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Vampire Weekend’s new album is jam-packed with cultural criticism

Natalie Hannah

It is no secret that Vampire Weekend singer-songwriter Ezra Koenig loves to embed meaningful, cryptic lyrics into the band’s songs. This is made evident in the indie rock band’s fifth studio album, “Only God Was Above Us,” released on April 5. This album is full of Koenig’s criticism of current society, accompanied by all sorts of instruments and sound effects. 

The first track of this record is entitled “Ice Cream Piano,” which contains deeper observations and analysis from Koenig than the title may lead you to believe. This song uses its lyrics to explain how people in the 21st century are afraid to express themselves due to how judgmental others can be. The song examines how society’s expectations of each other limit their ability to be their true self. 

One line that stuck out to me was, “I’m a gentleman, I refuse to show my gentleness.” We have heard over and over how “it’s okay for boys to cry,” or, “boys can have feelings too,” but do we really support that through action, or is it just something we say? These ideas are what Koenig is trying to provoke through his lyrics – boys are encouraged to show their emotions, but what is the consequence? According to Koenig, they will most likely be seen as weak, which is not the ideal, strong gentleman that society wants. 

I was content with “Ice Cream Piano” because of the messages it portrayed, although it would not be a song I listened to if I was not trying to analyze our world and society. The instruments, composed by Koenig and Ariel Rechtshaid, were very simple. This makes sense as the lyrics being sung were the focus of the song, but I would rather listen to a musically well-written song instead of poetic and hard to analyze lyrics. “Ice Cream Piano” was definitely not bland in its instrumentation, as it would pick up in different parts of the song, but when there were multiple instruments playing it was an overload of sound that wasn’t a favored experience. 

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The next song on this album is entitled, “Classical.” I understood the lyrics as criticizing how people romanticize terrible things that happened in the past; for example, glamorizing war and other great disasters. This is something that is very prevalent in our society but isn’t spoken about very often. The events that happened in the past have not changed for better or worse, as Koenig explains in his lyrics, “How the cruel, with time, becomes classical.” I enjoyed this analysis, and I agree. If this trend of thought continues to grow, we’ll experience our own children wishing they could be alive during COVID-19 because of how it would be “aesthetic” to witness the revolutionary advancements in everyday technology and medicine that were made, not to take into consideration the millions of people who died. 

I greatly enjoyed the saxophone solo out of everything in the whole album itself; the way Henry Solomon went from crying out on clashing notes to clean, well-played figures represented how the terrors of the past are now idealized to be perfect images. Not only did the saxophone portray this, but the piano accompanying the horn did as well. Koenig’s voice came through much clearer in this track than in the previous, which made it easier to understand the messages he was trying to convey. 

The song “Capricorn” expresses similar observations as “Ice Cream Piano.” This track goes into greater detail about the expectations tied to a person by their age. We see this from the lines, “Too old for dying young/ too old to die alone.” Koenig is revealing how expectations go both ways, no matter your age. 

The first line of this quote could be referring to the fact that “dying young” is known to be an extremely tragic event – worse than dying at an older age. While yes, if you die older, you’ve experienced more in life than someone who dies at a younger age, but shouldn’t people react with equal sorrow? 

The second line has a very clear meaning that has been a well-protested and represented expectation. Once you reach a certain age, you are expected to settle down with a partner, create a family and a stable income. We have seen many protagonists who do not abide by these expectations as a way to lash back at the so-called “haters,” but that hasn’t changed the overall view of mankind. At a certain point, you become “too old” to live or die alone, with no mercy from judgment by your peers. 

The drums, played by Chris Tomson, opened the song with a more fluid style than the classic drum beats he locks into in each song. The strums of the guitar that join in the background, the orchestration and the simple bassline are all tied together to create a sense of something along the lines of pity for the people we judge. 

Lastly, Gen-X Cops, the seventh track of the album, focuses on the differences, or lack thereof, between generations. With lyrics such as “Each generation makes its own apologies,” Koenig speaks on the fact that all generations have struggled to make the right decisions. I like the way Koenig did this because it is true that older generations accuse younger generations of not solving the problems of the world, while the younger generations retort by saying that the older generation is what caused the problems in the first place. I am very glad that Koenig used this album as a way to spread his thoughts on this matter because it is true that nothing productive will come from this argument. 

The musical aspect of this song remained pretty simple throughout (minus the short guitar solo), but I think the important criticism Koenig gave made up for it. I applaud the way the band was able to touch on such important matters, and I’m glad they’re using their fanbase to spread these ideas for people to think about how they live and how they could do better. While this is true, that’s not why I want to listen to music. I want to be wowed by the instruments, variation in the vocals that Koenig did not supply, and a catchy chorus to go along with it. 

“Only God Was Above Us” is a spectacular take on how we as a society are living and acting. That being said, if you’re looking for songs to sing along to with your friends, this may not be it. Even so, you should listen to every track on this record to evaluate how your behavior fits into what the band is trying to say through their words and melodies. This was an extremely impressive album for promoting positive change throughout communities and the world, but not so much for a leisure listen.

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About the Contributors
Magen Kranz
Magen Kranz, Arts and Culture Editor
Magen is a staff writer for the Stargazer, this year she serves as our Arts and Culture Editor. She is a sophomore and this is her second year on staff. Magen engages in student journalism because she enjoys working with her peers to create stories about our wonderful school.
Natalie Hannah
Natalie Hannah, Media Editor
Natalie is a graphic designer for the Stargazer. She is a junior, and this is her second year on staff. Natalie engages in student journalism because she enjoys creating art and sharing it with others.

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