Vampire Weekend
Only God Was Above Us


5.0
classic

Review

by Sowing STAFF
April 6th, 2024 | 335 replies


Release Date: 04/05/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Let me bring you my masterpiece

Vampire Weekend’s discography to date has been a series of almosts. The effortlessly memorable indie-pop of 2008’s self-titled venture and 2010’s Contra launched their careers, but didn’t quite harness the vast potential of a band that clearly had more to offer than just catchy melodies. 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City was a noticeable step closer to unlocking the group’s full creative arsenal, with the frenetic energy bursts of ‘Diane Young’, the sweeping elegance of ‘Hannah Hunt’, and the emanating dread of ‘Hudson’ highlighting what could be the future of one of the genre’s most promising acts. After a long wait, 2019’s Father of the Bride marked another pleasant outing, but it left a bit of a saccharine aftertaste – especially compared to what was teased during the peaks of Modern Vampires. It’s been almost two decades of waiting for the band to finally break through in a huge way; to capture lightning in a bottle and deliver the long-awaited classic that they always seemed to have in them.

Well, it’s 2024 and there’s no longer a need to wait.

Only God Was Above Us marks the absolute zenith of Vampire Weekend’s career, and it’s not even particularly close. That’s not a criticism of their well-respected back catalog, but simply high praise for what seems to be a magnum opus by every possible angle of inspection. The band’s fifth full-length LP accomplishes everything that Modern Vampires did right without any of the missteps: it’s ten tracks, no skips. Of course, to reduce the tracklist to a hit vs. miss rate would be a great disservice to what Only God Was Above Us actually is: complex, inspired, and even slightly challenging. The instrumentation is bolder, the production is more pristine, and the arrangements are more daring than ever. Unlike some previous half-measures, this time Vampire Weekend have committed to breaking form – and the results are utterly brilliant.

The transformation is evident from the very onset, with ‘Ice Cream Piano’ rolling slowly along a reverb-drenched runway while Ezra Koenig describes a bleak yet relatively routine encounter with a stranger (“fuck the world, you said it quiet / No one could hear you, no one but me”). As the track progresses, it gathers momentum and truly takes flight, exploding into multiple crescendos of galloping drums, searing guitar riffs, furious piano stabs, and dancing strings. It feels like a re-awakening for the band, only executed on a level they’ve never reached before, and it serves as a microcosm of Only God Was Above Us. Influences from multiple other genres are woven into the album’s fabric with apparent ease; there’s the full-blown jazz breakdown on ‘Classical’, the R&B-inspired beat on ‘Mary Boone’ which somehow meshes perfectly with its crystalline piano notes, and then there’s whatever ‘Connect’ is – this absolutely diabolical fusion of classical piano, warped production, stuttering percussion, and orchestral strings. These are the jaw-dropping moments that take what would still be Vampire Weekend’s best album anyway and elevate it to an immediate album of the year contender.

When Only God Was Above Us isn’t shattering glass ceilings, it’s delivering some of the most beautiful but disquieting indie-rock in recent memory. Lead single ‘Capricorn’ thrives on its searing-but-measured riffs, however the magic of the song can be found in the lyrics: “Too old for dyin' young, too young to live alone / Sifting through centuries, for moments of your own.” Much of Only God Was Above Us explores the relationship between age and history, searching for purpose in an empty existence. The rollicking, electric guitar driven ‘Gen-X Cops’ is of the same mold, singing “Dodged the draft, but can't dodge the war / Forever cursed to live insecure” and observing that “It's by design and consequentially / Each generation makes its own apology.” ‘Classical’ touches on much of the same, but with even darker overtones: “I know that walls fall, shacks shake / Bridges burn and bodies break / It's clear something's gonna change / And when it does, which classical remains?” Vampire Weekend have always had a knack for crafting hefty content with expert subtlety, and one can read between the ambiguity here to find critiques of the upper class (“In times of war, the educated class knew what to do”) as well as the apparent truth that wealth seems to be the greatest determining factor in surviving calamity, comparing the rest of society to “Four hundred million animals competing for the zoo.” It’s bleak, unsettling stuff – and you’d almost be forgiven for not noticing it amid all the rich, vibrant melodies and raucous experimentation. Throughout Only God Was Above Us, this pervading atmosphere of uneasiness lurks beneath the album’s gorgeous sheen.

