Vampire Weekend: Only God Was Above Us review – their most adventurous set yet

<span>‘Mortality looms large’: left to right, Chris Baio, Ezra Koenig and Chris Thomson of Vampire Weekend.</span><span>Photograph: Michael Schmelling</span>
‘Mortality looms large’: left to right, Chris Baio, Ezra Koenig and Chris Thomson of Vampire Weekend.Photograph: Michael Schmelling

When Vampire Weekend emerged in the mid-00s they sounded like nothing else around, quoting unfashionable sources such as Minutemen and west African guitar sounds (via Paul Simon) alongside a barrage of knowing, Ivy-League lyrical reference points. Only God Was Above Us, their fifth studio album, is perhaps their most musically adventurous since that 2008 self-titled debut: a dazzling auditory romp that takes in feedback and distortion, arpeggiating pianos, curlicued orchestral pop, 90s hip-hop rhythms and levels of chef’s-kiss production detail best appreciated on headphones.

Has a Vampire Weekend song ever sounded less like Vampire Weekend than the dubby, cinematic synth-and-trumpet fantasia The Surfer? Gen-X Cops out-Strokes the Strokes at their own grizzled New York scuzz-pop, while Mary Boone, tangentially named after a disgraced New York art dealer, has time for Indian raga and a choir. As ever, mortality looms large – the title comes, indirectly, from a survivor of an 80s American air disaster. But reckonings with the past – New York in the 80s, family trees, how “the cruel, with time, becomes classical” (Classical) – also run through singer Ezra Koenig’s skein of allusions and heartfelt exhortations. Both Capricorn and Hope, the eight-minute closer, are about not trying so hard and letting go: wise, rather than clever words.