July 4, 2019 | by Melody Danielle Rice
Vampire Weekend are my favorite band of my lifetime. When I first heard their debut, it has not only become an all-time favorite for me, but the record also gave me the encouragement to seek out more new music, to find more new bands I could fall in love with.
The two albums that came after both blew me away as well, moving their sound in new directions while also keeping what I loved about them — the songwriting, the inventive production, and the all-around craft.
Now their latest album Father of the Bride is out, and despite the almost universal acclaim, I have to admit that it doesn’t move me as much as their previous work.
At the same time, its best moments completely reaffirm my love for this band. So I went through the process of ranking every song they’ve released — every album cut, bonus track, b-side, and cover.
This was a difficult undertaking, but I can’t say it wasn’t worth it. If nothing else, I discovered Ezra Koenig singing opera.
67. “Rich Man” “10,000 to 1, could I possibly bet?/I'm compelled by your love and I haven't lost yet/Clearly, you're the one.” I guess this is where I start to get why people hate Ezra Koenig.
66. “Jonathan Low”
People have spent way too much time hating Twilight when the Twilight soundtracks are right there.
65. “Hold You Now”
“I can’t carry you forever/But I can hold you now” Koenig and Danielle Haim sing before a sample from The Thin Red Line comes in, setting up the complete waste of Haim’s talent on her three Father of the Bride duets.
If you feel the need to listen to Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman” in 2019, this is a way to do it.
63. “I Don’t Think Much About Her No More”
An ambient cover of country artist Mickey Newbury, because Vampire Weekend don’t waste album space even on Japan-exclusive bonus tracks.
62. “Lord Ullin’s Daughter”
What the fuck?
61. “Fight for This Love”
This cover of the Cheryl Cole song makes good use of horns, but it doesn’t do much else.
60. “I Stand Corrected”
The weakest moment on their self-titled debut — sonically stagnant and lyrics painfully literal, before Koenig learned how to make literalness compelling. I don’t get it, though it has its admirers, including the band itself.
59. “Spring Snow”
About as featureless as a Vampire Weekend song has ever been—not good, not bad, just there, sandwiched between two of Father of the Bride’s best songs at the end of the album.
58. “I’m Going Down”
The band holds their own on this Springsteen cover, but unlike with their “Blurred Lines” cover, I can’t say they add a lot to it.
57. “We Belong Together”
The third and final Danielle Haim duet on Father of the Bride tries hard lyrically, but other than “We go together like Keats and Yeats,” it’s mostly underwhelming.
One of the great moody night-driving songs — up there with Pavement’s “Newark Wilder” and Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost” — though I have less use for it in the daytime and outside of a car.
55. “Have I the Right?”
A fun cover of the 1964 Honeycombs single, featuring some nice bass work from Chris Baio.
54. “Big Blue”
Pretty, but I can’t see why people think it’s too short — where else could it possibly go?
53. “Married in a Gold Rush”
The Danielle Haim duets on their latest album all suffer from hokey lyrics and an underutilization of Koenig’s singing partner, so determining your favorite will probably come down to melody. “Married in a Gold Rush,” despite its flaws, is quite beautiful.
52. “Time to Say Goodbye (Con te Partirò)”
Pay no mind to the low ranking. You’ll want to hear this.
The lesser of the two bonus tracks from the debut, though I have to appreciate Koenig going this hard with his literary references.
50. “Young Lion” – A solid outro, and a better closer than “Hudson” would have been.
49. “California English, Pt. 2”
Rostam Batmanglij’s favorite Vampire Weekend song, according to a tweet from last year, this was released as a b-side to “Cousins” before appearing on the iTunes edition of Contra. A bit too Animal Collective for my taste, but a solid follow-up.
Their car commercial song — it features their distinctive character but it’s also flexible enough to be easily placed in ads and movie montages. The first Vampire Weekend song I ever heard, it inspired me to immediately buy their first album, but I can’t say it’s evolved much since that initial listen.
A Jenny Lewis sample + late Beatles guitar tones = a pleasant, minor little track.
Tonally, this bonus track from sophomore record Contra would have fit in well on the actual album, but in terms of quality, it misses the mark. The big reason why Contra is my favorite Vampire Weekend album is that, while its highs aren’t as major as the releases that came before and after it, it maintains its greatness throughout. So while I enjoy this song — I’m jamming to it now — I have to say I’m glad it was left off the album proper.
