While Vampire Weekend has changed their sound throughout their albums, one thing they've kept consistent is the way their songs are opened up to interpretation. Ezra Koenig, the singer and main lyricist for the band, has his own perspective on his music but he doesn't want that to come in the way of the fans' own interpretations of their music. Just a few weeks ago, I sent him a direct message on Instagram about Father of the Bride among other things and his reply struck in me a desire to dive deep into the album. What came out of it was my own take on the album and what ties it together.
Most of these songs seem to be about varying aspects of different romantic relationships, but upon closer look, I figured Koenig did something similar as he did for Modern Vampires of the City. He said Modern Vampires of the City is an exploration of the depression and anxieties that come as part of growing up and that Father of the Bride is a new chapter altogether from the trilogy that was the first three albums. I noted how in both instances, Ezra focuses on religious themes that seem similar once you look into them. For this analysis, I'm going to go track by track of the songs I think are connected and briefly explain how they tie into the idea of faith in the Western world, particularly in America.
Hold You Now:
This is the first track of the album and features Danielle Haim, making this song into a conversation. It appears to occur between a parent and child. The chorus is excerpted from a Melanesian song that translates as:
Although the song suggests a conversation between parent and child, this chorus speaks about religion and one's relationship with God. To me, this serves as the foundation of the album which is spoken about much more strongly and clearly in the next track.
This second song ties in the issue of religion with educated elites, particularly in American politics. A part to note in particular goes as such:
The vocabulary "crooked" and "moneylender" are direct allusions to antisemitism and jobs Jewish people in America had to take in banks as they were not given other jobs, so they became "shameful" occupations still targeted in hateful rhetoric today. But Ezra isn't saying anything about people attacking Israel, for he doesn't stand for it. No, instead he's pointing out the irony in the bigotry by the people who studied in high institutions (Harmony Hall is a dorm building at the college he attended, Columbia University). In a place you would think would prompt progressive thought and conversation, only hate and prejudice is bred, thus the alluding to "snakes" being bred in the place one thought to be dignified.
It's also worth noting the revival of the line "I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die", a line from the song Finger Back in Modern Vampires of the City, a story about a Jewish girl falling in love with an Arab man. This song serves as a step forward in the matter of religion Ezra explores in this album.
In the previous track, Ezra starts with one religion - Judaism - and introduces another one in this track. This song is explicitly about Christianity. I believe it's a critique on the way the West wields the religion as a weapon and then proceeds to claim itself as a victim of violence despite its history of provoking violence themselves:
Ezra formats this hypocrisy above into the frame of the current and lasting state of America - of unnecessary violence against innocent minorities, never meeting with justice.
My favorite of the songs which I believe ties much of the theme together. At this point, Ezra had introduced two of the three Abrahamic religions and the way they are perceived and utilized in the West. In this track, the way he chooses to introduce the third and final Abrahamic religion is interesting. I believe this track is the perspective of the Christian West taking hold of the animosity that had always been geared towards Judaism and turning it towards Islam in order to create a common enemy between them. Ezra is pointing out how the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is seen as a brotherhood nowadays, and the past oppression from Christians to Jews is largely ignored. He feels it unfair that they look for a scapegoat in Islam to find unity and common ground. This song has two important parts that exemplify this idea:
Here, the statement is very explicitly that the West claimed that Islam would have damaged Judaism in the same way they attacked "Christianity" and so they must join forces because your pain is my pain. Newly found sympathy between two centuries-long enemies.Jerusalem, New York, Berlin:
After introducing the other two Abrahamic religions and tying their current states together, Ezra reverts back to Judaism - a culture bigger than himself that he identifies with. In this song, it appears Ezra yearns for the lost prospect of a homeland - but here he acknowledges it's a lost cause. He says
that genocidal feeling."
Though earlier in the song he says all he wants is to win, at the end of the song all he wants is an end to the constant cycling of violence. He doesn't want the "win" to be at the cost of lives. It's an endless conversation, he says. "Just think what could have been" but cannot be. While Judaism is an important part of his identity, Ezra recognizes the wishes of the Zionists cannot be met. There is too much wasted energy and efforts here. There is too much death here. What could have been, simply, is not. And that's where the album ends.