Essential New Music: Vampire Weekend’s “Only God Was Above Us”

The first word on the new Vampire Weekend album is “fuck.” You heard it here first. (Unless you read that Mojo review or that Rolling Stone UK feature.) The song in question is “Ice Cream Piano,” and it’s probably the best opening track on a Vampire Weekend record yet. “You talk of Serbians/Whisper Kosovar Albanians/The boy’s Romanian/Third-generation Transylvanian,” Ezra Koenig sings. Probably Koenig’s biggest strength as a composer is writing lyrics that make you wonder how the hell he actually sings those words, a trait that was largely absent from Vampire Weekend’s last album, 2019’s Father Of The Bride.

Only God Was Above Us feels like one of those return-to-form LPs that many indie-rock darlings have been making. It could be Vampire Weekend’s We or The New Abnormal or A Moon Shaped Pool. When I first heard the singles—“Capricorn,” with its arpeggiated piano chords, and “Gen-X Cops,” with its high-energy guitar riff—I couldn’t help but feel like Only God Was Above Us was shaping up to be a Vampire-Weekend-by-numbers record.

On one hand, what’s the problem with that? There were moments on Father Of The Bride where I missed the Vampire Weekend that wrote “Walcott.” Not surprising, given drummer Chris Tomson and bassist Chris Baio were completely absent from Father Of The Bride. It’s a great album, but it’s the different one. It’s Vampire Weekend’s Trompe Le Monde or First Impressions Of Earth. Hit single “Harmony Hall” sounded like a jam band and also if the Stones, not Vampire Weekend, wrote a song for a Cadillac commercial. When you hear a song like the new “Capricorn” and it sounds so much like Vampire Weekend that you could easily swap it for an earlier track like “Step” or “Taxi Cab,” you start to wonder why this Kool-Aid tastes so good.

Probably the biggest reason why is because, unlike on Father Of The Bride, Koenig, Tomson and Baio actually collaborated on Only God Was Above Us. So it sounds so much like Vampire Weekend because all of Vampire Weekend is actually on it. Go figure.

On “Prep-School Gangsters” (one of the most Vampire Weekend-esque song titles ever), Tomson and Baio lock in on a classic indie-rock groove that sets the foundation for wistful guitar harmonies and African-inspired melodies. “Somewhere in your family tree, there was someone just like me,” Koenig sings as his voice soars into an arresting falsetto. On this track especially, you can feel the summer nights on the band’s upcoming amphitheater tour. It’s good to have Vampire Weekend back. [Columbia]

—Jacob Paul Nielsen