Listen to a Surprisingly Spiritual New Song From Vampire Weekend

Slate's Culture Blog
May 3 2013 7:20 PM

Listen to a Surprisingly Spiritual New Song From Vampire Weekend

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Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

Amid all the talk about Vampire Weekend’s references to sans serif typefaces, French Baroque architecture, and Benneton ads, it’s sometimes lost that their lyrics often go quite a bit deeper than that. “Oxford Comma,” for example, isn’t really about the serial punctuation mark—it’s about how it doesn’t really matter whether you use it or not. “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” Ezra Koenig sings on the chorus, arguing that it shouldn’t matter how express yourself—whether like Lil Jon or like an English drama, as the song puts it—as long as you tell the truth.

New song “Ya Hey” goes somewhere else that’s at least a little bit deeper than detractors might expect: It’s a song about God. Over hand claps and plinking pianos, Koenig seems to address God directly, wondering why, if he’s there, he doesn’t reveal himself. “Through the fire and through the flames,” he sings on the chorus, referring to the burning bush through which God shows himself to Moses in the Bible, “You won’t even say your name/ Only ‘I am that I am.’ ” The title of the song, too, seems to pun on that enigmatic Hebrew name for God (of which “I am that I am” is a translation). Why do so much good anonymously, the singer wonders, and could that be a mistake?

Of course, in typical Vampire Weekend fashion, the song title might (additionally) be a play on a certain Outkast hit, and it’s more worldly references like this that bring the song back down to Earth. In the spoken word final verse, the narrator hears God at a festival, in songs of Desmond Dekker and the Rolling Stones. The band hasn’t forgotten to pay attention to the music, either. Bringing in a church choir to back up the leaps and yelps of the soaring melody, the song doesn’t quite reach the heights of the heavenly tracks it references, but it’ll reward you if you give it a little faith.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.