Only God Was Above Us

Vampire Weekend: Only God Was Above Us

Only God Was Above Us
Genre: Chamber Pop
Label: Columbia
Producer: Ariel Rechtshaid/Ezra Koenig
Release Year: 2024
Listen: Spotify / Apple Music

There are very few bands whose new albums I treat as an event. Certainly not this many years on. But Vampire Weekend is different. They are not prolific. They are not on trend. They don’t have a Drake verse or a Lil Whatever bar. They are their own thing. And no matter the fact that their music isn’t even really that much my “thing,” I can’t help but be intrigued and thrilled by their efforts. And their latest, Only God Was Above Us, is no exception. An album seemingly dropped from the sky (no pun intended) by a group of dudes who have been locked in a cave for the past few decades.

The thing is, this is absolutely, unmistakably a Vampire Weekend record. There is no other band that sounds like them. And therein lies the thrill. I love punk and post-punk and post-hardcore and pop punk and emo and power pop. But those albums are what they are. You get either a good version of that music. Or a meh version of that music. But you are rarely surprised. Especially from one band’s album to the next. Unless they go all tropicalia on you. But Vampire Weekend is none of that. It’s proudly in its own lane. Part classical, part chamber pop, part indie somethingorother. It’s honestly unclassifiable. And on this new album it becomes evident with every listen that you’re dealing with whatever springs from the brain of Ezra Koenig and crew, influenced by whatever they happen to be into at the moment. And produced, honestly, in a kind of manic fever dream.

My initial thought upon hearing this album for the first time was: how in the world are they going to play these songs live? There are loops and bloops and overdubs and echoes and purposely wacky blown-out levels and piano zaniness. All of which sound incredibly good in headphones. But seems impossible to recreate on a stage. To a song. I mean listening to this thing it’s understandable why it took five years to produce the mere ten tracks on the thing. It feels like an inordinate amount of time and effort went into the production of every composition. The details and flourishes. Just the sheer number of instruments and different overlapping parts seems overwhelming to even think about. It’s maximalist, to be sure. If I were still buying CDs, I would definitely chalk this one up to getting my money’s worth. Which is a lot to say about an album with only ten tracks. There were no corners cut, no half-assery. This ain’t Wrens level craziness, but I can imagine it verged on that.

The funny thing is, every time I take a spin through Only God Was Above Us, a new song emerges as my favorite. If you’re still in discovery mode nine spins in, that’s amazing. Songs about songs. Songs about esoteric art dealer thieves and the Lincoln Tunnel. Songs about all sorts of stuff I don’t understand, but feel like something. Yes! Sometimes it feels like walking through a NYC art museum. Sometimes it’s a subway ride through a nameless borough. And sometimes it’s Coney Island. Guitars screech, strings plink and drums crash. All the while, Koenig’s voice lilts inside of the controlled chaos, fluttering perfectly and satisfyingly between crescendos and whatever the opposite of a crescendo is. For an album that literally starts with the line “Fuck the world…” it’s a pretty celebratory album. I mean, they sing a song about the old Soho bar, Pravda! Ok, maybe not. But I worked right across the street from that joint in the 90s and I’d like to think that’s what’s up. And that’s the nice thing about this record; you can put your own experience on top of it and it will make you feel 1,000 different things over the span of its 47 minutes. Album of the year so far, hands down.