45. “Worship You”
Modern Vampires of the City is the hardest Vampire Weekend album to write about because it’s so thematically and musically consistent — there’s not as much variety as on other albums, so beyond citing little differences and memorable lyrics, there’s not much to say. In the case of “Worship You,” all I can really say is, never expect a Vampire Weekend song featured in a commercial to be among their best material.
When I first became a fan, the question I got constantly was, “What’s up with the Vampire thing?” “Walcott” explains it, detailing the plot of Koenig’s student film (titled, of course, Vampire Weekend) about vampires taking over Cape Cod — “Lobster’s claw is sharp as knives/Evil feasts on human lives!”
43. “Exit Music (For a Film)”
Their cover of the Radiohead song — released on Stereogum’s OKX: A Tribute to OK Computer — adds a beat to the devastating original, but is mostly notable for being a very early recording for the band, released in July of 2007.
A more ambivalent portrait of college life than “M79,” one filled with angst and longing, where the best thing you have to look forward to is sleeping on the balcony after class.
Contra’s “A-Punk” — a poppy song that hooks you in but doesn’t grow much over time. Still, the bridge — “She’d never seen an AK/In the yellowy Day-Glo display” — never ceases to amaze.
40. “Finger Back”
“Condolences to gentle hearts who couldn’t bear to try/I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die” is a great lyric, worthy of a better song. Koenig must have realized this, because the latter half of that line drives Father of the Bride’s lead single.
39. “Flower Moon”
Acid rock for people with philosophy degrees.
38. “Houston, Dubai”
’m going to use the best of Father of the Bride’s Japan-only bonus cuts for my obligatory Paul Simon mention. What a good Paul Simon song!
37. “Mansard Roof”
For as much as Father of the Bride has been credited for juxtaposing upbeat pop with dark and anxious lyrics, they’ve really been doing that since the beginning. Case in point, their first single and the opening track on their debut — and thus the first Vampire Weekend song many people heard. This song’s bright summertime guitar and keyboards is set to lyrics that reference hot garbage and the Falkland War.
36. “Don’t Lie”
After the excellent four songs that open Modern Vampires, “Don’t Lie” feels minor, which is remarkable. When a song that sounds this good — the organ! — is a minor entry in a band’s discography, they may have reached godlike status.
35. “Unbearably White”
John Waters’ Female Trouble was originally titled Rotten Mind, Rotten Face, but he changed it so writers wouldn’t use the title against him in reviews. Ezra Koenig, meanwhile, has no qualms about naming a song “Unbearably White.” Admirable. The song’s pretty good too, pleasing and jazzy, though “My Mistake” and “How Long?” capture the same feeling more effectively.
34. “Diplomat’s Son”
A Rostam joint, like “Campus,” and like that one, this is a mostly literal story of unrequited love. Only this one makes its queer elements explicit, and driven by an M.I.A. sample, the music is suitably somber. At six minutes, it’s also the longest song to appear on one of their albums. Whether it’s worthy of its length may depend on your feelings towards long ballads at the end of albums.
The band goes tropical, to somewhat mixed results. It seemed like a random song to release as Contra’s first single at the time, and yet “Winter’s cold’s too much to handle” might be the lyric that sums up those first two albums best — the belief that, if you surround yourself with enough sunshine and beauty, you can hold off the bitter cold surrounding you. As the two albums that follow show, however, you can only do this for so long.
Too cute for its own good. “You see through the dark/Right past the fireflies that sleep in your heart” — how can you not love it?
31. “Everlasting Arms”
The groove makes this song a highlight on Modern Vampires, although “Hold me in your everlasting arms” is a bit on-the-nose for an album that handles its religious themes so poetically throughout.
30. “I Think Ur a Contra”
Contra’s closer is a moody, drawn-out composition, but so inspired — cycling through jazzy piano, classical strings, and the sort of ambient minimalism that would appear throughout their third album. I used to think it was something of a slog, but I’ve come to adore it, especially the conclusion, when Koenig sings, “Never pick sides/Never choose between two/Well, I just wanted you,” bringing the album’s romantic distress to its end.
