Mike Schiller: Both the song and the video are too precious by half, but it doesn’t matter. “Harmony Hall” is about as likable as Vampire Weekend has ever been, from the super-clean ascending guitar lick right on through the piano breakdown that could only have been more baroque if it had been played on a harpsichord. It’ll be stuck in your head by the second time you hear it, an irreplaceable part of your life by the third. There has always been an air of distance to Vampire Weekend as if Ezra Koenig was going out of his way to keep his audience at arm’s length, but there’s none of that here. This is warm and inviting and wistful and joyful, and the perfect kicker is the band getting a chance to jam out for a full two minutes after Koenig runs out of things to say. “Harmony Hall” is Vampire Weekend getting older, in the best possible way. [9/10]
Lauren Ball: It’s difficult not to long for Walcott-era Vampire Weekend when listening to snippets from their upcoming release, Father of the Bride. Koenig, Tomson, and Baio have left their affluent Columbia sweaters behind, but seem to have misplaced the project’s notorious youthful tongue-in-cheek wit with them. While they’re certainly maturing as artists, offering fans spotless production along with Ezra’s well-loved sly glances, the playful vitality that drenched both their self-titled and Contra has all but disappeared. I almost expected a dreaded Millennial whoop to rear its head. [3/10]
John Bergstrom: The song is flat-out great. It’s the best thing Vampire Weekend have done since their debut. There’s no transition between the fresh, naive little acoustic jam and the exuberant, shuffling, Happy Mondays-style refrain and wordless chorus, which may be the only thing keeping “Harmony Hall” from pure, life-affirming perfection. All of this makes the video even more disappointing. A bad kung-fu film featuring Ezra Koenig making spirograph pancakes while a tree snake slithers around, it almost completely misses the vibe. Hey, a vibraslap! [9/10]
Mick Jacobs: Vampire Weekend’s first single since the departure of percussionist Rostam Batmanglij, “Harmony Hall” features a brilliant band in the midst of experimentation. The acoustic guitar and piano feel unconventional and slightly boring for this band. It lacks the spunk or innovation of their previous efforts, though even a mediocre Vampire Weekend song is still a good song. Chris Tomson’s guitar riffs in the latter half offer the most exciting parts of the track, a bit of an edge this pristine track sorely needs. Ezra Koening delivers a bit of political commentary here, but like the instrumentation, the lyrics also play it relatively safe. [5/10]
Amy Young: Unsurprisingly, the melodies in “Harmony Hall” are as sugary as the goopy chocolate being Spirograph’d into a delicate dessert in the video. A deeper dive into the lyrics, though, lets us know that a few tears probably fell into the pan, creating an angsty sizzle, before the final product hit the plate. [7/10]
Chris Ingalls: I really like the dynamics of this, with the gentle acoustic fingerpicking and piano riffs in the verses coupled with the simple, rousing chorus. There’s an uncomplicated, syncopated vibe to the song, and it’s nice to see that during their hiatus, Vampire Weekend have somewhat abandoned their “Paul Simon-Tackles-Afropop” thing by creating something unique, fresh and elegant. [7/10]
John Garratt: If stubborn indie fans are having trouble reconciling the fact that the Lumineers are now playing arenas, they can always retreat to Vampire Weekend. That doesn’t make “Harmony Hall” any less limp than the pancakes the singer is inexplicably flipping. Seriously, have you ever heard lead guitar scorch any less than this? [4/10]
Jordan Blum: I’ve never really paid attention to these guys, but I really like the acoustic arpeggios in the opening, and the vocalist has a youthful but confident voice. The harmonies and piano are nice, too. Together, it’s sort of pop meets gospel to me. The video itself is okay but nothing special. It feels aimless and effortless, although it reminds me of early ’90s videos with the mix of candid slice-of-life, candles, and people jumping at the camera. [7/10]
Steve Horowitz: A lively tune full of bouncy energy with a slice of psychedelia! While it is odd to have a song with the word “harmony” in its title so lacking in vocal harmonies, there is a pleasant congruence between the instruments and the singing thanks in large part to the beat the beat the bear which keeps bubbling up frothily. The purposely ambiguous lyrics—are they about getting married?—suggest the optimism and ambivalence about taking the next step forward. There is a sense of danger, but the band can’t help sonically smiling. [8/10]
Rod Waterman: Or, How Dave Matthews Got His Groove Back. My constitutional aversion to Vampire Weekend, which has previously manifested itself in an allergic reaction including but not limited to unsightly hives, gave way here, eventually, to an admission that this song did pretty much swing. It starts like some kind of goat-roping hootenanny and transitions after that through several stylistic variations whose musical reference points barely evade identification. I couldn’t help hearing, by turns, parts of Kid Creole’s “Annie I’m Not Your Daddy” and Manfred Mann’s “The Mighty Quinn” among others, here and there, and also quite inexplicably. Vampire Weekend are slippery like that, kind of like a very well-scrubbed Pavement), revelling also, apparently, in the negative capability of “I don’t want to live this, but I don’t want to die,” although I preferred the Old Man River proposition (‘tired of living, but scared of dying”) a little better.
This also feels for a good bit of the time a little like an homage to the Flowered Up-era Second Summer of Love (let us never forget), barring the noodly intro and the baroque and winsome little piano break somewhere around the fourth minute, until the groove resumes to take us the rest of the way. I suspect that this might, after all, be at least in part something of a “political song” (“Anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified”), but it’s well disguised.
The video storyboard is almost entirely baffling (although the dreamlike randomness of videos remains, after all these years, part of their appeal in many cases), but it seems mostly to revolve around Ezra Koenig making some pretty damn funky looking pancakes while wearing a rather fetching robe, as a very green snake slithers around the proceedings. Whether the snake is suggesting a form of original sin that involves breakfast food rather than apples, or is escalating the earworm to an entirely more sinister level in its instantiation here would not be beyond Vampire Weekend’s capability. This earsnake is actually not without its charms, albeit that the prissiness of the earlier work that brought on my initial violent allergies has not significantly abated. [7/10]