As with their last album, Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride offers a dynamic blend between the secular and the religious. Frontman Ezra Koenig’s Jewish background is overtly present in the lyrics, yet there are also clear references to Christian imagery and ideas. Featuring numerous duets with Danielle Haim of Haim, Bride is ostensibly about a wedding and the subsequent marriage which follows. It’s romantic, relaxed, and replete with guitar noodling and twee. Yet underneath the pleasantry is a deep concern for the world’s brokenness.
The breezy playfulness of Father of the Bride, this sense of the lackadaisical, isn’t due to naivete. In many ways, this is a more mature album than previous efforts from the band, a shift from college to graduate school, from their 20s to their 30s, arriving without having arrived. There is a subtle resignation in the lyrics, a sense of peace on the far side of doubt, an acceptance that not all of the Big Questions of life will get easy answers, and maybe that's OK. The serious weightiness of the lyrics is contrasted with the sunny California guitar twangs and upbeat pop tempos. On “How Long,” Koenig croons, “How long till we sink to the bottom of the sea? How long? How long” with the angst of an Old Testament prophet, yet this is backed by a “la-la-la” refrain and cheerfulness in the driving drum beats.
Weaving throughout the entire album is a longing for Eden and symbolism from the story of Adam and Eve. The lyric “I don’t wanna live like this / But I don’t wanna die” first appears on Modern Vampires’ “Finger Back,” a hyperactive upbeat lament, the major key and frenetic tempo a stark contrast to the comically depressing lyrics about thwarted love. Now reappearing on Father of the Bride on the song “Harmony Hall,” the lyric has moved from the bridge into the chorus, and the frenzied tone has morphed and matured into a leisurely, nostalgic resolve: “I thought that I was free / From all that questioning / But every time a problem ends / Another one begins.” Indeed, just prior to this chorus, Koenig sings, “And the stone walls of Harmony Hall bear witness / Anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight / Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified.” This verdant “wicked snake” appears in both the music video for “Harmony Hall” and in the song’s artwork. The Genesis 3 parallels are obvious; could “Harmony Hall” refer to such a lost place?
There is a subtle resignation in the lyrics, a sense of peace on the far side of doubt.
Similarly, “Sunflower,” with its references to the longing for a paradisiacal garden, ends up downright silly in its bizarre onomatopoeia refrain. It’s immediately followed by “Flower Moon,” where Koenig sings, “Flower moon cursed the night / If the sun don't make things right / Then it's gonna take a year / Gonna take a year / Flower moon, sacred sign / Coca-Cola and red wine / Now's the time to disappear / Gonna take a year.” Curses, sacred signs, and a longing for things to be made right, all backed up by a 1950s-era rock-and-roll shuffle and warbling backup singers. Indeed, the Koenig-Haim duets have a nostalgic folksy vibe, a sense of remembering and longing for the past, even as they must face the future. “We Go Together” is probably the most hopeful (even worshipful) of these duets, filled with clever lyrics that culminate in a powerful outro: “Hallelujah, you're still mine / All I did was waste your time / If there's not some grand design / How'd this pair of stars align?”
It seems that after six years, the religiously laden existential questions raised in Modern Vampires haven’t yet been answered. Still, Koenig and company seem more comfortable living in the tension. To borrow a theologically rich throwaway line from the Coen brothers’ cinematic midrash on the Book of Job, A Serious Man, Vampire Weekend is learning to accept the mystery.
Paul uses similar terminology in Ephesians, calling it a “profound mystery” while describing the church as the bride of Christ. More marriage imagery is used in Revelation 21, where John describes a new heaven and a new earth—Eden again, restored for us by our heavenly Father. John then envisions the new Jerusalem as a bride, a sign that “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”