DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. It took the band Vampire Weekend five years to release its first three albums. Six years have gone by, and now the band has a new album, "Father Of The Bride." It's also their longest album with 18 new tracks. Rock critic Ken Tucker says the band, led by songwriter and vocalist Ezra Koenig, introduces new themes and a new ambition. Here is Ken's review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARMONY HALL")
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) We took a vow in summertime. Now we find ourselves in late December. I believe that New Year's Eve would be the perfect time for their great surrender, but they don't remember. Anger wants a voice. Voices want to sing. Singers harmonize till they can't hear anything. I thought that I was free from all that questioning, but every time a problem ends, another one begins. And the stone walls of Harmony Hall...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: A very good little pop record that's not so little, "Father Of The Bride" is Vampire Weekend's new demonstration that tidiness and concision are pathways to greatness. Each of its 18 tracks contains a keyboard or guitar hook that snags your ear. Each yields up one or two or more neatly turned lyric phrases, and whether the composition is under two minutes or in excess of five, each song seems pretty much exactly as long as it needs to be. This is craftsmanship so polished you might not take in at first all the roiling emotion going on just beneath the surface.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS LIFE")
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain. I just thought it didn't rain in California. Baby, I know love isn't what I thought it was 'cause I've never known a love like this before you. Baby, I know dreams tend to crumble at extremes. I just thought our dream would last a little bit longer. There's a time when every man draws a line down in the sand. We're surviving. We're still living. Are we stronger?
TUCKER: In the past, Vampire Weekend's best-known songs have either been about very specific items, such as the Oxford comma, or about very broad topics, such as the passage of time. The title of this new collection, "Father Of The Bride," is a tip-off that this one is concerned with relationships as they flourish or wilt over extended periods.
In the song I just played called "This Life," vocalist-songwriter Ezra Koenig tucks an anguished lyric about cheating and being cheated on into a chipper melody. On this song, called "Married In A Gold Rush," Koenig and his duet partner Danielle Haim play a complicated couple striving hard to work things out.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARRIED IN A GOLD RUSH")
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) Something's happening in the country, and the government's to blame. We got married in a gold rush, and the rush has never felt the same.
DANIELLE HAIM: (Singing) Shared a moment in a cafe. Shared a kiss in pouring rain. We got married in a gold rush, and the sight of gold will always bring me pain.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) I don't want to hear the rumors. Please don't say it loud. I just want to go out tonight and make my baby proud.
HAIM: (Singing) Boy, who's your baby?
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) Girl, if you don't know by now, there's two seats on the midnight train. The gold won't weigh us down.
TUCKER: Vampire Weekend has expanded its sound on this album with periodic guest stars such as guitarist Steve Lacy from the band the Internet. Danielle Haim from the sister trio act Haim sings frequent duets and harmonies with Koenig. The result is that on a song such as "We Belong Together," they really do sound as though they belong together as a central part of what the band is now trying to do.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE BELONG TOGETHER")
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) We go together like sound and sight, black and white, day and night. We go together like left and right. Oh, we go together.
HAIM: (Singing) We go together like give and take, pains and aches, real and fake. We go together. Don't be opaque. It's clear we go together.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND AND HAIM: (Singing) We belong together. We belong together. Baby, there's no use in being clever. Baby, it don't mean we'll stay together.
TUCKER: The initial take on Vampire Weekend a decade ago was that this was a cadre of Columbia University preppies who parlayed privilege, indie rock and an English Lit degree into hipster idolatry. Now there's nothing undergraduate about them. Vampire Weekend's light touch with heavy topics sounds like mature control even as it never denies some wild emotions. The band's new hardheaded realism has rejected self-absorption in favor of a vital engagement with everyone who might be listening.
BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker reviewed "Father Of The Bride," the new album from the band Vampire Weekend. Coming up, I review the new miniseries adaptation of Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," which premieres today on Hulu. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.