Music

Vampire Weekend - "Harmony Hall" (Singles Going Steady)

Video still

"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.

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]

TOTAL: 6.6


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.