Ever since Vampire Weekend’s 2008 debut, listeners, critics and even scholars have endlessly pointed out the similarities that the band’s artistic output has to the films of director Wes Anderson. The brazen commitment to the Bauhaus ‘Futura’ typeface (perhaps most popularised in film by Stanley Kubrick, mind you), the quirky still life detail of Ezra Koenig’s lyrics (“Look up at the buildings, imagine who might live there/ Imagining your Wolfords in a ball upon the sink there”), the use of choir and string arrangements à la Mark Mothersbaugh (one of Anderson’s common scoring collaborators) – the parallel hallmark features are relatively obvious. The band even made explicit reference to Anderson’s debut feature film Bottle Rocket with the ‘to do list’ in their video for 2009’s ‘Cousins’. This is not to say that Vampire Weekend have not carved out a magnificent identity, sound, and creative universe of their own over the years – rather, the similarities between Anderson and the band are often evoked precisely because of the group’s ability to (like Anderson) do this so well, and to do so knowingly. Last month Michael Nelson wrote an excellent piece for Stereogum on the seemingly limitless levels of referencing in Vampire Weekend’s music – a case in point for their skill at meticulously constructing their own creative universe by way of contextualising it alongside, and within, other artists’ works, whether literary, musical, filmic or else.

Father of the Bride, the band’s fourth full-length, marks the start of a new chapter for Vampire Weekend in a number of ways. Not only is it their first album without Rostam Batmanglij (for the most part), it is the first to follow the ‘sort of trilogy’ of their initial three albums, and is their first album on Sony (the prior trilogy being released on XL). Most significantly, however, this new album takes place in a radically expanded creative universe compared to its predecessors. Tragic but beautiful opener ‘Hold You Now’, a country-tinged duet with Danielle Haim, tells the story of a rather complicated wedding day and is a definitive album highlight, deftly repurposing the Melanesian choral soundtrack of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (incidentally, one of my favourite films). And this is telling. Father of the Bride feels like it has much more in common with the oeuvre of Terrence Malick than that of Wes Anderson. There are no theatrically staged scenes in perfect symmetry here; there is no romanticising of minutiae. Father of the Bride is expansive, sprawling, and contemplative.

Like The Thin Red Line, and Malick’s 2011 film The Tree of Life, Father of the Bride shifts from story to story, introducing a variety of characters and narratives across its grand 58-minutes. These develop and unravel across time and space, sometimes intersecting, sometimes diverging further and further apart from one another. There is the story of a (perhaps doomed) turbulent marriage (‘Hold You Now’; ‘Married in a Gold Rush’; ‘We Belong Together’), soundtracked with songwriting nods to the country genre, as well as vocal contributions from Danielle Haim. There are stories of living in an increasingly bizarre and broken world of geopolitical and ideological struggle (‘Harmony Hall’; ‘Sympathy’; ‘Stranger’; ‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’). There are stories of purgatory, of waiting, of dealing with our distance from both the past and the future (‘How Long?’; ‘My Mistake’; ‘Flower Moon’; ‘2021’). And true to Koenig’s trademark self-referentialism, there are stories that seemingly reference the band’s trajectory in the popular sphere (‘Unbearably White’; ‘Rich Man’). The credits of the album match this sense of sprawl – with features from Steve Lacy and Danielle Haim, production from Ariel Rechtshaid, BloodPop® and Rostam, writing from BloodPop® and Sam Gendel, and samples from Sierra Leone highlife guitarist SE Rogie and Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono.

The album artwork – a graphic of the globe (that is unfortunately a bit MS Paint) – also points to the expanded universe in Father of the Bride. Across much of Vampire Weekend’s first trilogy of albums, their songwriting felt so anchored in the place of New York. The City was a regular cast member, so to speak. Even in tracks like ‘California English’ and ‘Hannah Hunt’ New York was deeply woven into the subtext, their meaning amplified precisely because they were not occurring in New York and the protagonist was not at home. But there is no home whatsoever in Father of the Bride. We are adrift, wandering and searching in an almost destructive fashion, much like the Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple that we encounter across the record. We are in California (‘This Life’), in the Diego Garcia atoll of the Indian Ocean (‘Sympathy’), in Sierra Leone (‘Rich Man’), and in ‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’. We are dislodged in time, too – jumping from the near future (‘2021’), to the Gold Rush (‘Married in a Gold Rush’), to the holy wars of distant past (‘Sympathy’), to the 1917 Balfour Declaration (‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’). And, like Malick’s films, it all feels distinctly cyclical. It seems that these characters continue to make the same mistakes again and again, hoping for “springtime and future,” and for the month of May’s Flower Moon to – maybe next year – finally make things right.

Koenig’s fascination with springtime across the album echoes another aspect of Malick’s oeuvre – the focus on the natural world. It is so often a major player in Malick’s films, be it the shifting wheat fields of Days of Heaven, the lush but besieged Pacific undergrowth in The Thin Red Line, or the cosmic expanse in his documentary Voyage of Time. Given that Koenig has stated that Father of the Bride is partly “about the ties that bind…between people and the land they live on,” we are certainly being asked to contemplate what role the natural world is playing here. After all, who exactly is the Father of the Bride? And where exactly is the noticeably absent Mother (Earth), if there is one? These questions brought to my mind themes that Darren Aronofsky, yet another cinematic visionary, explored in his recent controversial (but, in my opinion, very good) film Mother! Koenig clearly still retains his unparalleled knack for artistic and conceptual referencing.

However, the epic sprawling approach taken on the album has its weaknesses. The numerous narratives have varying degrees of depth and impact. ‘How Long?’ features one of Koenig’s weakest choruses, as the repetitious and (uncharacteristic for Koenig) obvious refrain becomes tiresome fairly quickly. Even the creative production can’t prevent the song from inexplicably feeling like it was made for an Apple commercial. There is something too clean and simple about it. Likewise, the satirically cheesy nursery rhyme lyricism of ‘We Belong Together’ may be intentional, but doesn’t make for the album’s best listening. Moreover, musically, a handful of the eighteen tracks feel like little more than ideas – ideas the group might have gestated upon and developed into more powerful pieces akin to the stronger cuts here. ‘My Mistake’, while an important thematic point in the album, seems like a mediocre attempt at a Gershwin-style jazz ballad. ‘Big Blue’ sounds a bit like a throwaway chorus that might have benefited from some auxiliary songwriting. ‘Unbearably White’ meanders through a conspicuously minimal arrangement that only has any emotional impact when the instrumentation converges in the song’s outro.

These slight mishaps are maybe to be expected with the bold re-making and re-envisioning that Koenig, Baio, Tomson and their collaborators attempt here. Koenig has, after all, explicitly acknowledged that he took a new approach to his lyricism on the record. With Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend expand and re-contextualise their own creative universe, offer more questions than answers, take new risks, and open up new possibilities for their artistic future. In the process of doing so, they add at least a handful of brilliant tracks to their discography. Like Malick’s films, this album invites us to contemplate what kind of world we’ve come from, what kind of world we are creating, and what kind of place the world will be in the future – perhaps by the time (and if) Vampire Weekend release another album. And just as Koenig croons in ‘2021’, I am left wondering how future me, and future Koenig, will choose to re-interpret Father of the Bride when that time comes, and why.