‘Only God Was Above Us’

“Keenan, why are you reviewing a Vampire Weekend album?”

“Keenan, why focus on hyper privileged indie music, beloved only by upper-middle class white wine consumers?”

“Keenan, why not review Taylor Swift’s new album?”

“Keenan, can you explain the Kendrick and Drake beef instead? I have no interest in this album!”

While preparing for this review of Vampire Weekend’s “Only God Was Above Us,” I was bombarded with these questions from my many skeptics. In fact, I chose to review this album because “The Tortured Poets Department,” the only large-scale release this month other than Dua Lipa’s “Radical Optimism,” an album rife with neo-europop synths, was missing the acoustic soundscape I desired.

After receiving mixed reviews for my piece on Kanye West’s “VULTURES 1,” I have decided to switch gears and challenge my ears along with my pen.

I also don’t like Taylor Swift.

“Only God Was Above Us” is Vampire Weekend’s fifth studio album and third collaboration with producer Ariel Rechtshaid. Reichstad is a longtime friend of Ezra Koenig, the band’s lead man and de facto creative director. The album signifies a turning point

for Vampire Weekend, which formed nearly two decades ago at Columbia University’s Battle of the Bands competition. Since then, they have become the only act in history to debut an album at number

one on the Billboard charts independently, Keenan Billings without being signed to a major label.

Keenly Attuned In “Only God Was Above Us,” Vampire Weekend takes a deep dive into their own musical catalog while remaining true to their current selves. On the ethereal “Capricorn,” Koenig makes meandering but profound reflections about the passage of time: “Can’t reach the moon now/ can’t change the tide/the world looked different when God was on your side.” While Koenig croons, Chris Baio strums out a lonely, harmonious bass line, reminiscent of eponymous-album era slow

jams like, “I Stand Corrected.”
At the same time, though, “Only God Was Above Us”

sporadically presents the listener with a soundscape completely different from any of their previous work. The opening track, “Ice Cream Piano,” utilizes heavy autotune and jazzy elements, a sharp contrast to the Afropop-infused music their early, blog-following fans might expect. This blend of old and new on the same project echoes Vampire Weekend’s wish to reckon with their urban past while remaining culturally relevant. Koenig also clearly sees himself as representative of a generation that is being passed by time. On “Gen-X Corps,” he raises his voice to be heard over an acoustic whirlwind: “But in my time/you taught me how to see/ each generation makes its own apology.”

The album is an unapologetic love letter to a now changed New York City. It has an elegant grittiness, evoking a romanticized image of the metropolis that only exists in urban myths and B-side Velvet Underground tracks. The cover art depicts the inside of a NYC subway car with a white-sneakered character reading a newspaper in the foreground. In the background, a second, denim- clad character stands sideways on the wall. The fact that there are no visible faces and the inherently unrealistic subject matter all add to the album’s allure. It’s music about empty subway cars, forgotten aqueducts in the Bronx—see “The Surfer”—and the glue of time that holds a city together after being trodden down by chapter after chapter of humanity.

“Only God Was Above Us” is a powerful reckoning regarding personal growth and maturity. The combination of Koenig’s songwriting, which utilizes themes of urban decay and a bygone past, and Reichstad’s production, which infuses new sounds into an old soundscape, allows Vampire Weekend to achieve a rare thing in the indie rock scene: aging gracefully while maintaining a profound sharpness and cultural relevance.

And yes, Mom. I’ll listen to “Oxford Comma” again.

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