Where there’d normally be tracks that could be politely omitted from the conversation, Only God Was Above Us packs that space with hidden gems. The purposefully plucked, melodic guitar licks on ‘Prep-School Gangsters’ immediately earn a place among the most aesthetically pleasing moments in Vampire Weekend’s discography – and it’s more memorable than some of their choruses. ‘The Surfer’ bathes in rich, cinematic strings that sound like they could score the climax of a dramatic movie; or the end of the world itself. ‘Pravda’ gives us breathtaking guitar-work that flows around Koenig’s hard-hitting prose, eventually culminating in a dreamy, messy, hazy summit: “They always ask me about Pravda / It's just the Russian word for truth / Your consciousness is not my problem / And I hope you know your brain's not bulletproof”…“When I come home, it won't be home to you.” On the epic eight minute closer, the band sounds defeated by (or, depending on your perspective, at peace with) society’s seemingly insurmountable obstacles, ultimately arriving at the conclusion: “Our enemy's invincible / I hope you let it go.” These moments, carefully tucked between Only God’s peaks, are what elevates the record above its predecessors. It sounds and feels flawless; the product of a band not only doing everything it does best all in one place, but also maturing and evolving before our eyes in the process.

Whereas Vampire Weekend’s first four efforts had the feel of something the band wanted to make, Only God Was Above Us possesses the drive of something they had to make. It’s a visceral reaction to life in modern times: the chaos and confusion of the world around us, struggling to make peace with your place on history’s timeline, and the poetry that envelops it all. The album portrays all these things during its magnificent runtime, delivering anxiety, complexity, and downright startling beauty in equal doses. On Vampire Weekend’s very first song ‘Mansard Roof’ from their debut LP, Koenig once sang, “And now the tops of buildings, I can see them too.” With Only God Was Above Us, it’s hard not to sense that the idea has come full circle and crack a smile. Only now, they’re no longer on the cusp of greatness – they’ve fully achieved it.

Let me bring you my masterpiece
You're the author of everything
Use this voice and let it sing





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user ratings (188)
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
Sowing
Moderator
April 6th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

So good it caused an earthquake.

Pikazilla
April 6th 2024


29799 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

because it got yo momma to stand up?



lmao gottem

Slex
April 6th 2024


16610 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The discourse on this is going to be painfully bad I fear but awesome review

alexslavco
April 6th 2024


200 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Their best album for sure, might bump to 4.5 after more listens. Prep-School Gangsters/The Surfer/Gen-X Cops sequence is mind-blowing. My only problem for now is that I miss some instant top-tier song like A-Punk or This Life. It definitely helped that they reduced setglist to just 10 songs. I am also surprised they did not include any shorter song, which was their trademark basically for whole career.

Hawks
April 6th 2024


88111 Comments


Not even a fan of this band but willing to bet everything I own that Pika didn't even listen to a millisecond of this before rating.

Demon of the Fall
April 6th 2024


33917 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

these guys are usually quite bad, so either way I think he’s probably nailed it



He can usually sniff out the mainstream indie bullshit quite well, with perhaps a couple of exceptions



…although the average is shocking me and perhaps warrants a cursory inspection

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
April 6th 2024


60521 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

"everything I own that Pika didn't even listen to blah blah"

tired af bit, save it for people who genuinely do rate after 1-2 songs from albums they never finish (Willie, colton, etc)



will maybe jam this, review gives off primo 2019 sowing masterpieceposting energy and I want the scoop

gabba
April 6th 2024


1043 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

once overhyped indie darlings, always overhyped indie darlings

DoofDoof
April 6th 2024


15103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Early impressions is this will end up my second favourite of theirs…so a 3 outta 5

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
April 6th 2024


27486 Comments


Listening now

DoofDoof
April 6th 2024


15103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This does fizzle out a bit

Hawks
April 6th 2024


88111 Comments


Lmao Johnny its not a "bit" if its a fact.

AmericanFlagAsh
April 6th 2024


13331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

The Surfer is so smooth, I love the guitar on it

Slex
April 6th 2024


16610 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It's wild that Metacritic used to include reviews from this site when there's staff that give the worst rating possible to an album without listening to it lmao

Sowing
Moderator
April 6th 2024


43955 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

They still include our ratings, they just don't search on weekends.

Slex
April 6th 2024


16610 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I thought Meta didn't do music anymore?? Weird

Demon of the Fall
April 6th 2024


33917 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

we are the last true democracy (lol)

Futures
April 6th 2024


10790 Comments


by the autists for the autists

Demon of the Fall
April 6th 2024


33917 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I am both aroused and offended by that

JohnZapp
April 6th 2024


162 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Starts off incredible strong and keeps getting better and better. Back half of this is insane. Everything I want in a VW record and more. So immersive and captivating with the visuals, production, lyrics.



Pravda, Mary Boone, Prepschool gangsters are my stand outs in no order



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