Vampire Weekend 'Only God Was Above Us' review: Trademark intact

Check out our review of 'Only God Was Above Us' by Vampire Weekend, the group's first album in five years.
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Vampire Weekend have been one of the most consistent groups of the 21st century in spite – or perhaps because – of only releasing a total of five albums in total from their stunning debut in 2008 (simply titled Vampire Weekend) to 2024’s Only God Was Above Us.

Following the band’s 2019 effort Father of the Bride was always going to be difficult, especially seeing how short the attention span of modern music imbibers is these days, but the group, led by singer and main songwriter Ezra Koenig, has done an admirable job updating and tweaking the group’s sound for a post-pandemic world on Only God Was Above Us.

FotB was a sprawling, technicolor double album filled with joyful guitar riffs, interesting vocal effects – which were carried over from the group’s 2013 album Modern Vampires of the City – as well as notable collaborations with Danielle Haim of Haim and Steve Lacy of the internet.

Only God Was Above Us finds Vampire Weekend delivering their trademark songcraft

Most Vampire Weekend albums start off with energetic, propulsive songs that get toes tapping and hands clapping. As the albums progress, the tempos slow down, and the songs get a bit heavier – both sonically and lyrically – and OGWAU is no exception.

Produced by Koenig himself alongside longtime producer Ariel Rechtshaid, the album is sonically more adventurous than its predecessor and features more ambient “grit” a la found sounds, studio noises, etc.

Review of Only God Was Above Us

OGWAU’s sprawling, spacey production perfectly suits the detached humanistic bent of Koenig’s lyrics, and the overall thrust of the album encompasses intimate callbacks to past Vampire Weekend songs as well as broad feelings of hope amidst the pain of modern life in the city (as a modern vampire perhaps).

That city in question is unabashedly New York, as the album is both “inspired and haunted by 20th century New York City,” per a press release from the band.

The album begins with the table-setting “Ice Cream Piano,” which begins with a morose and defeated-sounding Koenig sighing “F*** the world,” which then leads into “Classical,” with its pre-chorus that apes the inimitable “it feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too” chorus of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” from the group’s zeitgeist-defining first album.

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“Classical’s” heavily reverbed and spacious-sounding drums set the template for the rest of the album, as the percussion throughout sounds as if it was transplanted directly from early 1990s hip-hop classics.

Track three is where the album truly picks up, as “Capricorn” represents the album’s first single and mission statement of sorts. A stately mid-tempo ballad stuffed with evocative strings, sheets of distorted guitar/synth noise, and a delightful melody, this is where the album truly begins to take off.

“Connect” touches on the disjointed and distracted state of interpersonal communication and relationships in modern times, as compared to how they existed in the 20th century. Vampire Weekend albums wouldn’t be complete without one top-notch guitar riff, and this time that honor belongs to “Prep-School Gangsters” – a treatise on nepotism and corruption in the world.

As previously evinced, like most Vampire Weekend albums, the first half of OGWAU is propulsive and littered with jittery rhythms and fun, inventive licks and fills played on a variety of heavily effects-laden instruments. Usually, the second halves of VW albums are a bit more ruminative, and OGWAU is no different as it kicks off with the reflective “The Surfer.”

“Gen-X Cops” features nifty vocoder mutations on the vocals, a la multiple tracks from MVotC and FotB. This is a dynamic, motoric track and, like many great VW songs, sounds as if it’s going to fall off the rails at any time (especially during the instrumental piano break) only to snap back into the beat before seemingly fizzing out of existence alongside multi-layered vocals and unusual production flourishes at the end.

“Mary Boone”, yet another VW “name song” in the lineage of Walcott, Diane Young, Hannah Hunt, et. al. features the aforementioned 90s hip-hop-sounding backbeat as well as massed choral voices in the outro that help deliver a narrative about the eponymous art collector and curator that pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns in 2018.

Perhaps the centerpiece of the album is “Hope”, the final track on the album. A stunning song, and one that is unlike anything VW have released up to this point – it serves as the longest song in the group’s canon by far.

Generally bleak lyrics belie the hopeful-sounding title, though Koenig sings “I hope you let it go” in a world-weary way that fits the tone of the song and perfectly encapsulates the energetic yet somewhat defeated ethos of the entire album.

Overall, Only God Was Above Us sees Vampire Weekend return untethered to the heights that they’ve reached on prior albums. Known for their jangly and inventive guitar parts as well as Koenig’s concise yet urbane lyrical vignettes, their first album in five years sees the group deliver their trademark songcraft alongside intriguing production flourishes as well a truly “epic” concluding song that will surely close a live set or two in the coming months.

An engaging listen from start to finish, Only God Was Above Us was worth the five-year wait and will only get better with deeper listening.

Score: 4.5/5

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