Vampire Weekend’s New Music Nods to Steve Martin, the Dead and the Band’s College Roots

After a five-year drought, Ezra Koenig and Co. are back with two songs.

Vampire Weekend, with Ezra Koenig, perform
Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP/REX/Sh

Vampire Weekend’s last album, 2013’s “Modern Vampires of the City,” racked arguably the best reviews of the band’s already sound career for some smart sonic multitasking that no longer leaned heavily on twee twists on African sounds. This week, the band finally resumed that trajectory back to North America with a teaser (“120 Minutes of Harmony Hall Guitars”) and then a pair of actual tracks, “Harmony Hall” and its B-side of sorts, “2021.”

Named after a building on the Columbia University campus (preppy frontman Ezra Koenig’s alma mater), “Harmony Hall” is a brightly eclectic take on a roots-jam. It’s reminiscent of the Grateful Dead and features such folksy wisdom as, “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.”

There’s little evidence in “Harmony Hall” of Koenig’s extracurriculars over the past six years — including stints working with Diplo, Kanye, and Beyoncé (his work on “Hold Up” from “Lemonade” earned him a Grammy nod). But they do manifest, however, in the much more humbled, balladic “2021,” a Casio-lite exercise in minimalism that samples the work of Japanese musician Haruomi Hosono and features sparse vocals from Jenny Lewis, as Koenig spends his time sweetly exploring R&B-pop vocal cadences.

Both tracks will appear on the band’s upcoming album FOTB, or “Father of the Bride,” which boasts a staggering 18 tracks. A nod to the Steve Martin rom-com, the work touches on Koenig fatherhood (his partner, actress Rashida Jones, gave birth to their son last fall) and relationships. Already, lyrics like the irreverent death wish of “Diane Young” (“Out of control but you’re playing a role”) have given way to more earnest musings such as “2021, will you think about me?”

There are some familiar contributors on FOTB: Ariel Rechtshaid (who co-produced “Modern Vampires of the City”) pops up again as a producer, as does former Vampire Weekender Rostam Batmanglij, who played a hand in “Harmony Hall.” But this will also be the band’s first album with features — perhaps a byproduct of Koenig’s recent period of collaboration — from The Internet’s Steve Lacy and others.

In a modern twist on the record-singles club of yore, Koenig plans drop two new songs each month through April. It feels like a dramatic unveiling of an artist re-discovering himself, and we are so here for that.

Listen to both tracks below: