“Time Sometimes Just Does Its Thing”


Before he became an Indie-Rock star, Ezra Koenig, lead singer of Vampire Weekend, had a blog where he wrote about topics such as singer M.I.A., the meaning of preppiness, and the ethics of hippies making pilgrimages to India. His blog reveals a 20-something with diverse interests, lots of questions, and a striking aversion to the overly negative or critical. In fact, quite appropriately, one of his most negative judgments is towards music reviewers who are harsh and judgemental. Speaking in reference to critic Robert Christgau’s dismissive reviews of Billy Joel, he asks:

“Are critics the investment bankers of art? HERE’S THE BIG QUESTION: Is there any point in NEGATIVE CRITICISM?” (1)

It has been nineteen years since that blog post, but in Vampire Weekend’s new record Only God Was Above Us, released in April of 2024, Ezra and his bandmates return to these questions with something like an answer, delivering an album which urges us to let go of cynicism and hasty critique.

The album also shows that five albums into the Vampire Weekend project, Ezra is still curious about the world – what other albums mention “Serbians” and “Kosovar Albanians”? – and brimming with ideas, both musical and lyrical. It is also altogether gorgeous, and unlike its sprawling, jam-band inspired predecessor Father of The Bride, from 2019, Only God Was Above Us, is a concise 10 song, 47 minute statement.

Whereas Father of The Bride had a major-key warmth befitting its pastel artwork, Only God Was Above Us, marks a stylistic return to the more gothic, brooding feel of 2013’s Modern Vampires of The City. And, for better and, sometimes for worse, listening to the album often felt like having a conversation with an old friend after a long absence. One feels like one has heard some of these stories before, and one may long for the unpredictability, and spontaneity which seemed to come more easily in the past.

Yet, to strain this metaphor a little further, when one’s old friend is as charming, intelligent, and overflowing with ideas as Vampire Weekend is as a band, these complaints don’t cut very deep. Opener Ice Cream Piano starts slow and ramps up into a thumping, orchestral banger, Mary Boone is a slow and stunning choir-backed song, and Classical features a chorus as catchy as anything this reviewer has heard this year, while also making room for a sax solo and musings about classical art.

Given that it is not as sharp of a stylistic turn as Father of the Bride was, the elements of the album that are new for the band stand out. Connect, which Koenig has described as “psychedelic Gershwin” (2), combines a playful piano part reminiscent of Martha My Dear with a dancey drum beat and feels like a new and exciting direction for the band. Similarly new is the use of fuzz and distortion, which adds a delightful jolt to singles Capricorn and Gen-X Cops.

As is typical in a Vampire Weekend project, the lyrics are clever, sometimes self-referential, and occasionally moving. The lyrics also, slightly paradoxically, repeatedly question the ability of words to mean what we intend. Much of the album is addressed to an unnamed “you”, who, in opener Ice Cream Piano is a cynic murmuring “f*** the world” to themselves under their breath. But Koenig is skeptical about the wisdom and sincerity of this critic, saying, “The universe will pry out// The truth, which is you’ve got nothing to say”. On Capricorn, Koenig encourages this “you” to just relax, saying, “I know you’re tired of tryin’ // Listen baby, you don’t have to try” and on album closer Hope he makes a similar plea, acknowledging the evils and terrors of the world –“invincible enemies”, an “embassy abandoned”, a “killer freed” – but advising a sort of surrender, repeating “I hope you let it go” 28 times over the majestic, rolling track’s eight minutes.

Is Koenig telling us to ignore the ills of the world, or give up efforts to change it? Is he himself a cynic who thinks humanity is doomed to suffer at the hands of invincible enemies?

To this reviewer, it sounds like Koenig is reaffirming what he said way back on his blog in 2005, asking us whether being critical and negative is all that helpful. I’m not sure I agree with Koenig in full – as someone writing a music review it’s a difficult perspective to adopt– but he is right that we often critique when we don’t have anything to say, and strain ourselves with effort when what would be more helpful is to let go and let time pass. “Time is great”, Koenig said in a recent interview, “because when you’re bashing your head against the wall trying to use your brain to solve a problem, and when you learn how to let go a little bit, time sometimes just does its thing” (3).



(1) Koenig, Ezra. “Critical Beatdown”, Internet Vibes. October 12th, 2005, https://internetvibes.blogspot.com/2005/10/

(2) Koenig, Ezra. “Ezra Koenig on the new Vampire Weekend album ‘Only God Was Above Us’”, NPR. April 6th, 2024, https://www.npr.org/2024/04/06/1243230526/ezra-koenig-on-the-new-vampire-weekend-album-only-god-was -above-us

(3) Koenig, Ezra. “Vampire Weekend: ‘Only God Was Above Us’ & The Evolution of the Band”. Youtube, uploaded by Apple Music, Apr 3rd, 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bx4Q5MmjMP8