For every heady, conceptually knotty Vampire Weekend song, there’s an equal and opposite one that doesn’t take itself so seriously. For every “Giving Up The Gun” there’s a “Horchata,” for every “Ya Hey,” a “Step.” There’s a similar dichotomy in Ezra Koenig‘s lyrics, which spend as much time dealing in arcane particulars as simple, universal truths; often, the former is a way of accessing the latter. With the relatively sober Modern Vampires of the City in the rearview, Vampire Weekend have been both refining and renewing their essence, loosening up their sound and finding new avenues for the idiosyncratic details that the band has always made its name on.
“This Life,” the ostensible A-side of the newest two-song drop from the upcoming Father of the Bride, trades Bible verses and Upper West Side arcana for humble, lovelorn lamentation. Borrowing lyrics from “Tonight,” by one-time collaborator and frequent Time Crisis guest iLoveMakonnen, Koenig sings, “You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me / So I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you.” Makonnen’s strength as a writer has always been his bluntness, and his ability to evoke tragedy and comedy in the same breath. He has a history of bringing that out in Koenig, t0o—on the 2015 remix of Makonnen’s “Down 4 So Long,” Koenig showcased a comedic energy not seen since the days of L’Homme Run’s “Pizza Party,” with lines about leaked nudes and a consummate diss from Mary-Kate Olsen in the Hamptons. Koenig’s repurposing Makonnen’s lyrics on “This Life” is a nod to that same freedom of spirit but in a darker context.
The track also wears its musical influences on its sleeve. “Brown Eyed Girl” and Graceland-era Paul Simon are immediate reference points for the brushed percussion and laid-back lilt of the lead guitar. With an early line, Koenig makes an explicit reference to the music of Albert Hammond. On “This Life,” Koenig channels his penchant for referential specificity into the music, as well as the lyrics, framing his own emotions with those of others. It’s an approach the band has taken before, such on “Diplomat’s Son,” where an M.I.A sample twists the song’s narrative.
With each new single in the lead-up to Father of the Bride, Ezra Koenig has been piecing together a lighter, breezier mode of songwriting in freeform, open-world constructions that are altogether different than the pinging, optimistic rock of their debut. Tackling fundamental experiences while maintaining the adventurous pretensions that have worked so well for them in the past, “This Life” is a high water mark for Koenig in the post-Rostam era—a deft interlacing of references, equal parts melancholic and playful.