore a wider range of sonics for a bolder, more dynamic second effort. ‘California England’ mixed autotuned vocals and African guitars; coming out story ‘Diplomat’s Son’ carried a Reggae-esque vibe, and elsewhere you’ll hear references to Latin music and an embrace of electronics.

The record also had its share of bangers too. ‘Cousins’ is an edgy indie-dancefloor filler to rival breakthrough hit ‘A-Punk’, while the ska-inspired ‘Holiday’ is another deceivingly bright track about the Iraq War invasion. Meanwhile, ‘Run’ and ’Giving Up the Gun’ are feel-good indie anthems again representing the band at the peak of their powers.

While perhaps not possessing the same cultural footprint of their debut, ‘Contra’ was Vampire Weekend’s first US Billboard 200 number one, showcasing a band well on their way to becoming modern-day music icons. Even the weaker tracks here are well worth their salt. And that, surely, is the sign of a masterpiece indeed.

Best Tracks: ‘Cousins’, ‘Holiday’ and ‘Giving Up the Gun’

Words: Matthew Mclister

Photo Credit: Michael Schmelling

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