Vampire Weekend - Only God Was Above Us (2024), 3/10

Vampire Weekend’s Only God Was Above Us does many things quite well. There is a surprising combination of intelligent pop composition with very dense orchestration, intentionality in sound manipulation, and a general sense of ambition. There is also, however, a generally frustrating control in its performance and , especially when led by vocals as dreary and uninspiring as Koenig’s are here. This is only made worse by a generally sterile approach to songwriting, lyricism, and narrative presentation. The musical quirkiness blended with abstraction during refrains from sections of the opener “Ice Cream Piano” or “Classical”, for example, present a false sense of excitement before the band retreats back into their established brand of diminutive indie rock in a track like “Prep-School Gangsters”. The resulting hodge-podge of confused playfulness and shackled melancholia makes for a frustrating experience, always teasing with a sense of meaningful introspection but eventually painting a vacant landscape. Better written songs such as “Classical” or “Connect” are interesting enough to maintain real interest before this phenomenon takes place and persists through the end of the album. The band has produced another inconsistent project that does not live up to its ambitions for too many reasons to consider irrelevant. A sole focus on varied instrumentation does not elevate an album beyond the mundane and this is the case here where little more than polished pop music clashes clunkily with a smattering of tangential genres, some of which add a layer of complexity while others simply feel misplaced or outright poor. The band deserves acknowledgement for their ambition but the project itself still a misstep in the larger picture. The pacing of the album is great, as is the intermingling of psychedelia, but beyond an aesthetic novelty there is little nuance to be unearthed from this set of songs.