I Tried to Listen to Vampire Weekend’s 120-Minute Promo ‘Song’
They've used a clever bit of marketing to tease track "Harmony Hall," proving how they became the massive band from that blogspot era.
Image by Flickr user Julio Enriquez
Music PR, music promotion – it’s a difficult game. One minute it’s the 70s and you’re slipping wraps of cocaine to the local DJ to help send the latest 7” from Styx or whoever to number 1. Same for the 80s and 90s. Then it’s the early 2000s, where literally any goth or rapper could become famous, and CDs were selling better than ever before. But then? Boom, Napster, bust – say bye bye to all that money, those MTV plays, and the easy way to make and break a star.
Since those heady days of jewel cases and double discs, promoting and selling music has lived several lifetimes. MySpace. YouTube. That weird thing Jay Z did, where he gave away his new album with every purchase of a Samsung phone, to whatever the place is we’re in now – which, on the one hand, is great (I’ll happily watch teaser videos for a new song, or buy Frank Ocean’s magazine) and on the other, is just kinda weird?
Take this new promo from Vampire Weekend for example, issued as an appetite whetter ahead of their forthcoming fourth album FOTB. And while I cannot tell you what FOTB stands for, it’s top secret (I’m lying, they haven’t told anyone yet), I can tell you the promo involves 120 minutes of Vampire Weekend music playing on a loop. And by that I don’t mean a new song, either. It’s 120-minutes of a guitar loop (listen below) from a new song called “Harmony Hall”, which is released later today (as well as track "2021").
Now, I love ambient music. I’ve extolled its virtues on this website here, and here, and here, as a respite from daily life, a mild blanket for anxiety, a soundtrack that can colour up loneliness. I don’t pray at the church of Brian Eno, but I did go to his house once (as part of a press thing, we’re not pals) and he had hundreds of boxes labelled things like “smells” and “field recordings from beach, 1989), which was cool. I love Grouper. Give me some Midori Takada or Hiroshi Yoshimura and it’s bliss. The music is zen. I am one, but not in a woo-woo way, and more a, wow: this is kind of like taking Xanax but without any of the horrible side effects and potential dangers.
So, I was initially intrigued by Vampire Weekend’s 120-minute experiment. But in practice? We’ll get to that later. First let’s re-wind, let’s do some history. Arguably the band of the original blogspot era, Vampire Weekend have outshone their peers (MGMT, Animal Collective, et al) and evolved in a way that, on their last album, Modern Vampires of the City, won them a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album, making them not just a band for Urban Outfitters teens but, like, dads. And – despite the inherent male lens of their songwriting – mums, too.
Where their first album borrowed almost wholesale from Paul Simon’s Graceland, who himself snatched his sound from southern Africa (albeit with the inclusion of South African musicians), Modern Vampires did away with that sound and felt emotionally intimate, taking in the quiet sound of dusk or dawn in a city. I don’t live in Brooklyn, but if I did, it’s the kind of thing I can imagine myself listening to while walking across the Bridge at night, city lights blinking in the background (which – if you want to live vicariously through it – makes sense since chief songwriter Rostam Batmanglij released a solo project in 2017 with a video featuring a similar image – have a watch below).
That last Vampire Weekend album was five years ago, though. It’s a long time, in current industry terms. And now, it’s time to promote it. This is where the 120-minute long video comes in.
At this point, I could do a number of things – a slideshow, featuring pictures of me in varying states of disrepair; some kind of experiment involving acid, which I’m sure would be great, but is a series VICE gave up long ago, despite the jokes that continue to pop up on Twitter. Instead, I listened to literally – and I’m checking this, right now – 17 minutes and 24 seconds of the stuff before realising: nah. What is this? This isn’t ambient music, which grows with time. It’s not meditative either – there’s nothing here to suggest calm. All you’re getting is pure repetition which, were I to continue – and no disrespect to these people, their situation is a whole lot worse – feels loosely akin to the torture techniques practiced on prisoners, like when US interrogators blasted inmates with Britney Spears’ "Baby One More Time".
So, yeah: idk. I’m sure parts of the video will lead into the album, since its visuals feature a graphic labeled “The Sacred Tree of the Sephiroth,” which shares a structure with the traditional “Tree of Life” diagram used in Jewish Kabbalah doctrine. But as a solo spiritual exercise? Pure hell. I’m sorry. Then again, maybe that's not the point: it's still impactful marketing.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.