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story.lead_photo.caption Vampire Weekend has a new album. Image via TNS

C Vampire Weekend

Father of the Bride

Columbia

Over the last decade, Vampire Weekend became that rarest of species among millennial guitar-rock bands: a festival headliner. Then it took a six-year break between studio recordings.

Father of the Bride doesn't so much try to pick up where Vampire Weekend left off in 2013 with Modern Vampires of the City as press the reset button. The band has retooled, the guest list has widened and neither "guitars" nor "rock" seems to matter as much. It revels in pleasantness, peppered with quirky but cheerful touches that veil the mild unease expressed in the lyrics.

Father of the Bride sounds more like a singer-songwriter album centered on Vampire-in-chief Ezra Koenig rather than the interaction of a band. An array of outsiders flavors the 18 songs, including Jenny Lewis, Danielle Haim, Mark Ronson and DJ Dahi, among others.

The album is less about groove and more about a brighter, more transparent directness rooted in country and folk. Koenig's songwriting achieves a new directness on duets with Haim. They trade verses on the country-ish "Hold You Now," "We Belong Together" and "Married in a Gold Rush," which evokes the Johnny Cash-June Carter collaboration on "Jackson."

On "This Life," cheerfully bouncing guitars and handclaps enfold a refrain about betrayal. Amid the orchestral luster of "Harmony Hall" — undulating guitar, baroque piano, strings — Koenig tries to convey that he's trapped: "I don't want to live like this, but I don't want to die."

Rarely has a singer's discomfort sounded so comfortable.

Hot tracks: "Hold You Now," "Married in a Gold Rush"

— GREG KOT

Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Image via AP
Image via AP

B Will Kimbrough

I Like It Down Here

Daphne/Soundly Music

Given the opportunity to showboat, a masterful guitarist using Kickstarter to finance an album might be expected to let 'er rip on the record.

Not Will Kimbrough. He's a composer too, and on the fan-funded I Like It Down Here, his songs are the stars, and the South is the subject.

An Alabama native who lives in Nashville, Tenn., Kimbrough explores the region's beauty, ugliness and musical majesty. The snappy 10-tune set seamlessly mixes country, rock and soul in a way that sounds rootsy and fresh.

Yes, there's some guitar from Kimbrough, who plays in Emmylou Harris' touring band. But as a successful session musician, he knows all about discipline in the studio.

Kimbrough serves up a jaw-dropping solo on the girl-gone opener "Hey Trouble," but the chugging tempo invites a jam that never comes. Instead he keeps instrumental breaks short, fixing the spotlight instead on the characters populating his songs.

That includes the whistling homeless man in "Anything Helps," the spiritually liberated convicted murderer in "Buddha Blues," the lynching victim singing from the grave in "Alabama (For Michael Donald)," and the salty lowbrow couple in the soulful title cut. The best of the lyrics linger, and hot licks aren't needed.

Hot tracks: "Anything Helps," "Buddha Blues," "I Like It Down Here."

— STEVEN WINE

The Associated Press

SINGLES

• Shawn Mendes, "If I Can't Have You." A few years into his career, Shawn Mendes is becoming a bard of the forlorn. The new single is about failing to grab what you wish was yours: "I'm in Toronto and I got this view, but I might as well be in a hotel room. It doesn't matter 'cause I'm so consumed spending all my nights reading texts from you."

Written by Mendes with Scott Harris, Teddy Geiger and Nate Mercereau (and produced by Mendes and Geiger), this is an exuberant expression of desolation, with melodies and hooks as ecstatic as Abba.

— JON CARAMANICA

The New York Times

Rhiannon Giddens performs during a 2018 rehearsal. Photo via AP
Rhiannon Giddens performs during a 2018 rehearsal. Photo via AP

• Rhiannon Giddens, "Gonna Write Me a Letter." Is there anything Rhiannon Giddens can't sing? Her new album, There Is No Other, is a duo project with Francesco Turrisi, a pianist who also plays a global assortment of string and percussion instruments. "Gonna Write Me a Letter," written by the Appalachian folk singer Ola Belle Reed, is a lament for a sailor away at sea. Giddens and Turrisi move it to the Middle East, with an unchanging modal vamp and an ancient North African drum called the bendir, and — especially in the final pleas to "Come home, come home" — Giddens sings it with inflections that bridge mountains and deserts.

— JON PARELES

The New York Times

• Bruce Springsteen, "Hello Sunshine." For some time Bruce Springsteen has been mentioning an album that harks back to the 1970s of Southern California — Laurel Canyon pop, a genre exploration that has nothing to do with the 21st century. "Hello Sunshine" is the first sample of that album, Western Stars. It's a well-cushioned, smoothly melodic testimonial to despairing resignation. Springsteen sustains a croon, backed by a pedal steel guitar, a cottony bass line and a string section; there's a meditative instrumental outro. But when he sings "Hello sunshine, won't you stay?" it's a request without much hope; he's been singing about lonely, endless empty roads ahead: "no place to be and miles to go." As plush as the music is, that's his vista.

— JON PARELES

The New York Times

• Petrol Girls, "Big Mouth." "Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard," the voice of Poly Styrene intones on this British punk band's new single. "Big Mouth," from the band's new album Cut & Stitch, is a paean to speaking up and breaking out. "Know your place. Bite your tongue," singer Ren Aldridge taunts in the snotty voice of an oppressor. On the chorus, she explodes: "I'm raising my voice louder. It carries me beyond their walls."

— CARYN GANZ

The New York Times

Style on 05/14/2019

Print Headline: Vampire Weekend back but LP's slack

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