Music review: Vampire Weekend’s frenetic, challenging ‘Only God Was Above Us’ is an ode to New York

American rock band Vampire Weekend returns with their most challenging record to date, the frenetic “Only God Was Above Us.”

It's like a musical shot of adrenaline. But its rewards are worth working to discover.

It just takes repeated and close listens to get there.

The 10 tracks on “Only God Was Above Us” won't easily grab the listener the first time through, like the instantly infectious cuts “Harmony Hall” or “This Life” did on their last full-length release, 2019’s “Father of the Bride.”

While “Father of the Bride” has a California sunshine and Grateful Dead-infused sheen, “Only God Was Above Us” is a sometimes dissonant, cacophonous ode to New York City in the 1980s.

That sometimes-confounding tone is set right out of the gate with the first track, “Ice Cream Piano,” which begins with lead singer Ezra Koenig singing an expletive and features a furious guitar riff throughout, ending with a crash of instruments.

“Gen-X Cops” is perhaps the most accessible track on “Only God Was Above Us,” with driving guitar and a catchy refrain of “each generation makes its own apology.” But even its layers have layers, much like New York, making it somewhat of an effort to uncover what the song has to offer.

In the “neither here nor there” category, welcome “Mary Boone” to the list of Vampire Weekend songs named after women. She joins “Hannah Hunt” and “Diane Young.”

The mesmerizing album closer and best track, “Hope,” comes in at nearly 8 minutes and is both unsettling and soothing at the same time, with a whirling dervish of sound punctuated by Koenig's refrain of “I hope you let it go / I hope you let it go.”

The chaotic energy of “Only God Was Above Us” may be too challenging for more casual Vampire Weekend fans looking for them to duplicate their earlier work. But it's a fascinating evolution for a band that refuses to stay in one place for too long.

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