Vampire Weekend – Only God Was Above Us

A summation of their strengths...

A kaleidoscopic culmination of their finest merits, ‘Only God Was Above Us’ is a polished, experimental summation of Vampire Weekend’s world of reverb and socially-conscious indie pop.

The indie veterans, who hail from New York, have been the creators of infectious pockets of pop since 2006, their latest offering exploring genres of art, experimental and baroque pop. True to trademark songwriting themes; slightly offbeat storytelling, peppy melodies and twinkling piano, alongside sweeping orchestral sections, synths and flickers of experimentalism, ‘Only God Was Above Us’ is a glowing emblem of the band’s finest characteristics to date.

“Fuck the world…”, lead vocalist and guitarist Ezra Koenig croons, as guitar reverb flickers into fruition, paving the way through the emptiness for Koenig’s conversational lyricism. This record sees the old school style of Vampire Weekend’s discography reworked into something more mature; once again rich with curious, sometimes zany lyrics, reaching a maturation of sound with luscious soundscapes and scuzzy production.

Derived from a 1988 newspaper headline, the title is perhaps unexpectedly a description from a plane crash survivor about the event. It feels like a fitting reflection of the juxtaposition between the challenges of the modern social themes it covers, as well as its optimism and ability to appreciate the present. “Each generation makes its own apology” is highlighted in the likes of ‘Gen X Cops’, while the choir in ‘Mary Boone’ amplifies the sentiment of ‘oneness’, encapsulating the feeling of potential and solidarity. 

Sonically, the record is also a sweetly optimistic antidote and antithesis to the album artwork; a grey, dreary metro line plastered in graffiti. Celebrating and revelling in elements of beauty despite the external, there’s inherent hope and softness amongst today’s harsh realities. Soft reverb throughout the record exacerbates this romanticism – that sweep of nostalgia, of optimism, of hope. Ultimately, ‘Only God Was Above Us’ provides a beautiful soundtrack to a moment of contemplation and realisation.  

Opener ‘Ice Cream Piano’ commences with a calm introduction, soon erupting into the usual scuzzy vigour. Once again, the group submit accessible pop with anthemic potential doused in experimental teasings. Discordant chords and pools of dissonance are swirled across the record’s soundscape, providing interest to the calming sense of nostalgia and familiarity nestled in Vampire Weekend’s usual work. Meanwhile on ‘Classical’, saxophones shriek above silky smooth jazz, with no shortage of vibrancy and twinkly hooks which undoubtedly would bloom to their full potential in a live festival environment. It’s fun and refreshing, radiating summertime euphoria. 

Over on one of the record’s singles ‘Capricorn’, the steady trudge of violins and percussion chug the track to life, building a song that falls somewhere in an unexpectedly soothing intersection between dreamy lullabies and experimental noise. Koenig’s signature wavering vocals are a reliable constant, reverb enhancing the album’s almost dreamlike haze, before frenetic, warping synths and guitars amount to their climax in Vampire Weekend’s own brand of elated chaos. The same structure is also true for track ‘Pravda’, which alongside ‘Prep School Gangsters’, complete a successful palette of summery, airy exploration, tinged with moments of experimentalism. 

A cacophony of sounds synonymous with whirring funfair music tie the record even more so with the bright and warm summer imagery; slightly bending discordant notes hit sweetly familiar spots and brim with nostalgic comfort and add a new adventurous dimension here. Decades on from their first steps as Vampire Weekend, ‘Only God Is Above Us’ is an elegant summation of the band’s journey and strengths – of joy, sincerity and a feeling of believing in and offering calm amongst the chaos.

8/10

Words: Maddy Smith

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