Time in a Bottle
New Albums by Vampire Weekend and Unwed Sailor are Worth the Wait

As I get older, time seems to be speeding up.

In about a month, I will be 45 years old, and I can’t tell you where the last ten or so of those years went. They passed in a blur. I know I lived each day, hour by hour, but looking back those years feel like one of those montages in ‘80s movies, where months of training for some athletic event/military action zip by in minutes. We’re almost halfway through 2019, and I don’t know what happened. It was January, then I blinked, now it’s May. My nephews, who were born only weeks ago, have both had birthdays. They are seven and five now. Blink.

The bright side of this phenomenon is that it makes waiting for pop cultural events a lot easier. I know the seven months between now and the next Star Wars movie will pass like nothing, for instance. The Good Place will not return to our screens until the fall, and Doctor Who is off the air until 2020, but I know that I won’t even feel all that time go by. Next weekend I am heading to Montreal to experience my second Marillion weekend, and it feels like only a few weeks ago when I experienced my first, in 2015.

All that to say that we waited six years for the new Vampire Weekend, but I certainly didn’t feel those years. I realize that is a long time, and if you’d asked me anytime in those six years if I was anticipating a new VW record, I would have said yes. But now it’s here, and the wait for it doesn’t seem all that long to me. I really enjoyed their last one, Modern Vampires of the City, and have been worrying a bit about this new one – the band is entirely Ezra Koenig’s now, after co-conspirator Rostam Batmanglij made his exit in 2016.

But now that I am listening to the breezy, well-crafted Father of the Bride, Koenig’s first foray steering the Vampire Weekend ship, all that worry was for nothing. Koenig has turned in a varied, unfailingly interesting ride here, generously padded out with 18 songs yet still coming in at under an hour. I probably should have expected this, but Rostam’s absence has led to a more spacious, organic Vampire Weekend – there are definitely still keyboards and samples, but they are fewer and more subtle.

The focus here is on straightforward, catchy tunes. There’s nothing as tricky as the multiple time shifts of “Bryn,” for instance – the songs Koenig has written here are more basic, with some classic country influences – but the album as a whole takes you enough places that it’s never boring. These songs are all fairly short – the longest, “Harmony Hall,” just breaks five minutes, and several stay south of two – and the effect is like listening to a suite that keeps changing. The production is remarkably varied, too, from the Patsy Cline-style crooning of opener “Hold You Now” to the Eels-like electronic patchwork of “How Long.”

Some of that diverse sound can be attributed to Koenig’s collaborators here, including Dave Macklovitch of electro-funkers Chromeo on several songs, and Danielle Haim, who provides lead vocals on three tracks. This whole record has a come-in-and-let’s-try-this feel to it, but the finished product doesn’t feel ramshackle or pieced together. It’s more of an appealing looseness – a song like “Married in a Gold Rush” has the feeling of having been written and recorded in an afternoon, and its segue into the more carefully crafted “My Mistake” is seamless.

As you can maybe tell by some of the song titles, while this album is bright and sunny musically, it’s lyrics are darker and full of loss. The last verse of “Harmony Hall” sums up a lot of this record: “Anger wants a voice, voices wanna sing, singers harmonize ‘til you can’t hear anything, I thought that I was free from all that questioning, but every time a problem ends another one begins.” Father of the Bride is largely about those questions and problems, and when the lyrics and music match up, as on the joyous “We Belong Together,” it feels surprisingly well earned.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Father of the Bride, but Koenig came through. This is a truly swell record, from start to finish. It’s a new model Vampire Weekend, less steeped in African guitar and percussion (although that is certainly present – check out the elastic “Sunflower” and “Flower Moon”) and more in American pop, but this new VW is just as enjoyable as they’ve ever been. If it took six years to land on this approach and these songs, they were six years well spent.

It’s been an even longer wait for a new Unwed Sailor album, but far fewer people have been counting the days for that one. As one of those people, though, I have to say I’ve been anticipating this one more than the Vampire Weekend, partially because I had no doubt it would be awesome.

And it is. Heavy Age is the first new long-player from this instrumental outfit since 2008, and in contrast to stylistic detours like The Marionette and the Music Box and The White Ox, this one hits like fire. Bassist Jonathan Ford is Unwed Sailor, but here he’s leading a quartet that includes a guitarist and two drummers, and the sound is as widescreen and pulsing as they have ever been.

I’m not even sure what to compare this to. Explosions in the Sky without a trace of metal? A wordless Cure in full rock mode? What I can tell you is that these are songs, not jams – they barrel forward with a remarkable sense of purpose, and they don’t waste a second. Something like “Moon Coin” has verses and a chorus, even though there are no vocals – Dave Swatzell’s guitar swirls and soars as the band surges forward and draws back around him. (This is a song with both drummers playing, one in each speaker, and the effect is pretty great.)

There are quieter pieces, like the fragile, gorgeous “Nova,” but mainly Heavy Age seeks to sculpt with energy, and it succeeds brilliantly. For those who have never heard Unwed Sailor, this is a great record to start with. For those who, like me, have been waiting for their return, it’s a mighty and glorious one. Hear their stuff and buy it here: https://unwedsailor.bandcamp.com.

Next week, the two members of the Civil Wars return with solo records. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.