29. “My Mistake”
Like “Hudson,” this is a potential great night-driving song, sounding almost like a lost Dark Side of the Moon track (“Us and Them” saxophones and all).
28. “California English”
From the vocal effect — stupidly dismissed by Anthony Fantanon as “autotune,” as if Koenig was trying to hide his voice rather than enhance it — to the much-cited “Would you lose all of your faith in the good Earth?” bridge, this is the Contra track that hinted at Modern Vampires of the City most.
Of the >2-minute songs on Father of the Bride, “Bambina” is my favorite, feeling more like an actual song than an interlude. Also, it jams.
26. “How Long?”
The spirit of Rostam Batmanglij (who left the group after Modern Vampires of the City) lives on in this expertly crafted mood piece, which recalls their third album more than any other cut on Father of the Bride. Somehow, Batmanglij had nothing to do with it.
“Run” as in “Born to Run” — the desire and need for escape that pop music has always explored. But it’s no less powerful when Koenig sings, “Lead my feet away/‘Cause all they do is stay/And I don’t think your eyes/Have ever looked surprised.”
Their most essential soundtrack appearance, from Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. It doesn’t advance their sound at all, merely copping stuff they’d already done (the strings of “M79,” a lyric taken right from “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” etc.), but it’s also a strong enough bit of writing and performance that it tops half of the debut anyway.
23. “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin”
“So let them win the battle/But don't let them restart/That genocidal feeling/That beats in every heart.” What a note to send an album out on.
22. “Ladies of Cambridge”
What other band could channel The Housemartins so much on a song explicitly about Boston?
Father of the Bride is an album without many bops, so “Sympathy” stands out, with intense backing vocals and a rhythm section that moves. It also features some of the album’s strongest lyricism, notably, “Judeo-Christianity, I'd never heard the words/Enemies for centuries, until there was a third.”
20. “Obvious Bicycle”
Rostam’s importance in developing the band’s sound on their third album is obvious right from this spooky opener, which uses dark minimalism to enhance a particularly despairing Koenig lyric. The band’s change in tone was surprising, yet this song is so addicting that it made it easy to swallow.
19. “Taxi Cab”
“Unsentimental,” begins one of their more sentimental moments — a “Lonely Planet Boy” or “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” for people who can afford cab fare but still have nowhere to go. Best line: “You’re not a victim/But neither am I/Nostalgic for garbage/Desperate for time.”
Vampire Weekend goes full Jimmy Buffett and full HAIM at the same time — this recalls Danielle Haim’s group more than any of the songs she has a featuring credit on — for one of their latest album’s most enjoyable moments.
17. “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”
The most adventurous moment on the debut is saved for last. Strings, a brilliant violin solo (check out the violinist shred on their Late Night appearance), and a minute-and-a-half instrumental fade-out, accompanying a lyric about colonialism and the effects it retains generations later.
The best moment from Steve Lacy on Father of the Bride. Like sitting in on the happiest jam session ever.
15. “Giving Up the Gun”
The most immediate song on Contra, and among the ones that sticks with you the longest. Also important: the music video which, with its all-star cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Daft Punk, and *gulp* Joe Jonas, had 16-year-old me crying sellout. Little did I know that, a decade later, I would be just as excited for the new Jonas Brothers album as I would for the latest Vampire Weekend. Thank/blame my wife.
14. “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”
Pure silliness. An obnoxious call-response hook and a lyric that goes all in on Koenig’s exoticism, ending on one of my favorite lines: “Oh how your collegiate grief has left you/Dowdy in sweatshirts/Absolute horror!”
13. “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
As African as they ever sounded — a simple, jangly guitar line and a Congo beat. But the real joy of this song was hearing Koenig slur the word fuck just enough to slip by the censors.
It turns out gospel and garage rock aren’t that far from each other — especially with someone like Rostam handling the organ.
The most intense they’ve ever sounded — rapid fire guitar, marching band snares — plus a bit of class analysis from a man who’s always had more interesting things to say about his own privilege than any of his detractors.
10. “This Life”
“Some say that pain is as natural as the rain,” begins this folk-pop instant-classic. Also as natural as the rain is Ezra Koenig’s relationship troubles finding their way onto a Vampire Weekend r